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Christianity meet the Metaverse: You already speak the same language
May 3, 2023
The concept of a metaverse is the best thing that’s happened to religion in a long time. So how it is that religious leaders seem largely oblivious to its adoption on the part of popular culture, from personal computing to the Marvel Cinematic Universe?
The church’s inattention to a growing and widespread acceptance that there is more than one universe, each existing on different planes that intersect in ways that make visitation between them difficult but possible, is a mystery to me. I mean, you’d almost think that the church doesn’t care about its relevance to contemporary life and culture. Can you imagine?
Sarcasm aside — yes, it’s the lowest form of humor — the reason why Christian church folks are probably not talking much about movies like “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” or the most recent Marvel Dr. Strange movie, is that they aren’t aware of the way in which the concept of a metaverse in science fiction maps onto a concept of different planes of reality in Christian scripture and theology.
The Gospel According to John tells us of a Jesus who monologued incessantly about his unique relationship with God. The disciples don’t get it, and Jesus tries to set them—in other words, set us—straight through explaining that relationship again and again. God lives in a spiritual realm. Jesus came to us from the spiritual realm and holds dual citizenship with humanity in the material world. He came among us to open a channel of communication between the two universes. I mean, how complicated is that?
In the first-ever description of what we now call Christian Ethics, the Apostle Paul writes the following:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you might discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
Many say that Paul’s letters suggest that Paul hated bodies. True, Paul said we needed to ignore or escape the material world, bodies included, to commune with God in the spiritual, rather than the material, realm. It might be true Paul thought bodies were gross. I have no idea where he was at with his sexuality or body image but can imagine things weren’t less complicated then than they are now for anyone who was different. And Paul was nothing if not different.
Another take would be to say that Paul tells us that we need to transform our minds by shifting from one way of thinking—one universe—to another in order to see clearly what’s happening and what we’re supposed to do about it. If you can’t renew your minds, you can’t see God’s will, Paul says. If you can’t transcend the material realm and enter the spiritual realm, you have no vantage point on what God would call your big picture.
The church’s inattention to a growing and widespread acceptance that there is more than one universe, each existing on different planes that intersect in ways that make visitation between them difficult but possible, is a mystery to me.
“Everything Everywhere All At Once” won Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards this year. It’s a movie about an ordinary immigrant family that runs a laundromat. But the family is only ordinary in this universe. In other universes, they are warriors, royalty, lovers of different partners, and heroes.
The main character learns that to travel to a parallel universe, she must do something that makes her uncomfortable. For a small shift, people can move among planes of existence by putting their shoes on the wrong feet. For a big shift, they have to do something drastic, like taking a flying leap onto an object that impales them where the sun don’t shine.
The movie’s critical acclaim resulted from the script’s creativity, the actors’ magnificent performances… and from the fact that everyone who saw the movie on some level bought the idea that what we experience in the material world is only part of the story of life.
That latter point is incredibly encouraging for those, like me, who live to nurture vibrant faith lives in others. If “Everything Everywhere All At Once” intrigued virtually every-ONE, doesn’t that mean we in the Christian tradition have language to offer for describing part of the human condition that yearns to be discussed and understood?
A life of faith counts on in-breaking, revelation, and transcendence. Without those supernatural occurrences, we would never know what to do with ourselves, as we can’t make decisions about the material world amidst materiality… or at least we can’t make good ones.
What causes us to shift planes of reality, to free our consciousness, and to renew our minds? Discomfort? To be sure. But shoes on the wrong feet or objects in our bums aren’t the kind of discomfort that motivates striving toward God. What does is the discomfort we experience in knowing that what we can see, taste, and touch is not all there is. When we come to understand that the material isn’t everything, we get uncomfortable, and then we fall down the rabbit hole.
How can Christian faith communities connect with people on their way down that hole? With those who are unable to accept the all-there-isness of materialism? I can’t imagine a church building an outreach campaign around Dr. Strange. But I do think that Christians should take some time to think about what’s so very metaverse about our faith tradition and imagine a bridge between our faith and a cultural realization that’s unfolding before our very eyes.
-What we see, touch, taste, smell, hear, and perceive isn’t everything there is to be known.
-Jesus came from something greater and beckons us to follow him on a journey of unknowing, relearning, and renewal.
-That which transcends is not simply better than where we are; it’s the vantage point from which we can see our world through God’s eyes, thus a much better spot from which to plot a path and make a plan.
Be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Sci-fi lovers and church mice, unite.
Rev. Dr. Sarah B. Drummond is founding dean of Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School and teaches and writes on the topic of ministerial leadership.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.