Second Life’s Great Religious Awakening

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Due to the great response our earlier article generated, we've decided to put our Second Life religious work side-by-side for your reading pleasure.

After reading the transcript of a recent PBS segment on faith in Second Life, I'm not only convinced that the generational gap maintains, but that even PBS can be caught in a bit of subconscious stereotyping.

The offending segment gave a general overview of Second Life for the uninitiated, and probed questions of religious expression in the Metaverse's dominant social world.

A Critique of Second Life's Sin

Correspondent Lucky Severson does a bit of off-topic opining:

MARK BROWN (CEO, New Zealand Bible Society): Straightaway it is the opportunity to mingle with people around the world. We have about 20 nations represented in our community. I absolutely love that. I love the richness of that, that regardless of where we are in the world, we can come together and worship.

SEVERSON: Second Lifers tend to become hooked on the experience. Michael Adcock says he was spending 12 or more hours a day for awhile. This can have negative consequences on real-world relationships.

There have been at least two highly publicized divorces resulting from what were supposedly virtual affairs in Second Life. Questions are often raised about ethical behavior by people who can hide behind anonymous identities on the Internet.

Keep in mind, this is in a segment ostensibly about the construction of virtual churches in Second Life, and the rise of virtual congregations to fill the pews. Aside from the casual return to an idea of online gamer as a social dunce, Severson brings in the detritus of the Metaverse by linking gossip and "virtual affairs" to the destruction of real lives.

But the bulk of the segment focused on the phenomenon of virtual churches – non-physical spaces where avatars log in to attend virtual sermons and pass the virtual alms dish.

The Rise of Virtual Church

Big players like LifeChurch are buying up real estate and preaching the Gospel to a worldwide assembly of avatars in what one user I interviewed called, "a virtual world soaked in sin and badly in need of salvation."

The media has been aware of Second Life's burgeoning religious community since at least 2007, as a blog post from the religious outreach website Get Religion notes. Two years ago the community of churches and churchgoers was large enough to merit a series of investigative articles. Since then, the network of real-world pastors, private proselytizers, and errant sheep has likely doubled in size.

Get Religion counters the PBS argument that anonymity breeds hedonism:

Because all interactions are anonymous, conducted from behind
facades, gamers say the spiritual conversations in Second Life tend to
be more intimate and meaningful than the good-sermon-nice-weather
exchanges that pass for conversation in real-world pews.

Which side do you take?