Friday, August 19, 2016

The temptation of virtual reality. . .

The internet is undoubtedly a gift of modern technology.  With it we are connected to the wisdom and the treasures of our past with ease.  From the great works of art and music to the once inaccessible words of great thinkers, moralists, and theologians, we are connected in a way that others had only dreamed about.  But it is a medium without morality.  As easily as we can behold the great works of Michelangelo we can behold the basest of sexual desires played out in pornography.  As quickly as we can access the words of the wise and erudite from time and history, we can also find the unintelligible rants and hateful words of those without wisdom or restraint.  Yet perhaps the greatest danger of technology is not what it delivers to our screens but how those screens intertwine reality with the virtual reality of the interest and tempt us to believe that the screen is a fit substitute for the personal.

This is certainly true of relationships.  We are Facebook friends with folks we have never met.  We follow Twitter and Instagram and are connected with people a continent away yet still behind a barrier and unknown to us.  The people we encounter may be real or they may be the creatures of their own imaginations -- their pictures stolen and their lives invented for purposes of deception.  How do we know difference?  Do we want to know the difference?  Social media can, indeed, connect but it can also present to us lies and dangers that also parade as truth and friendship.

The information we access on the internet is also uneven and unfiltered.  It is easy to be deceived by the presumption of truth.  Though we joke about what we read or see being true because we got it from the internet, the harsh reality is that objective truth has long since been abandoned and not in small part because everyone can be an expert on the internet.  Have you trusted things you got from an internet source only to find them false?  I have.  One of my greatest fears is that people will hear me as a substitute for hearing truth and searching for that which is real.

We need not go to a bowling alley to bowl, a tennis court to play tennis, a golf course to golf, or a river to fish.  Our technology has brought us a virtual reality that occupies even our leisure as well as our work.  Our shopping is on line and instead of interacting with a clerk (always hard enough to find when you want one), we listen to the consumer reports of the anonymous to guide what we purchase.  It is then delivered to us without the need to interact with anyone.  Online has become the promise of privacy in the sense of living without our lives touching others and as such we are more exposed than ever before to the snooping of government, the scams of the criminal, and the marketers attempting to predict our taste and future purchases.  It is a very closed kind of life.

But as bad as these are, the worst that technology has told us is that the virtual is an adequate substitute for the real and personal.  The reality is that many find sexual desires more easily satisfied by internet porn than in a relationship of love, trust, faithfulness, and accountability.  The reality is that it is easier to befriend people with a like button than it is to get to know someone and work at the development of a deep friendship and relationship.  It is also less risky since you need not invest all that much in the virtual friendship of social media.

This has also become a real danger for Christians and their faith.  We were always a people with itching ears in search of the new and different.  What once were the itinerant church shoppers who visited without joining have become the spectators who do not leave their homes in order to find inspiration, fellowship, and encouragement in the faith.  While that might be a necessity for the home bound, it has become the reality for too many who no longer hunger for the fellowship of the Table and who prefer the isolation of their devices to the community of Christ.

We listen to the music we like and want to listen to...  We peruse the marketplace of preachers and preaching searching in the same way for the voice that appeals to our preferences and desires.  We have a church app that fulfills most of what we want from a real church of sinners in common confession, of worshipers gathered by the Spirit speaking through the Word, of communicants who feed on Christ in our hearts but not our mouths, and of prayers prayed by others in other places.

This is not new.  When TV preachers and services showed up in the living rooms of America, there was also this temptation.  It is now much more accessible and individual.  We are alone with God, alone with our thoughts, and alone before a screen that has come to substitute from the more messy and difficult fellowship of people sitting, listening, confessing, praying, and communing together.  I worry about those who have become content with the virtual reality of life and relationships and faith.  It is a new hurdle we face in presenting them with the Gospel.  For the call of Christ is also a call to real community, to mutual accountability, to a gathered people around His Word and Table, where the splash of water is not imagined and anonymity gives way to personal relationship and responsibility.


Janis Williams said...

