The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life

An interesting question


Recently I received a very interesting email from Sally Coleman which I thought I would share (with her permission!) with others.  I invite your thoughts in the comments section below.

Dear Mark,

One of my MA modules focuses on Christian Community and Worship, I am currently reading about place and identity, the need for community and rootedness, I was wondering how you see the Cathedral in Second Life in the context of this Walter Brueggeman quote:

“Place is a space which has historical meanings, where some things have happened that are now remembered and which provide continuity and identity across the generations. Place is a space in which important words have been spoken which have established identity, defined vocation and envisioned destiny. Place is a space in which vows have been exchanged, promises have been made and demands have been issued. Place is indeed a protest against an uncompromising pursuit of space. It is a declaration that our humanness cannot be found in escape, detatchment, absence of commitment, and undefined freedom…Whereas pursuit of space may be a flight from history, a yearning for place is a decision to enter history with an identifiable people in an identifiable pilgrimage …”

…and this line of thought:

Philip Sheldarke points to the way that the world has effectively “shrunk” for many of us due to technological advances – but notes that space is an objective thing that is subjectively perceived and experienced differently depending on perspective.

It struck me that the Brueggeman quote could be used to both defend or to critique the Second Life Cathedral depending on your perspective.


What do you think?


Author: Mark Brown

CEO of The Bible Society in New Zealand.

8 thoughts on “An interesting question

  1. Thank you all for your input, I have found this to be very helpful. I am struck by the constrasting views that SL is “home2 to some and yet remains a virtual reality to be kept as such for others.

    Mirranda- the critique was not aimed primarily at the Anglicans and I am keen to know how the Cathedral space impacts the wider SL community and also how identifying with the ACSL provides you with a positive identity which is carried out to the rest of the community.

    Marc I hear what you are saying re real face to face interaction but would be interested to talk to others for whom this is not an issue.

    Hedonist I am interested in your view as SL as a supplement that enhances yet holding in tension the very real possibility that if SL becomes all then it could be labeled dangerous- which raises intresting sociological questions about addiction.

    I would be interested to hear more.



  2. To me, SL religious practice is like SL friendships : a shadow of the real thing. I have many friends on SL and I like’em. But I miss the essential : the real person, the guy or the girl to whom you may say : “Let’s got to the pub” or “Come to my place”. Same with my fellow SL parishioners.

  3. I think it was a critique against Anglicans of SL. Particularly the comments about the people involved being recognizable. I believe she was suggesting that, since the people in Second Life were not necessarily faithful visual representations of their “real people” (you can look like Popeye if you want to), you cannot have a true relationship with others in Second Life.

    One thing that Catheral tourists should be shown is the whole infrastructure of the of the community. For instance, on the Cathedral Facebook site, you can find out more about the people behind the avatars and continue the relationship in that direction.

  4. For me, Epiphany already is a place and one with a history, albeit a short one in terms of days, weeks, months. When I arrive at Epiphany I feel at home, that I belong.

    I have had conversations of both a superficial and deep level. I have learnt about others who share that space with me at different times. I have prayed with others and they have prayed with and for me. That’s the commitment bit to my mind.

    I would say that we are an identifiable people with an identifiable pilgrimage even if we don’t yet know how things will develop.

    I understand Hedonistic’s concerns if SL becomes the whole of life and then a person doesn’t reach out to the people around them and engage with them. But I recognise that for some the Anglican Cathedral is currently, and may always be, the only ‘place’ that offers them support on their Christian journey, for a multitude of reasons.

  5. Cady Enoch writes:

    “To me, Second Life is where “web space” meets “web place.” I’m sure this is a concept that seems absurd if not delusional to those who have not experienced SL. Epiphany is a very real place to me, where I have had many deeply profound experiences. Of course it is still a very new place without the deep resonance of generational time. But I don’t believe that time alone is the only measure of how a place can leave an impression on one’s heart and soul.”


  6. Although I find myself sympathetic with the viewpoint that Brueggemann’s quote could be used to either bolster or cut across the authenticity of virtual environments, I’m more in the first camp.

    I haven’t really done all that much in SL or spent scads of time there; yet when I showed up one day at the cathedral to find that the virtual furniture had been moved, I somehow felt offended. That offense was based on my sense of affiliation for this or that place on Epiphany Island – my “topophilia” – which was itself based on the memory of important things happening here or there, and important conversations being had here or there. As I read it, this essentially fits Brueggemann’s requirement for place.

    (What’s interesting is how quickly I got used to the new arrangement, as opposed to how much more my brain would’ve had to regroove if that arrangement were to take place in my First Life.)

    Even though technologies such as SL may depend on the promises of limitless freedom, still that freedom is not undefined. Even if it is entirely fashioned of electronic information on which we can’t put our actual hands, a “place” will contain and be hallowed by the meaning with which we imbue it.

  7. I was recently asked to speak at a conference on the topic “theology in the virtual world”, and they asked that I speak about Second Life. I refused, for a number of reasons. I don’t know Second Life. Second Life doesn’t really have any influence in South Africa with it’s high internet costs. But mostly, although I value the influence of the virtual world, I doubt whether it can replace our First Life.

    Within the virtual world communities are created, but I find that personally I still prefer if these communities work out into physical contacts when it comes to worship.

    Looking from the point of missiology, the crossing of boundaries with the good news of Jesus, the Second Life cathedral can be seen as crossing over this new boundary of the virtual world and carrying the good news of Jesus into this sphere. It can, however, also be seen as similar to David Bosch’s description the “evangelicals” of the 70’s and 80’s that detracted themselves from this world and it’s problems.

  8. In one sense, Second Life is an extension of previously existing technologies. A quarter of a century ago I was chatting with groups of people on amateur and CB radio on ‘networks’. Second Life can be seen as a 21st Century version of this, with pictures. We are no less real people communicating, than we were then. In those days, many criticised the notion of chatting to other people spread far and wide, and not to those around you, perhaps even in the same household. Half a century ago, English comedian Tony Hancock said in his famous sketch, “The Radio Ham”, “This is great! I’ve got friends all over the world. All over the world! None in this country, but all over the world.” That is it really. If Second Life is an *addition* to, rather than a replacement for real life, and if Second Life church is an addition to, rather than a replacement for church life in the ‘real’ world, then it is probably a good thing. But if it becomes the *only* life for someone, then that is probably bad. If it is used as a supplement that enhances ‘real’ life and ‘real’ church, that is fine, but it should be the side-order and not the main meal.

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