Tech companies are investing in the Metaverse and recognizing the importance of religious communities. Some have already been regularly meeting in the Metaverse and conducted religious rituals like baptism. The Metaverse would play a key role for religious communities soon. Many questions remain, though, as to whether that relationship will be beneficial for the religious communities and their members or merely help the Metaverse platform companies prioritize for profits in the name of religious faith at any cost.
Religious communities have long been key players in gathering people in congregation throughout history. Hence, it is not a surprise that religious communities have been actively exploring the true potential of the Metaverse during the pandemic. As the Zoom meeting has become the new norm regardless of age, gender, background, and the level of digital literacy, the road to the Metaverse has been paved with a mix of hype and hope. At the same time, the questions of who owns and governs the infrastructure necessary for meeting and growing faith-based communities in the Metaverse raise concerns.
The Metaverse is the future of the new communication channel and media that can be compared to the invention of the printing press of Gutenberg. Gutenberg’s printing press accidentally collided with the protestant reformation led by Martin Luther and John Calvin, that shaped the modern world. The Internet has already vastly changed the way we interact with our family, friends, and colleagues. Everyone will be connected to everyone else in a much simpler, more humane, accessible, and interactive way as the Metaverse emerges. We can do part of our personal relationships in the Metaverse beyond a physical barrier.
The anonymity in the Metaverse can help people feel more confident about themselves, motivating them to share deeply personal issues with others. The Metaverse puts everyone behind the avatar. In fact, that helps people in the Metaverse to be more true to themselves. Now, VRChat, for example, has more than 25,000 virtual reality communities that include worship and counseling services for a bunch of teens and 20-something. The Metaverse can allow members to freely meet without judgment regardless of their physical ability or appearance. For people with social phobia, it is much easier for them to be more actively engaged with others in the Metaverse than in a public place of worship.
Ranging from spiritual meditations in fantasy worlds to traditional worship services in virtual liturgy in hyper-realistic and church-alike environments, religious communities can experience a fellowship that is just as genuine as what they used to have at an old brick-and-mortar temple. It is yet quite controversial, though, if religious activities like baptism to the avatar surrounded by their relatives and friends in the Metaverse shall be respected as the expression of orthodox religious beliefs and practices in the real life.
My key assumption is that robust religious life will certainly continue to grow within the Metaverse. People would first see what the religious communities are trying to do in the Metaverse. Later, people will witness how the Metaverse is completely reforming the landscape of the religious communities and their regular gatherings for worship. Therefore, we need to tackle many important questions and create dialogues among key stakeholders of the Metaverse and religious communities if new religious modalities could emerge in the Metaverse and if the Metaverse reduces or increases religious and social conflicts that we have never seen before.
We need to deep dive into rather controversial subjects at the juncture of technology, religion, and sociology. We must start dialogues on specific matters such as the civic necessity of religions in the Metaverse to build a just world at peace. It shall be done with respect to the rule of law and the need of reorienting digital platform’s moderation approach to center the protection of not only major religions, but also marginalized religious communities in the Metaverse.
Leading tech companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) are interested in creating partnerships with leading faith communities to make sure that future communal innovations are taking place on their own platforms and continue to invest in them. Pandemic has also increased the popularity of the Metaverse churches like the Robloxian Christians on the Roblox. However, what that means for faith communities themselves still remains to be seen. Therefore, for those who self-identify as religious and care about the future of religion, they have a lot of work to do.
The Metaverse may influence dramatic changes in our social and religious norms. That said, we should lean in and claim our role in shaping the spiritual worlds within the Metaverse that is being created. As we enter into the Metaverse, we should not also forget about the mental and spiritual harm that people have already experienced in their real life as harassment based on their religious identity, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We shall safeguard people in the Metaverse from the menace of bigotry coming from other humans of difference as everyone should stand at equal footing in the Metaverse.
The Metaverse may redefine what humans and humanity will be. The Metaverse would be constructive around faith and spirituality for a diverse set of religious communities in terms of creating a quasi-physical sense of connectedness for widely dispersed people. We can also create the Metaverse that allows religious communities to gather together in unprecedented ways of learning and growing in wonderous spiritual experiences.
I envision seeing more leading religious institutions which start training and nurturing future leaders in the Metaverse. They shall not only investigate how faith communities leverage the Metaverse to gather people, but also publish work on how to develop faith relationships on the Metaverse with the specific concerns of the moral and political rules and freedom of religious expression.New religions may emerge. At least, the transformation of old ones in the face of the Metaverse is imminent in search of true being and virtual immortality. Regardless of spiritual and ethical tradition, the Metaverse should create a safe new space of liberation and peace for an expanding circle of people with different beliefs, seeking to know one another and recognizing differences under their common values.