Conclusion of a two-part series on the metaverse.
A starting point for Catholics who wish to understand the metaverse could first be observed from understanding how it affects their identity as a Catholic.
As human beings, we place a huge importance on our identity, which manifests itself in many choices from simple fashion to our lifelong careers.
From this standpoint, we are represented by a combination of our physical appearance and our behaviours. Even though the metaverse does not allow for our physical matter to be actually present, it still is another avenue for an individual to display their identity in the form of an avatar.
In this next plane of existence, we get the ability to choose the avatar or ‘self’ that we desire everyone to see, rather than the way God made us.
St Augustine cautions us, “The mind commands the body and is instantly obeyed. The mind commands itself and meets resistance.”
When our mind meets with resistance to our physical identities/gender, what do we do, how do we act, who will we choose to portray through our digital avatar? What effect will a gap between our physical reality and our digitally created avatar have on our behaviour in the virtual world, and the behaviour of others who can’t see our physical truth? Will this be liberating or harmful?
One of the harmful effects manifests in the form of abuse towards women. Some female avatars and residents of the metaverse have already experienced abuse of a verbal and meta-physical nature in the form of sexually explicit heckling, virtual stalking, and even groping of their avatars.
Abuse in the metaverse is hard to track because it happens in real time and people hide behind their avatars.
The Catholic identity
“The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation” —§1879, Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC).
The community of the Catholic Church acknowledges their ‘identity’ in the Creed at each Mass. However, whereas this RC community exists in the physical world, we need to be prepared to engage new communities that exist in the digital world.
We must also consider whether our presence in the metaverse can include our sacraments which rely on physical acts, rituals, and ceremonies.
If our identity as Catholics relies on our physical actions via the sacraments to practise our faith, can we then, as a community, perform these same actions in the metaverse, and consider them truly Catholic?
And how would we actualise this through merely digital avatars?
A huge part of our faith as a Catholic community involves our re-discovering God’s Son in Christ Jesus whose incarnation, birth, life, death, teaching, crucifixion, Resurrection calls us to draw closer to Him in unity through His grace.
These events which earned for us the grace we need for salvation, are heavily tied to physical icons of faith such as the waters of baptism, the trans-substantiation of the Eucharist and the blessed oils employed in many other sacraments of the Church.
As we engage in these sacraments, we grow in our understanding of the events of Divine Revelation through which Christ guides us to commune with God, receive His blessings through grace, and understand the covenant we have with the incarnate Word Himself. It all starts with His physical incarnation –His ‘enfleshment.’
Let us consider the purpose of creation. Bishop Donal Bolen asserts, “This dramatic initiative of God, incarnation, moves all creation towards its Goal.” This ‘goal’ the bishop goes on to explain, is that place beyond time and space where God is, and where we are all one in Him. Therefore, is it possible to obtain that goal, to gain the help of the incarnate Jesus Christ to fill us with grace, by engaging in the sacraments apart from of our divinely created reality?
Conversely, the metaverse is not an obstacle to the action of grace in the delivery of the classic spiritual works of mercy (evangelisation, catechesis, consolation, etc).
This technology can be used as a beneficial evangelical tool for the Church and those who teach the faith. The metaverse provides access to a rich, immersive, multimedia experience with which to explain Christian concepts through new forms of learning.
It allows teachers of the faith to have a wider reach to the apostolate and the ability to meet people where they are comfortable. Furthermore, this fully digital world gives greater ability to gather and analyse data for research to further develop their approach to teaching the faith.
All these things aid in the enrichment of the lay people’s understanding and can motivate them towards practising their faith in the real world.
At a personal level, individuals need to be aware of how to safely enter, navigate and use this tool, this ‘digital state of being’. At a State-level, there needs to be some measure of accountability for improper use/abuse of the same. Existing laws that protect assets, reputations, and privacy, as well as consumer protection, fair trade, and labour laws—just to name a few—all need to either be expanded/replicated to provide coverage for physical citizens who enter the “digital state”.
Equally important, at a Church level, we need to
In this first year of the Synod on Synodality, it is crucial that the Catholic Church journeys closely with humankind into this exciting and yet potentially dangerous metaverse, helping to ensure that authentic human development is furthered, by being present to assist in the development and use of the metaverse, but also to call out dangers to the human identity.
We invite the Catholic Church here in T&T and the wider Caribbean to join us in the metaverse where we will build a forum for us to continue this conversation.
We commit to having that presence “In Ordinary Life” ready for you before the end of this liturgical year.
Darnell Orr (Tech Doctor, Making technology work for you)
Gerard Andrews (actual metaverse citizen)
Robert Boopsingh (Technology practitioner in the Financial Services Sector)