The rise of cyber-religion
The BBC has discovered that a third of ‘web worshippers’ actually prefer their cyber church to the real thing, and this got Cranmer thinking of the extent to which these virtual creations have supplanted reality, and what might be the consequences.
St Pixels is, apparently, a mega-church. It has 2000 members, for whom its existence ‘is the main or only contact with traditional Christianity’. Since Cranmer has not visited or heard a cyber-sermon, he has no idea if this is the BBC’s ‘traditional Christianity’, or if it is truly orthodox. But that aside, it is an undeniable challenge – as real as that faced by the Early Church when it had to communicated a Hebrew gospel to a Greek audience – of profound missiological importance.
Blogging, Podcasting, Facebook and other cyber pursuits have become the commonplace tools of communication for many religions. They meet the need for immediacy and immanence; they bring a feeling of individual significance, and offer escape from the inconveniences and conflicts inherent in dealing with real people. Perhaps more importantly, they afford the possibility of being what one is not; creating a virtual life to compensate for the mundane inanities of the tedium of existence; escape from the repetitive boredom associated with the modern era. They provide a cyber fellowship of cyber friends dispensing cyber advice without the need to ever meet face-to-face or to look one’s friend in the eye. As one 19-year-old student observes:
I've no idea what I'd do without the friends I've made in St Pixels - though I've never met them. I've made tons of close buddies in Scotland, Korea and England. No matter who you are, or where you're from, you will ALWAYS find someone here to talk to. It's like a family home, where the door is always open for friends and their friends. I was baptised a Methodist but that's as far as it goes. I don't currently attend a physical church.
St Pixels is supported by the Methodist Church, and may indeed offer a spiritually life-saving service for some who take part in discussions, pray for each other, worship together and play games. But one cannot ignore the addictive dimension of the virtual world. When one has tasted the Magic Kingdom, escaped to world without night, or pain, or crying, or shame, the need becomes increasingly stronger to visit it daily for the very necessary ‘fix’. Indeed, one’s day seems somehow incomplete if one has not cyber-communed with one’s congenial cyber-communicants, and felt their adulation, or heard their adoration.
But Cranmer refuses to be sucked into the world of postmodern relativism in which all knowledge is subjective and where subjectivity is truth, or where there is nothing but praise and appreciation. Religion is political, and politics brings a sword of division. Cranmer is not afraid to shine a light on that which is ugly, painful, distorted, deceitful, corrupted or shameful. In making his statements, he is not afraid to offend, for the cross is the very cause of offence, and its truth is foundational to his meaning and purpose.
Cyber-religion is utterly postmodern insofar as it contributes to the undermining of rationalism and foundationalism. There are no longer any universal intellectual tools such as logic, and there are no indubitable first principles from which to interpret ideas or experience. The fundamental basis of science is questioned or abandoned, and the further one progresses in scientific investigation the less one can claim pure objectivity in the formulation of what is known. Truth is encountered emotionally and intuitively, and there is a shift from the muffled majesty of grand narratives to the splintered autonomy of micro-narratives.
And in those micro-narratives, everyone may become the centre of attention - significant, prophetic, and god-like. The tragedy is that so very few say anything worth hearing, and the whole world of cyber spirituality becomes so utterly tedious that the phrase ‘blog-standard’ really ought to enter the cyber-vernacular.