Fr.B.M.Thomas (Bombay Diocese of the Indian Orthodox Malankara Church) – Contributing Author & Research Associate – OCP News Service

Spirituality and virtual reality seem very odd pairing. We are very aware that we live presently in the world of virtual reality. Origins of virtual reality can be traced back to the 1800’s, which is the development of practical photography itself. Twin mirrors used to project a simple image was the stereoscope invented in 1838. That paved the way to the view master that is still used in photography. The term virtual reality was first coined in 1980’s when Jaron Lanier, founder of the VPL research, developed the goggles and gloves for such an experience. One of the milestones in its development was the sensorama. The sensorama experience simulated a real city environment, which we “ride” down through a motorbike. Multi-sensory stimulation – let us see the road, hear the engine roar, smell the bike exhaust and feel the vibrations. NASA Ames Research Center in the mid-1980s, devised a head mounted simulator with gloves, the Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW) system to enable the haptic interaction. Today’s current virtual reality gears and standards owe a great debt and gratitude to the inventors of the past six decades, who paved the way for low cost, high quality devices, which are easily accessible. The aim of this piece of write-up is not to trace the history of Vr’s but to see how it can be made useful in spiritually intumescing of our worldly life.

Although it is a common understanding that science and religion does not go hand in hand. It is always the reverse. Science gives a way to spirituality. The doors of science are always open to be explored so that it becomes a boon for the spiritual nourishment. VR’s can be as useful as any other sacred objects for boosting our spiritual experiences.

VR Churches: The Future
Virtual Reality can have a vital role in future faith formation. Mission VR is a platform for experiencing VR’s and AR’s in faith and education. Mission VR partnered with Covalent Reality to create an environment for the VR platform Google cardboard called BelieveVR. The faith of the Apostles was the backbone of the church as they could have the first-hand experience of the life of Jesus Christ. They had the real taste of what it was to be with the Lord. VR’s have the capability to take us to that deep level, to that reality being felt directly to us. BelieveVR uses 360-degree cameras to follow the stories of people of faith as they struggle to overcome spiritual challenges. Such innovative methods can be sought out, and more life experiences both from Bible and from the lives of Church fathers and Saints can be used to aid to the deteriorating worldly existence of humans.

For those people who are not in a position to physically come to the church, or such people who want to enhance their experience with new technologies, or people who want to come back to a church that they had previously left, virtual reality offers a platform where they can experience the full feel of a real church. Using virtual reality in the church brings a wholistic spiritual experience to those who can’t or wouldn’t normally go to church. Making faith accessible to utmost people has always been the goal of the church, and VR’s a real aid in that direction. People with any sort of disabilities are not likely to be physically present attending the church activities, so VR’s will enhance their participation. Live streaming of church worships can be done through the VR’s, which will make the viewer feel the church experience from their very chair or cot they are in.

VR Chats
There are social media networking now a days. Watsapp, Facebook, Twitter are very active. Mostly all churches have Watsapp and Facebook accounts, where members indulge in active discussions and debates. Rising one more step higher in technology, there can be VR networking groups, instead of meeting at the church, people can meet and greet each other at a common virtually real platform. It can include spiritual nourishment exercises, meditations, speeches, worships etc. Hyperfair is a VR platform usually used in business. Mozilla’s MozVR is a free open source virtual reality platform that allows us to create our own online VR experience to be shared with friends and other fellows. Vtime is a VR social network that allows people to meet in the virtual space on a windows platform of Windows Mixed Reality Devices.

Meeting in the virtual space provides a chance to meet new people without the pressure of meeting them in person. It has the boon of making the person more active and open towards any concern in the particular group. New persons joining the group can get a prior idea of the type of people they are going to mingle with and the type of reactions, they still being in their own houses.

VR Retreats
Organizing a retreat is a tedious job, from finding the appropriate location, to arranging the catering, to looking into and fulfilling even the minute of the needs of different people is a real Herculean task. Meeting at a virtual space will reduce these unwanted tensions of looking for a meeting place, travel to the retreat location etc. Guest speakers can give their talks without even leaving their homes. People with disabilities could participate without even worrying whether the place will accommodate their needs.

The possibilities seem endless, and as vast as the universe. Virtual Reality is the future. As the cell-phones’ was a revolution, so will be the VR’s. Religion, Church and above all spirituality will definitely be transformed by this revolution.

OCP News Service