The combination of pandemic blockades and Zoom have spawned a new way of being Catholic. Or, they have spawned a new way of looking Catholic. Let’s move on to a Catholic metaverse.
A metaverse is a virtual world, like those in virtual reality games like Roblox, Minecraft, and Fortnight, where individuals exist as avatars or three-dimensional icons of themselves. These games are precursors to an even larger virtual world, where individuals could hide their identities, interact, and present their opinions anonymously.
The future, however, is at hand. Now, it’s possible to be where you want to be, say whatever you want, and find people with similar ideas to be, even to adore, all within a cocoon of anonymity.
The word “parish” has acquired a new meaning.
In pre-pandemic times, people chose parishes according to their tastes and aversions: community, location, pastor, and liturgies, almost in that order.
Now, the good news is the bad news. It is easier to shop.
The community has nothing to do with it. The location has only temporary considerations: in what time zone is the parish? The pastor and his liturgies are the ones who make or break the choice. Tridentine o a new order? Smart homilies? Women altar servers and readers?
The community is increasingly disconnected from parish life online and in person. Although once the parish church was the one in the street, where Friday dinners helped to consolidate social interaction, now the “parish” is virtual. The community is in a Catholic metaverse created through social media in which you can participate anonymously. Or not.
Most people know the ways and means of, for example, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like. What they may not see, even if they participate, is the solidification of different virtual communities on these platforms. Each virtual community has a different goal and ethos. Everyone has a different view of church teaching and discipline. None is controlled by Rome.
We’re not there yet, but on the horizon is a virtual reality far beyond online Masses and Catholic Twitter struggles. We are on the verge of a real metaverse, a grandson of the Internet, which expands to include more than words and images. What we have in mind is a development of online gaming platforms that will allow people, as avatars, to move from one platform to another. Individuals will no longer need different Facebook profiles, Twitter drivers, and Internet accounts. They will be able to invent and exist in the virtual world and move (virtually) in real time, without problems from one platform or community to another.
The metaverse will not be a game. It will be an alternative reality. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says that in the next five years Facebook will be a “metaverse company,” an “embodied Internet.” He predicts a “persistent synchronous environment” in which users are incorporated as holographs. The goal is to build community.
How? Zuckerberg says the current goal of the research is to provide a much stronger sense of presence, a more natural way to interact. Think of this as a new way of being present to other people, a three-dimensional zoom with surround sound and holographs that you can access from anywhere.
Religion is included in the plans. Facebook has already collaborated with faith communities, such as the Hillsong Megasturch in Atlanta, the Assemblies of God, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The company is creating products for churches, including audio and prayer exchanges and online tools to build congregations through Facebook.
As Zuckerberg moves Facebook to a metaverse company, he predicts even more. His vision is a real metaverse, where the platforms of different companies will be compatible and will include public spaces and social systems that everyone can access, including churches.
This is in the future. What concerns us now is remote access to worship, spiritual direction, preaching, Bible study, social gatherings after church, almost anything the parish in person can provide in terms. of information and interaction. Remote access allows people to choose who to listen to and who to interact with. It is moving to the point that Catholic fact and Catholic fiction compete.
The question: will there be a Catholic metaverse controlled by Rome? Or will the various Catholic virtual communities continue to grow in their own directions? Then there is the great thing that happens if all this: what about the sacraments?
Someday, the pandemic will be under control. But the church is changing. It will not be your grandfather’s Catholic church. That’s not it anymore.