Thursday, July 28, 2016

‘Virtue’ Squeezed Out By Virtual Reality?

"Fantasyland" is a great place to visit, but it's not
such a great idea to live there full-time.
When was the last time you heard someone speaking about “virtue”? Have you used the term recently yourself? Hardly anyone talks about virtue these days. There just doesn’t seem to be much demand for it.

So what in the world is virtue, anyway, since it’s become so rare in the public consciousness? One dictionary defines it as “conformity to a standard of right or a particular moral excellence.” A speaker I was listening to recently did talk about virtue, and explained it as “courage, moral goodness, consistency in the face of an inconsistent, amoral world.”

With so much disagreement about what’s right and wrong, and the rise of moral ambiguity, it any wonder we don’t hear much about virtue these days?

Part of the problem could be that virtue’s systematically been squeezed out by virtual reality. We have people talking about “my truth” vs. “your truth,” essentially deciding all truth is relative and, in effect, there is no real truth. Their “reality” isn’t the same as ours. Truth has become just whatever you want it to be.

Then we have social media, where we have virtual friends, people we’ve never actually met. Even if we agree with them philosophically or ideologically, if we bumped into them on the street, they’d be complete strangers. Most of us can declare, “I’ve got lots of friends. I just haven’t met them yet.”

Add to this “avatars” – icons or figures that can represent us  in online computer games or Internet forums. Not only do cyberspace friends not really know us on the inside, they also don't know us on the exterior either. If you’re short and plump, your avatar can be tall and slender; 100-pound weaklings can appear as visions of strength.

“Pokemon Go” seems the new rage, taking faux reality into the great outdoors, the highways and byways of our communities. Reason tells us “there are no such things as monsters,” but the Pokemon-Goers are hunting them just the same. They’re real in the world of virtual reality.

Then there are so-called reality shows, in actuality no more real than Sunday’s comics, programs deftly edited and spliced to depict drama and conflict we’d hardly notice during the live filming.

And if we still haven’t had enough fantasy to counter real life, we can try virtual reality glasses to transport us anywhere and in any way we choose. Reality sure ain’t what it used to be.

But what’s this all got to do with virtue? It’s simple – virtue isn’t developed in a vacuum. It’s beneficial only within the context of relationships. Real ones.

We speak of “connectivity” in terms of having instant access to information and people. And yes, it’s nice to communicate with others, whether on social media, text messaging or email, anywhere around the world. But such connectivity doesn’t foster strong, growing relationships. That occurs only when we spend time with one another face to face, side by side.

I think this is why the Bible puts such great emphasis on both virtue and relationships – with God, and with one another. For instance, in Philippians 4:8 we’re admonished, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Hopefully we can all agree this is a list of good things, but they can’t be practiced in a vacuum.

Immediately following, the apostle Paul presents the biblical view of connectivity: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice” (Philippians 4:9). In other words, “If you have seen me practicing these or other virtues, you should do them as well and model them for others."

The Scriptures underscore the importance of keeping grounded, of confronting actual reality – not the virtual variety. It instructs us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I especially like that word “encourage,” because in these days of virtual reality and relative truth, it takes great courage to be willing to stand up for absolute truth and values that have transcended the centuries – but are being soundly rejected today.

The Bible also uses many “one another” passages, including admonitions to “bear with one another and forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13), “be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32), “love one another” (John 13:34), “be devoted to one another and honor one another” (Romans 12:10). Again, such virtues can’t be cultivated and manifested in a virtual reality context.

In 1969, Coca-Cola introduced the slogan, “It’s the Real Thing,” which it used for a couple of years. Maybe it’s time to stop encouraging virtual reality mindsets and subscribe to the notion that “Virtue – It’s the Real Thing.”

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