Religion as virtual reality?

That's how one observer sees it - and he believes it has implications for the future of humanity in a technological future without work for many of us.

The crucial problem isn’t creating new jobs. The crucial problem is creating new jobs that humans perform better than algorithms. Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.

. . .

People must engage in purposeful activities, or they go crazy. So what will the useless class do all day?

One answer might be computer games. Economically redundant people might spend increasing amounts of time within 3D virtual reality worlds, which would provide them with far more excitement and emotional engagement than the “real world” outside. This, in fact, is a very old solution. For thousands of years, billions of people have found meaning in playing virtual reality games. In the past, we have called these virtual reality games “religions”.

What is a religion if not a big virtual reality game played by millions of people together? Religions like Islam and Christianity invent imaginary laws, such as “don’t eat pork”, “repeat the same prayers a set number of times each day”, “don’t have sex with somebody from your own gender”, and so forth. These laws exist only in the human imagination. No natural law requires the repetition of magical formulas and no natural law forbids homosexuality or eating pork. Muslims and Christians go through life trying to gain points in their favorite virtual reality game. If you pray every day, you get points. If you forget to pray, you lose points. If by the end of your life you gain enough points, then after you die you go to the next level of the game (aka Heaven).

As religions show us, the virtual reality need not be encased inside an isolated box. Rather, it can be superimposed on the physical reality. In the past this was done with the human imagination and with sacred books, and in the 21st century it can be done with smartphones.

Some time ago I went with my six-year-old nephew Matan to hunt for Pokémon. As we walked down the street, Matan kept looking at his smartphone, which enabled him to spot Pokémon all around us. I didn’t see any Pokémon at all, because I didn’t carry a smartphone. Then we saw two others kids on the street who were hunting the same Pokémon, and we almost got into a fight with them. It struck me how similar the situation was to the conflict between Jews and Muslims about the holy city of Jerusalem. When you look at the objective reality of Jerusalem, all you see are stones and buildings. There is no holiness anywhere. But when you look through the medium of smartbooks (such as the Bible and Qur’an), you see holy places and angels everywhere.

. . .

Do we really want to live in a world in which billions of people are immersed in fantasies, pursuing make-believe goals and obeying imaginary laws? Well, like it or not, that’s the world we have been living in for thousands of years already. 

There's more at the link.  The author goes into much more detail in his new book, 'Homo Deus:  A Brief History of Tomorrow'.

Of course, the biggest obstacle to accepting this 'religion-as-virtual-reality' view of humanity is that it begins with the understanding that religion is factually false;  that there is no God except one of our own invention, and no eternity outside this life.  In other words, since we have 'made' (i.e. invented) God in our own image, we can proceed to remake ourselves in our own made-up vision of what we are and should become.

That's the sticking point for people of faith, right there.  It's our contention - whether we're Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or any one of many other faiths - that we are made in the image and likeness of God, rather than the other way around.  We believe that we were created by God, not that we have created a fantasy God in our own minds.  If people of faith are right, that means any attempt to remake humanity by inventing a computer-game simulation that we 'play' in order to give meaning to our lives, must inevitably fail, because it doesn't take the reality of creation into account.  As St. Paul put it from a Christian perspective:

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

That's the nub of the problem.  If a secular scientist, or a secular government, seeks to remake human society in the image of what people of faith will inevitably regard as a 'false god' - secular humanism - then their efforts are certain to meet resistance.  In the final analysis, to treat religion as if it were nothing more than a fantasy is to tell people of faith that they have been deceived, and that those propagating their faith are liars, and that their hope is in vain.  I, for one, will never accept that, and I know many other people of faith who will respond likewise.

It's a dilemma and a conundrum . . . and it's going to become a real problem for those of us who live long enough, and for our descendants and successors in faith.  We're living in, not just a post-Christian, but a post-religious society.  What will it become in future?  Into what will it evolve?  What will become of people of faith - people like us?  Will society have any room for us at all?


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Published on May 11, 2017 03:47 • 119 views
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message 1: by John (new)

John Leven Great post!

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