The Anti-Sacramental Metaverse

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The “Great Reset” is an attempt to remake the world in a utopian vision. A world where “you’ll own nothing and you’ll be happy.” Joel Kotkin, writing about our neo-feudal future for First Things, touched on one facet of this great-reset-in-the-works, suggesting that the result will be a society redesigned to serve the oligarchs and the [new] clerisy, who will be served in turn by the yeomanry and the new serfs. The Great Reset concerns more than mere power stratification, economics, depopulation, and politics, however. What needs to change is you. You need to stop having kids; stop going to church; stop eating meat; stop going on vacation; stop whining about globalism; etc.

That’s where Big Tech comes into play, at least in part.

Wendi Strauch Mahoney regards Mark Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” as one of the building blocks for the Great Reset—a means of pushing digital dependence on humanity. Coupled with universal basic income and continued lockdowns—no longer just to “curb the spread” (some are already being carried out for the purpose of curbing alleged anthropogenic climate change)—the goal, besides making a select few even more powerful and rich, is the atomization, hobbling, and disenchantment of the common man. They want to transform us further into submissive and impotent dependents.

In this brave new world where private property, mobility, privacy, free speech, and freedom of conscience are luxuries for the technocratic elites alone, we are now being sold blindfolds to make reality all the more tolerable. The price of one such blindfold: $299.

In Communist-occupied China today, millions of Catholics and house Christians practice underground. During the Cold War, behind the Iron Curtain, brave followers of Christ risked all to celebrate the liturgy and receive the Holy Eucharist. Hard totalitarianism cannot break Mother Kirk. Soft-totalitarianism, on the other hand, may do considerable damage.

What has the aforementioned blindfold (i.e., the Oculus) and virtual reality to do with soft-totalitarianism? The stick hasn’t worked, so the Enemy will now try the carrot—to: ply us with easy solutions, dopamine flushes, and fantastical worlds; take us out of our churches, communities, and the real; and subjugate us in ways invisible and unprecedented. 

While this is a multipronged attack, Big Tech is now beginning to prod in impactful ways: to induce the faithful to port their religious practice to phantasmal realms, while at the same time silencing Catholic voices online (e.g., YouTube’s banning of LifeSiteNews and Google’s attacks on WND). 

Phyllis Zagano recently noted in The National Catholic Reporter that, where Meta is concerned:

Religion is in the plans. Already, Facebook has been partnering with faith communities, such as the Hillsong megachurch in Atlanta, the Assemblies of God, and the Presbyterian Church. The company is creating products for churches, including audio and prayer sharing and online tools to build congregations using Facebook.

The heretical rejection of the Eucharist and disputes about transubstantiation have already made our brothers and sisters further afield ripe for conquest. It is essential that the Church holds its ground: that it does not confuse the virtual for the real; that it opens its doors especially when ordered to shut them; and that it does not go down the route of Docetism, ignoring the truth of the Incarnation and the importance of the in-person celebration of the Mass. 

David Larson cautioned in the pages of Crisis back in October that the virtualization of Catholic celebration and community, at the expense of the real, is a matter of dehumanization, leading to what C.S. Lewis called the “Abolition of Man.” He’s absolutely right. But what’s more, Catholics who might exclusively join a “meta” congregation rather than a real one in a real Church are not just helping to abolish man, but they are unwittingly working to abolish the Son of Man.

Rusty Reno recalled another important caution to Catholics about the so-called metaverse expressed by J.D. Flynn:

It’s not just that the meta-verse is not real human engagement. It is that online and virtual engagement may be worse than nothing—may well gamify our relationships and depersonalize our disagreements, in a way that allows us to focus on scoring points, beating the level, or winning the day, no matter the cost.

Worse than nothing

William Gibson coined the term “cyberspace” in his 1984 novel, Neuromancer, defining it, ultimately, as “a consensual hallucination.” Even with your consent, a hallucination is delusion: “an unfounded or mistaken impression.” 

In their book Remediation: Understanding New Media—wherein a theory of mediation for our digital age is constructed—Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin note Michael Benedikt’s sense of the cyberpunk enthusiast’s two worlds: “the sensorial world of the organically human” and “the digitized, pure, immaterial world of cyberspace.” In the latter, “the ballast of materiality [is] cast away—cast away again, and perhaps finally.” Although Bolter and Grusin argue cyberspace, which is to say virtual reality, is not entirely immaterial, it is not difficult to see how virtual worlds cut out the physical and the real; how rather than communally peering through a glass, darkly, we might instead don mirrors shaped like blindfolds, which achieve little more than reflecting reflections, cutting out the object and leaving only infinite emptiness. 