Spiritual discernment cannot become a part of us by indiscriminately reading/watching online without prior instruction. Banks teach (or used to) their tellers how to tell the counterfeit by becoming familiar with the real thing. Pastors are the ones who should be teaching "the Real Thing." Evangelicals today cannot be sure their pastors feed them anything better than TBN. If the Holy Scripture is not being read and taught in your church (whatever stripe), run!

Anonymous said...

The internet is the new catacombs. Most churches (Lutheran included) are apostate. There is no fellowship. Attending church is like going to a movie theater. Most churches condone frivolous divorce and remarriage. Most churches have a good many members who are cohabiting. Yup, Lutheran parishioners shack up. Listen to Pastor Mark Surburg (LCMS) broadcast "The Churches Institutionalized Fornication". Today, a Christian is someone who approves of immoral behavior. Add in the feminism and malicious gossip and there is no incentive to show up at church. What guy in his right mind wants to be castigated for imagined offenses on fathers day?

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I do not think we should honestly lay all the guilt on the LCMS, as some have posted here. Sure, I for one criticize the informality I have observed in some of our churches, the poor preaching, and the rampant worldliness of American Christianity today. It is like blaming the teacher when the students are lazy, preoccupied with selfish motives, and unwilling to learn the lessons they need to know. The technology alone, social media, television, cultural vanities and the fashions of the times are continual distractions. Even in the relatively low tech agrarian and industrial past, people found things to pull them away from God and His word. The truth is that the righteous in all generations are always in small numbers and among the remnant, while most professed Christians give a mere wink and a nod toward God, and go on with their worldly pursuits. We are all sinners in need of grace, we all fall short, and we all need to practice our faith, not just talk about it.

Anonymous said...

"We are all sinners in need of grace, we all fall short.."
This is the typical response to give unrepentant sinners a free pass.

"I do not think we should honestly lay all the guilt on the LCMS, as some have posted here."
I will accuse them of laxity. Note to LCMS pastors: It is better to die on your feet serving the Lord than to live on your knees accommodating the world.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

To: Easy Fashion
From: Jesus
Subj: Grace
You are a sinner, and you do need grace. You do fall short in many ways. I know you better than anyone.
Sometimes you regret your sins, sometimes you repent. Sometimes you are unrepentent.
Your works, even your best ones, are flawed. And yes....I did give you a free pass, even if you did not deserve it.

Anonymous said...

I realize I fall short and need forgiveness. The chief problem with our churches is they are filled with people who have no intention of ever repenting!

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Easy Fashion....just one parting comment, and you can have the last word if you so desire. We cannot distress ourselves over the perceived failure of other people to repent. We each have enough on our own plates to worry about. God is in compete control and will judge all. All we can do is strive to be faithful, share the Gospel of grace, live in humility without being puffed up or prideful in our own righteousness. The Johnny Cash song I remember well has lyrics which read, "God will cut you down." When I was a new believer I fell into an early dilemma which was this: I became for a time very legalistic and judgmental. Then the grace of God revealed that pride was in my heart, and that Jesus calls us to humility and compassion. Many people struggle with repetitious besetting sins, addictions, weaknesses, and try to live good Christian lives but become depressed and worn down. The weight of sin is strong. But we know our works and righteousness cannot save us. Like the unworthy thief on the cross, we rest on Christ alone.

Anonymous said...

John Flanagan I appreciate your comments. Really I do. But you and others need to know that there are people, whose sole purpose in attending church is to try and damage the churches. They have no interest in the Gospel at all. Rather than kick these people out, our congregations tolerate them because that is the "loving thing to do".
These people are the fierce wolves that Paul described in one of his writings.
I am just not going to churches that deliberately and willfully deny and contradict Biblical teaching. The truth is almost all churches are like this. My friend, whose is an LCMS pastor, who I have known for 15 years, tells me that cohabitation is very prevalent in the LCMS congregations.
The Bible says "if anyone is sexually immoral, don't even eat with such a person".