Identity: I'm in Christ, therefore I am.
“This digital phenomena is called Second Life. It is one of several virtual realities that you can join via the Internet where you and tens of thousands of others simultaneously wander around and “do” life. Listen to some of the descriptions of Lindenworld (where your Second Life takes place) that can be found on the website: ‘Second Life is about personal expression and your avatar is the most personal expression of all. After all, an avatar is your persona in the virtual world…Despite offering almost infinite possibilities, the tool to personalize your avatar is very simple to use and allows you to change anything you like, from the tip of your nose to the tint of your skin. Don't worry if it's not perfect at first, you can change your look at any time.’
“Think this is just another overly popular first person 3-D game? You may want to think again. Second Life has a real economy. In fact, the “people” in Lindenworld support an economy that is spending at the rate of $130 million dollars a year and is growing in the double digit range each month. That’s not fake or virtual money, that’s real dollars. What are they spending it on? Virtual cars, virtual sunglasses, virtual property, virtual cover charges…in fact, you can even visit a “real” ATM in Second Life and trade your “paper dollars” for Linden dollars. If you made a few bucks in Lindenworld selling a virtual pet that you custom designed for a paying customer, you can cash that back out into paper dollars and go by some real dog food for a hungry Fido.
“On October 23, at the time of writing this particular part of this manuscript $590,000 real dollars had been spent in Second Life in the past 24 hours; 12,754 players were logged in (out of 1.1 million who hold a membership), and Pontiac had just bought a whole virtual island to promote their virtual product and will begin selling virtual cars that can be tested on a virtual track and bought, presumably, with not so virtual dollars. Reuters, the well respected news agency, opened a news bureau inside of Second Life this week. It is staffed by one full-time reporter. Consider these last few quotes from the website and intro video: 'Second Life provides near unlimited freedom to its Residents. This world really is whatever you make it, and your experience is what you want out of it. If you want to hang out with your friends in a garden or nightclub, you can. If you want to go shopping or fight dragons, you can. If you want to start a business, create a game or build a skyscraper you can. It’s up to you. Life beyond reality…a land of infinite opportunity…an everchanging world rich with promise…transform your being, tempt fate without inhibition, court danger without fear, indulge every passion, from Linden Lab…Second Life…get one!’
“Now the point of this long description is not to lay a foundation for a rant against Second Life, virtual worlds, the Internet, computers, technology, or even to exalt the ‘olden days.’ The point of describing Second Life is to help us to begin to get our arms around contemporary trends in societal answers to the question, ‘Who am I?’ Or in other words, I am wanting to move us toward thinking about the issue of identity.
“At first glance, it would seem that identity, like so many other ideas in our culture has been “commodified,” conveniently packaged for mass consumption by us, the often gullible consumers. Think about some of the major trends in what is being sold these days and see if they don’t reflect Second Life’s approach to identity. Customization… Flexibility… Availability… Transformation.
“In some ways, identity can simply be thought of as fulfilling a defined role and the more we adopt and own a certain role, the more identified we become with it. For example, when we teach children about firemen, they come to understand not that firemen arrest burglars, but that they put out fires. When we teach them about what it means to be an astronaut, they come to understand not that astronauts build houses, but that they navigate through space. Slowly but surely the child should learn that who you are determines what you do, how you behave, where you go, etc. Second Life alters this equation somewhat by allowing you to “be” whomever you would like to be and therefore allowing you to “do” whatever you want to do. Your “second life” is no longer tethered to the pole of your first life…you are free!
“Or are you? While this discussion of identity is helpful in illuminating and exploring the topic, it remains up to this point at least one significant step away from how the Scriptures speak to this issue. The Bible is really much more simple and clear (and finally determinative) in the answer to the “Who am I” question. You are either: of the light or of the darkness [1 John 1]; of the Spirit or of the flesh [Galatians 5]; new creation in Christ or old man in the flesh [2 Cor 5]. Every other hat you where, every other role you associate with, is secondary to this most fundamental aspect of your identity. Given this truth, Second Life does not represent some “new, never seen before, cutting edge” way of constructing identity in our social consciousness. I would argue that it is simply a new level of freedom, available to those with a high speed connection, to be who they actually are. To put this more accurately, we are free to be ever more enslaved to the mastery of sin, which is no freedom at all. When we remove the constraints of a physical reality, the opportunities to live out our enslavement to sin are limited only by what our minds can imagine and our checkbooks can handle. It is one more venue where we live out our true identities, either in Christ as slaves to righteousness or out of Christ as slaves to sin (Romans 6).
“You see, the hard reality we all must learn is simply this, you are not whoever you want to be. Our ideas about ourselves, no matter how sophisticated and technologically advanced are often plain wrong. When an unbeliever asks the question, Who am I? The best answer to that question is that you are enemies of the cross of Christ bound for destruction and under the power of Satan. When a Christian asks the question, “Who am I?” there is also an answer. This answer is not in our self-fashioned ideas of cultural Christianity, nor is it in our family of origin, it is not in our job title or a virtual reality with an unlimited number of variables that we can control, it is not in a theoretical understanding of metaphysics, it is not in our hearts, in fact, it is not even in knowledge about this book (John 5:39). The answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ is in a person, and that person is Jesus Christ.” – Devon Berry, Pastor for Youth, Clearcreek Chapel, “Christ, The Son of God”