#MediaLit17 Chronicles 13: Real humanity in the virtual world

Day Four, Dr Karen O’Donnell is here to talk to us about digital theology, and will be looking at the Eucharist.

Where are our bodies in digital spaces?

There’s a sense in which when we go online our bodies don’t go with us. Therefore we can feel like the digital world isn’t real.

This can lead to what’s called digital dualism.

This dualism can be particularly discomforting for Christians. If the virtual isn’t real and fake then how can we be incarnation on the internet? Is ‘virtual’ just a euphemism for ‘body-less’?

In this session, Karen wants to argue that we don’t need to go with a dualist view; that digital experience isn’t disembodied and that in today’s world it isn’t really possible to be ‘offline’.

Following in the same vein, though not explicitly identified, as Schleiermacher Karen insists that all theology starts from within our experience, more specifically within our bodily experience. As such all theology is bodily theology.

She then talked about trinitarian theology saying that people talk about the economic and the immanent, but how can we know God in himself? Therefore, consciously follows Karl Rahner’s and then moves one step further to collapse the immanent into the economic, to make the two the same. This fits her view that Trinity is material.

She then moved to talk about the nature of Humanity; We are embodied creatures, not body and soul.

The view which she ends up advocating is that we live in one reality which is both physical and digital, atoms and bytes; using the language of ‘cyborg’. Therefore she would say that we cannot say that our digital experience is disembodied.

We then discussed in groups.

After coffee we watched this next video to introduce the theme of Eucharist and digital.

Obviously this is a silly thing, but it helps us start to engage with the question: Is liturgy performed in digital space authentic? What does authentic mean anyway?

We then considered if someone could participate in the Eucharist as an avatar online? Or what about an extended Eucharist which operated on either the basis of the reserved sacrament or a cognitive effort on the priest to remember the non-physically present bread and wine to bless it from a distance.

Personally, it seems that this document, quoted at one point in Karen’s presentation, speaks a great deal of theological sense:

Similarly, as noted above, the virtual reality of cyberspace has some worrisome implications for religion as well as for other areas of life. Virtual reality is no substitute for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the sacramental reality of the other sacraments, and shared worship in a flesh-and-blood human community. There are no sacraments on the Internet; and even the religious experiences possible there by the grace of God are insufficient apart from real-world interaction with other persons of faith. Here is another aspect of the Internet that calls for study and reflection. At the same time, pastoral planning should consider how to lead people from cyberspace to true community and how, through teaching and catechesis, the Internet might subsequently be used to sustain and enrich them in their Christian commitment. — Pontifical Council for Social Communications, The Church and Internet.

The whole document is worthy of reading and reflecting upon.

An interesting and slightly controversial session!


This session was based on 
Corporeal Beings in Digital Spaces by Dr Karen O’Donnell

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