Ah, look at all the lonely people.

The “flip side” of a culture where independence and freedom is valued is…loneliness.

Second life, for those of you who have a life, is a fantasy world where you can choose what you look like and meet virtual people.

In someways, it’s like the board game “Life”, where you play with money, buy an island, make a house, and talk to people. You buy stuff using virtual money.

In some ways, it is actually good for the art and design people, especially those who use computergraphics to make art. You can sell your art and designs on line and even if the “fee” is small in real money, it does add up.

But a virtual church?

For the elderly, those caring for the sick/elderly/small children and others who are home bound, church services on radio and TV have been a godsend.

But when healthy young people attend a virtual church (or a virtual AA meeting for that matter) it makes me sad.

You see, in the USA, churches are not especially about God but about community. I often encouraged my patients to join a church to get connected with others, to connect with their ethnic heritage, and to find those seeking answers to the reality in life. Some of those who I advised these things were athiests or had been badly hurt by “believers”. But in the US, where changing churches is no big deal, the community idea is sometimes what my patients needed. Many were recovering alcoholics or divorced women, or gay, and hurt. And, of course, it helped that I lived in a small enough town to know where to recommend the best “fit”.

Yet the article’s snide headline about “lapsed Catholic” ignores that Catholics tend to be parishes rather than self appointed congregations. The disadvantage of the parish is that it lacks the “community” warmth of congregations, but the advantage is that indeed no one cares if you’re lapsed or not, at least in the larger churches. The parish worship centers around the mass, and communion, and the service is more about worship of God than each other, even in the “modern” Catholic churches where traditionalist Catholics bemoan the loss of piety.

Those who have been hurt might indeed find comfort in a virtual church, just like many pious individuals prefer to read and pray privately, or feel the essence of God more in a hike up the mountain than in a noisy church full of hypocrites and noisy kids.

Yet…

There is something sad about people who cannot reach out to other people except through a virtual world. There is something very human about human contact. We doctors know that the “laying on the hands” part of the examination is often not scientifically necessary, yet it is part of the ritual, because there is something about a human touch that is needed to assure a person that the doctor is a healer of a person, not just a frigid robot who treats disease in a mechanical manner.

Similarly, although finding God in silence and solitude is necessary, it lacks the idea that we live in families and communities. I therefore ask the preachers, AA leaders, and others of second life: how do you extend your service to the real human being behind the avantar?
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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines with her husband, children, granddaughter, six dogs, three cats, and a large extended family nearby. Her webpage is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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