If you were, like me, born between 1977 and 1983, you are part of what some call a “micro-generation”. You don’t fully identify with Generation X or Millennials. Rather, being sandwiched in between, you share characteristics of each group. One on hand, you can relate to Generation X who values higher education, self-sufficiency, hard work, you’re pragmatic, skeptical, and results-driven. On the other, you recognize value with some of the Millennial ideals as well. You grasp technology easily. You have an appreciation for collaborative teamwork, are relatively open to change, and place value on the family. In other words, we’re a hybrid, sometimes referred to as a “Xennial”.
Why bring generational tag lines in a blog focused on theology and the Christian life? Well, I do so, because I think my “micro-generation” adds a unique perspective to the argument I will make related to the growing interest in the Metaverse. Namely, that the Metaverse is a pending possible disaster for our humanity, the communal nature of the church, and any person desiring to model their life after Christ’s.
Growing up in the 80s and ’90s, I was fortunate enough to see two worlds. The first half of my childhood was more akin to life in the 1960s than the 2010s. Largely, I was outside and running around the neighborhood; I lived free and unencumbered by technology. Let me be clear, we had technology, but it didn’t dominate lives or the homes. I still remember when my parents splurged and got a PC for our house in circa 1995. In my group of friends, I was one of the first to own a PC. It was a major investment for us. The internet was there, but not at a forefront of my reality. It was, by today’s standards, horrendously slow and unpractical. Moreover, any idea or concept of an “online existence” was pure science fiction.
Fast forward into high school and college, and all of sudden high-speed internet has exploded. We see the rise of social media and rapid file sharing. Communication ability increased 100x, and in turn, the world changed how it operates. Add into the mix the iPhone, and now so much of our lives are dominated and controlled by the little devices in our pockets. Today, almost every aspect of our life is touched or influenced by technology.
As a Xennial, I was fortunate enough to have had my formative years spread across both of these realities. I have been shaped by a world largely without invasive technology and one with it. I can relate to both sides and appreciate the values/characteristics that each provides. For example, my wife and I make concentrated efforts to limit the amount of technology our kid’s experience. We want them to experience as much of their childhood as possible outside, unhinged from the internet. At the same time, we recognize the value and aid that technology can play in their lives and our family. We recently got for my oldest a watch where we can call her if she’s at a friend’s house.
Despite, what I consider to be a balanced, well-rounded view of the role of technology in our day-to-day life, the Metaverse frightens me. I have a hard time imagining any good coming out of it. Humans, made in the image of God, are unified beings where the person and the body are wholly joined together. Although our bodies are sinful and broken, scripture is clear that, in this life, the two are to be understood to be practically synonymous. Because of this, what we do with our bodies matters.
The Bible goes as far as to tell us that our bodies are “temples” and that we are to “honor God” with them (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Consider also the deeply knitted-together relationship of our spirit and body. Psalm 32:3 reads, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away” (NASB). In this life, we are to understand our bodies to be as much of “us” as our spirit. The two are deeply intertwined and not to be undone until the Lord takes us home and gives us a new, resurrected, sinless body. This unified reality is our authentic existence. Its very nature directs us back to our creator and the humanity of Jesus, our Savior. If we ever doubt the significance of the human body, let us only remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2. He writes, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset of Christ Jesus: Who, being the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness” (2:5-7).
If we study the progressive movement closely, we will find that many of their social ideologies find their root in efforts to disrupt the person/body connection and destroy our humanity. Nancy Pearcey writes extensively about this in her book Love Thy Body. Here, she describes how, on a philosophical level, the modern person aims to bifurcate the reality between our body and person. If we understand them to not be morally and/or spiritually intertwined, we can find justification for all kinds of immoral acts.
