Is This Real?

The story goes that in a college philosophy class a student got up to ask the professor a question. “How do I know that I am really here?” asked the student. He thought he had a clever question about identifying reality. The professor didn’t miss a beat and responded right back, “Well, who then shall I say is asking?”

This may seem like a comical story. Philosophy questions can seem so silly at times, don’t they? Like the age old question of, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" It seems cute. Something for brainiacs to playfully engage in, in the classroom. But this question about reality is becoming more real than we realize! (Pun intended there) It is becoming evident that with the direction of modern thought, reality is in a state of question. We are becoming less engaged in what is real and are deeply engaged in fantasy. The fantasy, the digital, the virtual, the soulless is all we are fixated on. We are becoming so engrossed in the alter realities that what is real is no longer known. 

Think I’m talking science fiction? Did you ever imagine a world where choosing a gender would be viewed as normal? “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is a serious statement today. But twenty or thirty years ago your grandparents would have laughed at such nonsense. Today, we don’t know what marriage is, what gender is, what responsibility is or why we are even here. 

A lot of this has to do with our consumption of that which is not real. The latest statistics indicate that the average American watches over four hours of TV per day. On top of that, the average American is on their phone for about three hours and forty five minutes. That is almost eight hours of being in front of a screen everyday...that is not school or work related! And do not think this is just a younger generation type of thing. The latest statistics show that those over the age of 65 watch over seven hours of TV per day! 

This is a lot of intake into the mind of that which is not reality. No matter what it is you watch (movies, tv shows, documentaries or even the news!) it is still not reality. So many today think that because they saw a documentary that it is factually correct and everything about it is real. We even have a TV show category that is called Reality TV, that is anything but reality. Our minds are being transformed without realizing it into the world we are watching, not living. In many ways we are living vicariously through what we watch. We want our families, romances, jobs, vacations, hobbies and more to be similar to that which we see on TV or social media. Social media is now how we take in other people's lives even though it is far from the reality that person is living. 

Part of the reason the pornography industry is so lucrative is because they show what is not real. So many are attracted to images that they want to experience. They imagine having sex in a way that is not realistic and live vicariously through what they see on the screen. Yet the people that are in these videos have said that what they do in front of the camera is not realistic. They admit that it does not reflect their own sex life in any way. But this is how millions experience sex. In an unrealistic fashion. 

So much of what we think is real is shaped by what is fantasy. Growing up I wanted to go into law enforcement. I wanted to be a U.S. Marshal. A hunter of men. A lot of what I knew about law enforcement was from shows like COPS and specials on the discovery channel. I’ll never forget one day while attending a wedding someone in my family introduced me to a police officer that was there. I told him how I just didn’t want a desk job in my life. I hated the idea of paperwork. I just wanted to have a job with action. I didn’t want to be bored sitting in an office. He looked me right in the eyes and started laughing! He went on to say how much paperwork he had to fill out in his job. He said he spent more time writing reports than making actual arrests! Suddenly reality hit me like a douse of cold water. Being a cop was not like what I saw on COPS.

But so many around us are not coming in contact with reality. Instead we are trying to alter reality into our fantasies. A recent article in World magazine was highlighting the new fad of Virtual Reality (VR) Church. With so many people on VR, some pastors have taken advantage of having church services on virtual platforms. Imagine having church with people that are not really...real! And this is gaining popularity! And not just with church but in many areas of life. The article states, “Thanks in large part to the coronavirus pandemic and falling prices of VR headsets, virtual reality is becoming a literal reality in many people’s lives. Today offices have meetings in VR, seniors use VR headsets to go skiing in the Alps, and researchers suggest VR may have therapeutic benefits. Pastors like Willenbrock hope VR can also help them spread the gospel among gamers and other web users.” Did you ever think that when Jesus said to go into all the world to preach the gospel that it would entail a world that isn’t even real? But that is where we are at! What was even more startling was what one of the pastors shared about those that attend his VR services, “[Pastor] Willenbrock downloaded VRChat in May 2019 and by the end of the summer was explaining the gospel to people in virtual reality. Then he set up a Discord server—a digital bulletin board for gamers or VR users to meet and chat—and the prayer requests came in. People shared about suicide attempts, depression, anxiety, and personal problems they would tell no one else in real life.” Isn’t this interesting? These people feel more comfortable sharing the deep problems of their lives in a virtual world as opposed to the real one! And if this seems a little far fetched, think of the times you see a couple people at a table all on their phone and none of them  talking to the real person in front of them.

Whether or not we should have a VR church is not the issue i’m getting into here. I just want to highlight that this is becoming a popular way of doing church. That people feel more comfortable sharing their life digitally as opposed to physically. To go to church virtually as opposed to in reality. Many around us do not even know how to interact with others in the real world. 

We want everything in a way that is not real. We want relationships with no emotional attachment. We want lots of toys without having to earn them. We want to be adults but have no responsibility. We want to choose our gender with no psychological consequences. We want money without having to work. We want to be selfish and for it be virtuous. We want to do whatever we want and for there to be no physical consequences. We want to write our own moral code and not have to face God for our choices.  Paraphrasing Neil Postman, Ben Sasse said, “television and digital imagery and digital media [have] adultified children and infantilized adults.”

We as Christians are going to have to not just witness to there being a real God, but witness to what is actually real! Gone are the days of just simply going over the plan of salvation. We will now have to testify to what is real, true and right! We live not only in a time where people prefer the fake over the real but have also lost their sense of basic reality. We must stand for the truth. We must stand for the world as God reveals it to us. His word will be our guide in a day and age of utter fantasy. A professor of christian ethics has rightly said, “the task of Christian ethics right now is to give accurate descriptions of reality."

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