In Communist-occupied China, there is the state-run “Catholic” Church extra to the illegal, but holy underground Catholic Church. Despite the regulation of the former, the blasphemies Xi’s genocidal regime require the faithful to tolerate, the communist boot on the celebrant’s throat, and the transmogrification of the liturgy, the Chinese Mass still has the Holy Eucharist, which is to say, it is still a Mass. You cannot receive the Body of Christ in the metaverse.

Ours is a sacramental faith. It is a physical faith. The Catechism specifies that “it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of men” (1073). Moreover, “rites which are meant to be celebrated in common, with the faithful present and actively participating, should as far as possible be celebrated in that way rather than by an individual and quasi-privately” (1140). Putting on your blindfold while in the tub can hardly be thought of as being “present.” The Catechism notes further that: “When the faithful assemble in the same place, they are the ‘living stones,’ gathered to be ‘built into a spiritual house’” (1179). A spiritual house built on sand, or in this case silica, will not stand.

While in VR we might find ourselves surrounded with holy imagery and liturgical icons representing Christ, they are no substitute for the Body and Blood of our Savior. I mentioned Docetism earlier. The Docetists and the Cathars who later adopted their heretical notions both claimed that Jesus’ body was an illusion; that He only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die. That heresy was condemned because Christ was really born. He became flesh and dwelt among us. He suffered, was crucified, died, and was buried, and then later rose from the dead. 

At the Mass, bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. They are physically made present. None of this was or is virtual. Like the Docetists, the potential metasization of our faith threatens a downplaying of physicality—of the Mass but of our own physicality as well—and seems to suggest, erroneously, that we might cede the real to the likes of Klaus Schwab, the oligarchy, and the new clerisy, and still continue on as faithful Catholics. 

Virtual Catholic communities can certainly serve as advertisements for the real thing. Conceived of as ways of buttressing existing, physical communities (e.g., prayer groups)—no problem. But just as watching a video of someone working out does not make you stronger, putting on goggles and going to some Catholic carve-out in Zuckerberg’s fiefdom via fiber optic cables doesn’t bring you anywhere nearer the Lord “really present in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar.” 

It’s important to think also about the visibility of the Church in the real world. A phantasmal façade on some private server regulated by godless technologists hardly makes the point to the community of believers and the outer community of prospective believers that St. Peter’s Basilica or Chartres Cathedral actually accomplish. Something real, beautiful, inhabitable, robust, and built to weather the ages is a greater commitment than some hallucination that can be scrambled or put out of reach by a bad internet connection. On this, The Catechism makes clear: 

When the exercise of religious liberty is not thwarted, Christians construct buildings for divine worship. These visible churches are not simply gathering places but signify and make visible the Church living in this place, the dwelling of God with men reconciled and united in Christ. (1180)

It’s also important to recognize that a church made virtual will not only be made invisible in the world of the flesh. Anything of substance that manages to transfer over will ultimately become invisible too. After all, Catholics in cyberspace will ultimately have to abide by the ruling, machine-enforced dogma of Silicon Valley demiurges.

Corrina Laughlin indicated in her recent piece for The Atlantic about evangelicals’ rush to adopt this new tech that: “As churches are ported into the metaverse, they will be subject to the dictates of Facebook and the other Big Tech companies that are racing to own the virtual land it will comprise.” Good luck talking about the sanctity of marriage or the evil of abortion. If the censorship of conservative and Christian voices on social media to-date is any indication, a church policed by a demiurge and a Caesar both might find its teaching greatly diluted. 

Plato spoke of a cave wherein prisoners mistook for reality a shadow play cast by fire against puppets on the innermost wall. With His Resurrection, Christ—the True Light of the world—led us out of the cave once and for all time, introducing us to reality proper. With this metaverse, the soft-totalitarians threaten to send a great many back into the depths, swapping out reality for shadowy hallucinations and life-giving substance for vaporous forms. 

The Church has stood, oftentimes alone, against the tyrannies of every age, especially against the totalitarian regimes that stacked bodies like cordwood in the 20th Century. To keep standing and fighting the good fight and true, we must keep our feet planted in the real. The sacramental Church so anchored can preserve itself and stand as a bulwark against the Great Reset, calling out to those blinkered by the Enemy in hopes of setting them free from the imprisonment to come. 

[Image Credit: Unsplash]

Joseph MacKinnon

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Joseph MacKinnon is the author of several novels, the latest of which is Lethe, and he contributes to a number of publications, including American Greatness and American Thinker.

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