Headline, Young Voices

In the beginning, the Metaverse was created… But is it good?

In the beginning the Metaverse was created

In the beginning, the Metaverse was created.

And around the world, churches eager to enter digital missions saw that it was very good. While it might sound like a logical extension of the Great Commission, the questions that should be addressed before we begin diverting resources to Metaverse missions, are: what is the Metaverse? How does it work? What is its promise? How should the Church relate to it?

I’ve read many views—both secular and religious—about the Metaverse, and my first observation is that no one agrees on what it is. Some compare it to a hyper-immersive video game. Others focus on what you can earn in it: NFTs, cryptocurrencies, etc. Sorting out these opinions on the technical definitions is beyond the scope of this piece. Instead, I want to examine what the Metaverse hopes to be, because by understanding its intentions, we can better understand how the Church should relate to it.

A fully digital world

The primary aim of existing technology is to connect people, information and goods in the physical world. However, the promoters of the Metaverse promise a fully-realised digital world that is a near facsimile of our physical one without the physical part.

That’s where Christians should be concerned. Because in Genesis 2, when God created Adam and Eve, he created them not solely as spirit, but with physical bodies that are  an essential part of existence. We know this because after Jesus’ death, he didn’t return as a spirit. Jesus in his resurrection body was careful to establish that he had a functioning physical body. In Luke 24:38–43, not only did he ask them to touch him, he ate in front of them to prove, in his words, that “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have”. And we see in Philippians 3:21 that one day, he will “transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body”. wariness towards the Metaverse should extend beyond the fact that to be fully human is to have both body and spirit functioning together.

The Metaverse has another troubling core idea: that humanity can create an entire existence in our own image and likeness, fitting our own idea of reality, free from God’s interference, and divorced from all the pesky things God has created in the physical reality that we’d rather not have.

It reminds me of the Tower of Babel. Like the people of that day, it almost seems like the architects of the Metaverse are trying to build a tower to reach heaven, a utopia without God’s interference, a place where God’s Flood judgement cannot reach.

In this virtual utopia divorced from physical reality, how is the body of Christ supposed to function? How are Christians to use their spiritual gifts?

How can we serve one another in a digital environment which is designed such that users don’t need to depend on one another or share burdens? How can we speak truth to one another (Ephesians 4:25) when we hide behind anonymised usernames, glamourised avatars and curated personas? We had two years of Zoom and by the end of it, no one wanted to turn on their cameras. The Metaverse will push authenticity even further away than Zoom did.

Some may argue that people can serve each other in digital environments.

But there is a distinction between utilising digital technology to serve someone physically, versus serving someone digitally in a virtual world. And while God can act in the Metaverse, he has placed us in a physical world full of those in need.

Instead of opening our eyes and reaching out to them, it seems some are reaching out for their VR goggles instead.

What then shall we do?

The Metaverse is still in its infancy, and multinational corporations and governments are grappling to define it. As Christians, we must always understand what the essential “offer” of a new technology is before deciding to utilise it. It wouldn’t do us good to dabble in a place where its philosophical basis is the unspoken desire to escape the reality God made for humans to dwell in.

In considering how to interact with the Metaverse, some have suggested “digital missions”, where believers are trained to enter virtual places like they would physical spaces and have conversations with people. Others are planning to build churches in the Metaverse, to hold services that can be viewed across the globe.

While their heart is commendable, is this wise? God put us in physical bodies that have a limited lifespan, and perhaps our time is not best spent building grand edifices in the Metaverse, or attempting virtual street evangelism. Most likely, the Christians who find the greatest success in “Metaverse missions” will be those reaching out to people they already know, using the Metaverse as simply another avenue to reach them, like how we’d converse over Telegram or WhatsApp and then continue our discussion over dinner.

Perhaps by this point I sound like a fusty Luddite who prefers “the old ways”, but I believe we need to exercise caution.

Because unwrap the fancy jargon—cryptocurrency, NFTs, decentralised autonomous organisation— and all you have beneath it is another promise to create a utopia for man.

We know that this digital utopia won’t materialise. Man’s heart is desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and the same sins of the physical world will proliferate in the Metaverse (as already shown by recent reports of sexual assaults on virtual platforms). This isn’t to say that Christians should have nothing to do with the Metaverse. But as Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” And in Ephesians 5:15–16, God calls us to be careful how we walk, “not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil”.

Among all the real needs and ministry opportunities before us, how much of our limited resources should we devote to a virtual one?

Dylan Kwok is a 22-year-old video game designer studying at Nanyang Technological University. He has been teaching Sunday school at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church to Upper Primary students for the last three years.