Second "Life"?

Got a sin to confess? Do it online.

Are you kidding me?

Now some of you might recoil at one aspect of this idea, and some of you might recoil at another. The first group hears the word “confession” and immediately thinks “Catholic.” Of course! Only Catholics do confession, right? And if Catholics do it, it’s gotta be wrong, right? WRONG. In fact, I would like to say that at least Catholics do something in regards to confession! I mean, the Protestant version of confession is nothing more than to whisper a quick “sorry” to God (if anything at all) and trust that we’ve been forgiven. That’s stupid.

I think I fit with the second group, the one that hears “online” and is horrified. The World Wide Web is a glorious thing. I love it. I spend hours and hours on it. I have even become somewhat dependent on it (for news, keeping in touch with distant friends, entertainment, etc.). But there is one aspect of the Web that scares the living be-daylights out of me — virtual life.

It started with chat rooms. Then it moved to IM, blogs (like the incredible one you’re visiting right now), message boards, etc. — anywhere that you can “interact” with other people under a virtual name. Now we’re seeing the introduction of what’s called “Web 3.0” – a 3D virtual world where you can be someone totally different than who you really are.

Take Second Life, for instance. The name says it all. You can live a completely other life than what is real. It is mass escapism to the extreme!

What does this have to do with online confessions? Simply this: The Web is not reality. It can never, and I repeat NEVER, be the real world. Online confessions? How depersonalizing is that? So what if the world reads it? What bearing does that have on you personally? The truth is, it doesn’t. You cannot fully be a person on the Internet.

The world wants to know what it means to be a person. Is the church answering this fundamental question, or is the Web?

Your thoughts?

7 thoughts on “Second "Life"?

  1. Sean great post! I heard the other day on the radio that many churches are forming a virtual church online to meet the needs of the thousands who have a virtual life.

    Second, I believe it was Ury who said Wesley believed that the catholics had one up on us…because they had someone to confess to.

  2. Heath, thanks for the compliment and comment.

    As ministers in the 21st century, there’s no doubt that we have to engage a culture that is shifting towards a virtual life. Many are already there, and their “virtual them” is more real, or at least more important, than their “real them.” By forming online churches is the church encouraging this departure from reality or trying to meet people where they are? I don’t know the answer to these questions. All I do know is that you can’t be a person in the virtual world.

  3. Great thoughts. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “ship of fools” but it was one of the first “online churches”. You literally had a little person that you took to “church” and a real ordained minister typed out a sermon, to which you could “amen” and “nod” to as well as “raise hand” and other things …. I felt it odd …

    You’re final statment intrigued me … I suppose we have to define “person” and what is a “complete” person … not to get all existential and all, but what about Virtual reality, if we think it’s real … is it?

  4. Aaron, I’ve never seen “ship of fools,” but the idea makes my skin crawl.

    You’re right, we do need to define what a person is. That might be the primary challenge we face in the 21st century. As for your final question, “what about Virtual reality, if we think it’s real … is it?” I would reply with a question of my own: Is our perception what makes something real? The answer, hopefully, is no. I think experience and reason would back that claim up adequately.

    What do you think?

  5. Sean,

    I feel almost hypocritical writing this on a blog. Maybe I should jump on plane, fly down to Mississippi, and talk to you about this in person.

    After reading your post, I’ve been thinking about confession (I’m definitely on the Catholic side of this one) and about virtual church. I wonder if the virtual church experience is just the next step of our evangelical desacramentalizing of worship. We have eliminated the significance of the sacraments (when I say “we,” I’m referring to a stereotypical evangelical). We protest to the idea of confessing to an ordained priest by claiming the priesthood of all believers, but in the end, we end up confessing to no one. We eliminate much of the mystery of the Eucharist by arguing that it is only a symbol, and we end up rarely partaking in the Lord’s Supper. We say that baptism is just a sign, and baptism loses its meaning. I know a guy who is ordained and in fulltime ministry who has never been baptized!

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t adhere to a fully Roman Catholic sacramental theology, but I do think that our understanding of sacraments needs some serious work. Most Protestant evangelicals include two aspects of worship: music and preaching. If that’s all worship is, some people must think that they can listen to a Christian CD and watch some sermon online to get their “church” in for the week.

    Yours truly,
    Virtual Tristan

  6. Tristan, WHAT’S UP MAN?!?!

    Dude, I gotta tell you…you don’t have a single thing to worry about saying those things on this blog. As I was reading your words it was as if I was reading my own thoughts (except for the part where you wrote “Tristan”).

    I’ll admit, I didn’t anticipate your contribution to be so heavily sacramental. I anticipated that you would engage at the more philosophical level of virtuality, etc. With that said, I find it rather interesting that you and I have both moved toward a sacramentalism independent of the other. That, in itself, is worth commenting on. As for the place of confession within Protestantism I must ask, “What place???” ‘Nuff said… (that’s how we Southern folk speak)

    I’ll save my new found sacramentalism for later posts. For the sake of this particular topic, however, I think that talking about such a topic as whether or not God is objectively present in the water of baptism or the elements of the Lord’s Supper an intriguing one to bring up in the middle of a conversation about the “reality” of virtual reality. Can God be objectively present in the digital sphere? Now THAT is an interesting question.

    I think talking about the sacraments in the midst of a discussion on personhood and reality is quite possibly the most fitting place to talk about them. Nothing is more personalizing, nor more real for our ecclesial life, than what is taking place in the sacraments.

  7. Sean,

    I’m not sure if I have much to say philosophically about personhood. My only thought about this is that we may have over-spiritualized the self and devalued physical reality.

    As to the whole “place for confession within Protestantism,” I’m not really sure. I think it would be difficult to make it a serious practice unless we adopt some sort of notion that the priest (in this case, any true believer) has some authority to absolve sin. If confession to another living believer is not given theological importance, it seems to me that most people will take the easy way out and just confess their sins to God.

    I look forward to reading your post on sacramentalism whenever you write it.

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