The Rev. Dr. Christopher J. Benek
"From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."
25 years ago most people didn’t imagine that the Internet would reshape the way that they existed on a day-to-day basis. 25 years from now people will think about Virtual Reality the same way we think about the Internet today – we won’t even be able to imagine our global existence without it. One of the largest beneficiaries of this technological development could be the global church because VR is going to change the way that Christians participate in worship.
Recently, at each of our church’s worship services, I asked the members of the congregation I serve to indicate, by a show of hands, how many of them believe that they will not die. Not a single person answered in the affirmative. I would venture to guess that my congregation’s response to this question is typical among the vast majority of Christians across the world today. Even so, the eschatological hope of avoiding death that was prevalent in the early of days of Christianity may soon return to the church universal via a seemingly unlikely source – mainly – human technological advancement.
I am an advocate for transhumanism, rightly defined. I am certainly not a technophobe who perceives all technology to be bad. In my opinion, human technology – like all matter – is a tool that can be used for good or evil. That being said – as an advocate of transhumanism – I cannot in good faith advocate that anyone support the Transhumanist Party that has recently been formed in the United States.
Transhumanism, by definition, is a worldwide cultural and intellectual endeavor that has the end objective of transforming humanity by developing and extensively providing technologies that significantly enhance the intellectual, physical and psychological capacities of human beings. During much of the transhumanist movement, advocates of Christianity have rightly opposed supporters of transhumanism because of ideological differences. But the time has come for Christians to embrace transhumanism.
It is a popular claim by Atheists that eventually science will somehow eliminate the need for religion. Many even argue that, in our present age of exponentially advancing technology, we are already beginning to see the numerical decline of religious persons in the United States. This, they claim, is evidenced in such studies as the Pew Research Center’s recent Religious Landscape Study. I disagree with such assertions. What we are actually seeing isn’t the initial stages of the demise of Christianity. Instead, what we are witnessing is the reoccurring periodic rise of societal arrogance and immaturity.
During Easter weekend this year The Washington Post published an article entitled “Tech Titans’ Latest Project: Defy Death.” That article depicts how many tech billionaires are spending tremendous sums of money to try and add longevity to their own lives. The ethical question that such ventures raise is one that is commonplace these days among advocates of technology and technological futurists. Mainly, should we suspend care for people currently in need in order to focus our resources on eliminating systemic problems more quickly?
There are many people in the world today who like to contend that science and technology are distinctly at odds with religious practice and theological inquiry. The standard argument is that science and technology deal strictly with repeatable, tested facts whereas issues of faith and belief are speculative and/or unprovable. As it happens though – that particular perspective isn’t the whole truth. In fact, science and technology are increasingly growing in commonality with theology, both envisioned and practiced, as they have begun to share the common practice of postulating the future for both humanity and known universe.
People idolize a lot of things using them as coping mechanisms. When we lose interest or hope, when we get depressed – we turn to things that we think will fill the void. Sometimes these little “g” gods can provide people with a false sense of identity. Alcohol, drugs, smoking, excessive eating… excessive anything really, can lead us down a narcissistic path of unhealthy living. Sex too can be one of these idols.
In the future, Virtual Reality is going to change many fundamental ways in which humans interact. One of those changes is going to be the elimination of language barriers. From a theological standpoint, VR is going to be one of the prime mechanisms by which people, participating in Christ’s redemptive purposes, begin to deliver humankind from the implications of the religious myth of the Tower of Babel.
“I don’t see Christ’s redemption limited to human beings.” That was my quote a couple of weeks ago in article from a popular global technology site about artificial intelligence and religion. A lot of people, particularly Christians, have asked me about that quote since. “Do you really think that you can save robots?” they ask. “Do you really think that you can convert computers to Christianity?” they inquire. My response is usually something like “well… let’s back up a bit first and then I’ll answer your question.”
Human beings long for connection. We long for community. We seek to be loved. Yet most of the time, as if a flashing beacon of our self-abuse, we act like this isn’t the case.