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Editorial: Faith and Meta physics

  • January 27, 2022

American journalist Holman W. Jenkins Jr., who is typically brilliant, outdid even himself recently identifying the emerging metaverse as a potential end game for current woke identity politics.

“Is the metaverse the next phase of liberalism in the traditional sense of freeing the individual from previously intractable constraints of identity, history, class and geography? If so, this probably is the moment when liberals finally part company with the authoritarian woke,” Jenkins Jr. wrote.

For those unfamiliar with the term, metaverse refers to the profusion of online “realities” ranging from “virtual” reality to so-called “augmented” reality whereby we move from digital imaginary conquests of invented worlds to infinitely mutable avatars as our substitutes for real world pursuits.

No less a prophet than Mark Zuckerberg recently changed his company’s name from Facebook to Meta in anticipation of profits from a near-future when human life will be a mere metaphor for how we once existed.

Still running to catch up with transgenderism? Save your breath. The metaverse promises uber-transformation of skin colour, racial identity, sex, gender, age and innumerable other characteristics not through time-consuming drugs and surgery but with mouse clicks. We have the technology.

The current infancy of the metaverse is a moment, then, Catholics must take seriously. We must ponder, and seriously formulate, responses looking to a looming future even as we are belatedly scrambling to address 19th-century spectres such as Indian Residential Schools. We must determine how the Church, whose theology of the body is inseparable from the reality of the Incarnation, responds to the social constructs of the meta-world ahead. Of course, there’s an immediate answer that requires but six words: The Good News of Jesus Christ.

Even so, how do we make the Good News alive to the universe of the metaverse? How do we teach, preach and evangelize the culture when human life is indistinguishable from disembodied digital personas that stretch to infinity and beyond?

Catholic leaders, and the lay faithful, too, must prayerfully take them on. We must venture faith-based, reasoned answers. One thing we must not do is repeat mistakes of earlier historical moments, e.g., getting caught flat-footed and running around in ever diminishing circles shrieking “heresy” with our hair on fire. If we do, it’s “come home, Galileo and Charles Darwin” (not to mention residential schools) all over again.

Those who think there is already too much to think about, or the metaverse is a buzz light years away, should conduct a convincing personal experiment. They should take out their smart phones and try to remember the kind of September when such devices didn’t even exist. In barely a decade, a device invented to call home has turned the world into reality-based science fiction. Imagine the transformative power unleashed when the metaverse convinces us we are mere metabolisms screening meta versions of ourselves.

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