In this dualistic reality, Pearcey explains, “The key to understanding all the controversial issues of our day is that the concept of the human being has likewise been fragmented into an upper and lower story. Secular thought today assumes a body/person split, with the body being defined in the ‘fact’ realm by empirical science (lower story) and the person defined in the ‘values’ realm as the basis for rights (upper story). This dualism has created a fractured, fragmented view of the human being, in which the body is treated as separate from the authentic self”
For example, if the body is not actually part of the person, it is devalued of God-given divinity and exists as a tool to use for pleasure. This is where issues like transgenderism find their roots. For these individuals, the physical body is not aligned with the person; they are bifurcated. Gender is purely a social construct and not a result of biology.
Similar logic can be found in arguments that justify abortion. In these cases, the fetus is not really a person; it’s only cells. The cells will not become a person until some point in time that is convenient for parties involved (this is called personhood theory). Again, underneath these arguments is an existential bifurcation of the body from the person. If the body and the person are not unified, the body is disposable. The same philosophical, two-story setup is found throughout the sexual revolution. When the body is fundamentally, philosophically, and theologically removed from the spirit/person, the body is a meaningless instrument for pleasure. This is wholly opposed to what scripture teaches about reality.
On the importance of having a holistic, unified biblical view of the body and person, Pearcey writes, “…it is based on a teleological worldview that encourages us to live in accord with the physical design of our bodies. By respecting the body, the biblical ethic overcomes the dichotomy separating body from person. It heals self-alienation and creates integrity and wholeness…it fits who we really are.”
Herein lies my biggest sticking point: The Metaverse sounds like modern, dualistic euphoria. It is the realization of a God-less society with a full separation of body and person. For those looking to escape their natural selves, their biological reality is cast aside for an avatar/gender/being of their own choosing. Sexuality and gender are truly a whole construct of the person’s preferences. Man becomes the creator and replaces God. At this point, our God-given, biological body only exists to fuel the pleasures and entertainment of the person.
In the absence of having experienced a mature Metaverse, we are required to lean a bit on fiction. I will not be the first, or the last, to draw connections between the novel Ready Player One and the looming Metaverse. Written in 2011, the book imagines a world in 2045 that is dominated by a Metaverse world called the OASIS. In the story, the Metaverse reality is as important (if not more important) than the physical one. Characters have avatars, homes, transportation, currency, and even education all in a virtual world. In most places, the physical world is in complete disarray and dereliction, abandoned for time and life in the OASIS. I understand this is a novel and, for the point of the plot, the situation is extreme. Still, it is hard not to imagine some of that playing out in our world. If we are not careful we will forsake the world and humanity that God has given us for something far less wonderful. We will be like those Paul describes in Romans 1 who, “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (1:25).
I want to be clear that technology is not evil. The millennial part of me sees a great deal of good that technology has brought to us. But, on the whole, I remain highly concerned about how The Metaverse will impact our world. If we lose touch with our physical reality, we risk losing who we are under God and in Christ.
The Xennial in me has seen life before invasive technology and life after. Lord willing, I will live long enough to see some aspect of the Metaverse come to maturity. While I enjoy technology and use it daily, I can’t help but look back at the days before invasive, high-speed technology with a sense of nostalgia. As I have grown older, I have even come to appreciate raw boredom. It has become a rare gift when we can find enough time away from screens to be alone with our thoughts. But such times of prayer and mediation reinforce my humanity and my utter dependency on God.
Today, we can grab our phones and find an immediate distraction from boredom and suffering. Still, I contend that boredom, deep contemplation, and even pain are gifts. Battling our humanity is humbling and God-glorifying. It is part of human existence. Even suffering and heartache are critical components of learning to be like Jesus. These experiences mold us into who we are. We need to suffer. We need to hurt. It makes us more Christlike. Moreover, We need to hope for an existence beyond this one—a real one. The suffering of this age guides us towards our heavenly city. This flawed, broken reality serves a purpose. We need not run from it, we need to embrace it.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul when he writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25).
While the church may yet find some redeeming qualities of the Metaverse, for now, I remain skeptical. As Christians, we would do better to focus on helping the culture not escape from our reality, but embrace it with a hope found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ.