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From the Winter, 1996 issue of Touchstone

 

A View From the Keyboard by Thomas S. Buchanan

A View From the Keyboard

Thomas S. Buchanan on The First Church of Cyberspace

As you enter the sanctuary you look out a window and see a sailboat gently gliding across a lake. A quote beneath the window is from St. Anselm: “Free will is like the sailor adjusting tiller and sheets. Though it is sometimes a struggle, we can choose to hold the boat of our life steady into the wind of the spirit.” As you listen you notice a single guitar playing Luther’s A Mighty Fortress is Our God. As you look about you see a soprano readying her special selection of You Are So Beautiful, while three homilists are preparing their messages.

Welcome to the First Church of Cyberspace (http://www.execpc.com/~chender)—an interactive multimedia gathering place that is “seeking colleagues interested in collaborating with us as we envision those new forms of faith community that are emerging at the dawn of a new millennium.” The First Church offers many amenities to its virtual parishioners: an art gallery with works from the Sistine Chapel, a multimedia Bible, a library, movie reviews, animated presentations, and discussion groups. All this, and the three sermons—complete with graphics—are just a mouse-click away.

The Internet offers some helpful resources to Christians. Reprints of classic works (e.g., the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at http://ccel.wheaton.edu) and the latest papal encyclicals (Christus Rex at http://www.christusrex.org) are some of the better examples. As the Internet has extended beyond the academic confines of universities and becomes user-friendly, the advent of a “virtual church” was inevitable. The electronic media allow users (excuse me, “virtual parishioners”) to choose which sermons, songs, and discussions they wish to join. The question, of course, is whether this is a good thing. And even if it is, can it still be called church?

In his sermon on 1 Cor. 3:16, First Church minister Stephen C. Ross proclaims “You are the temple, so what is a church? At best it should be a place where you are resourced as the first witnesses were: A place where you receive the Spirit, share all things, follow the way of Jesus. Wherever this is done, there is church! . . . You are the temple. You are the pearl of great price. You are the field. And we together are the pioneers in a church without boundaries.”

All this is provocative, but are we “resourced” by the First Church of Cyberspace as the first witnesses were? Hardly. Here’s a sample of some of the “resourcing” you’ll get. The current discussion or “on-line debate” is on the topic of homosexuality and the Bible. The debate is introduced by Barbara Wheeler, president of Auburn Theological Seminary, who writes, “Not since slavery, in my estimation, has there been an issue that has as much potential to divide religious communities as this one.” Professor Walter Wink (also of Auburn) and Professor Ulrich Mauser of Princeton then square-off to discuss the pros and cons of the ordination of homosexuals. Professor Wink writes concerning the first chapter of Romans: “No doubt Paul was unaware of the distinction between sexual orientation . . . and sexual behavior . . .” Apparently Professor Wink would have us believe that St. Paul and his followers were insufficiently resourced.

Book and movie reviews offer similar nonsense. Elaine Pagels’s The Origin of Satan is given a glowing review: “Pagels is especially brilliant in her writing about early apologists . . .” (Pagels suggests that Satan was invented by early Christians to demonize their opponents and that traditionally minded Christians are continuing to propagate these heresies.) The film Priest (about a homosexual Catholic priest) was recommended viewing and Pocahontas was praised (“politically correct . . . three sophias!”).

Perhaps to attract a nontraditional crowd to their “faith community,” the First Church offers some trendy listings in its library. Under the heading of those “making fun of us” or those who “compete with us,” the library includes links to sacrilegious pages by gay rights activists and blasphemous pages on “magick [sic] and paganism.” The benefit of including these completely escapes me.Obviously, the First Church of Cyberspace is not a valuable resource for Touchstone readers. But does the idea of an orthodox “cyberchurch” have merit? I don’t believe so. Church is not as ethereal as First Church minister Ross would have us believe. It is the body of Christ. Our communion with that body is meant to be actual, not virtual. Jesus did not tell us to imagine sharing in his Body and Blood; we are told to partake of them in a very real and physical way (i.e., “eat,” “drink”). Even if a computer system were available to create a perfect virtual environment where the senses were completely deceived so that a person sitting in isolation perceived that he was present in church standing before the altar worshipping with the saints, this still could not be called church. It would be, at best, an illusion of church and, at worst, a perversion. To rely on such a “church” to provide nourishment for the soul would be like relying on a wax banana to provide nourishment for your body.

Obviously, the First Church of Cyberspace is not a valuable resource for Touchstone readers. But does the idea of an orthodox “cyberchurch” have merit? I don’t believe so. Church is not as ethereal as First Church minister Ross would have us believe. It is the body of Christ. Our communion with that body is meant to be actual, not virtual. Jesus did not tell us to imagine sharing in his Body and Blood; we are told to partake of them in a very real and physical way (i.e., “eat,” “drink”). Even if a computer system were available to create a perfect virtual environment where the senses were completely deceived so that a person sitting in isolation perceived that he was present in church standing before the altar worshipping with the saints, this still could not be called church. It would be, at best, an illusion of church and, at worst, a perversion. To rely on such a “church” to provide nourishment for the soul would be like relying on a wax banana to provide nourishment for your body.

I am sure that proponents would claim that the main advantage of a cyberchurch is that it potentially provides much variety and allows users to participate in those parts of church life that they find most comfortable at times that are convenient. However, to speak of providing convenience for worshipping the Almighty Creator of the universe smacks of not understanding one’s proper place in it. Furthermore, providing the ability to pick and choose the parts of the body of Christ that one likes best is to treat it as if it were a roasted turkey. As for this implementation, that’s not a bad description. Zero sophias.


Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.

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