Christ’s Temptation as Prophetic Metaphor for the Coming Virtual Age

Luke 4:1–13 & Matthew 4:1–11

“Command that the stones become loaves of bread“

This is a perplexing temptation. The impulse to eat after a 40 day fast seems a reasonable and necessary one. But, the temptation is not to eat, but to denature of the fabric of one’s own relationship to the world to a self-serving end. It is important to recognize that Christ undermines the material plane in every miraculous instance and implores his followers to do the same, but these instances serve to spread the knowledge of God and an awareness of his presence. They do not serve to self empower and self deify.

The transformation of the stones to bread seems deeply benign and barely corruptive, especially compared to the miraculous multiplication of a loaf of bread by 4 or 5 thousand. However, Christ’s divinity necessitates the avoidance of even the most venial sin. So, the nature of this avoided sin deserves exploration.

The boundaries between “individual,” “group,” and “objective“ realities and perceptions are soft and, on a foundational level, imperceptible. So, the potential role of virtual reality in Satan’s scheme to corrupt the spirit of man, considering this narrative, warrants serious consideration.
But first, the trilateral message of the story:  

  1. The transformation of stones to bread entails a manipulation of perceived material fabric to a self-serving end.
  2. Throwing himself from the parapet of the temple to test God‘s saving power represents a manipulation of the temporal fabric. Rather than trusting God to go before us and establish the path in time that we should faithfully walk down, Satan implores Christ to put to test God‘s promises, drawing the guide from the path he is making ahead to the end of self-edifying spectacle.
  3. The temptation to stand before the world and take it to rule is a manipulation of the social fabric. If one is a “universal leader,“ they have no social constriction. Collective moralities and goods are subverted with ease. To have faith in oneself to accept said power is innately self deifying.

All three of these boundaries, established as holy by our Lord Christ; the material, the temporal, and of the social, are subverted through entry into virtual reality.

The material boundary is most obviously violated. This apparent ‘world’ is a complete falsification; a deception. It is, in some way, always determined by the inductee. Stones are constantly being turned to bread; the material world and its aspects that do not land directly to the deification of the individual (stones) are virtually replicated to form a reality intended to serve the inductee (bread). But man cannot live on bread alone. The aspects of the material world that are comprehensible to us as conducive to our immediate or ultimate edification are foundationally egoistic and therefore, self deifying when constructed as a complete continuum of perceived reality.

The temporal virtue is violated. Virtual-reality creates a landscape of perpetual instant gratification. If the current expressions of video games are any indication, with their perpetual violence and cycles of dying and respawning, tossing oneself from the parapet of the temple only to find the foot undashed by the stone is a modest beginning. Much like the contemporary zombie archetype, this will serve to represent another perversion of the resurrection narrative; inviting the inductee to experience myriad deaths, cheapening the awareness of their own bodily death.

And what of the bodily death? Is the chief end of a technocracy that drives the development of virtual realities not fear and of and disdain for the bodily death? In hope and faith in life eternal, the Christian fears separation from the ones that he loves but sees the temporary loss of his bodily form as happenstance in the end. To live well in this life, he knows, is to utilize his current form to walk, to toil, to eat solid foods; all processes lending to the aging process that ultimately leads to the first demise. The technocrat is a dualist, fundamentally, who abhors his body and wishes not to use it, ultimately seeking disembodiment. He desires nothing more than to fly headlong into the satanic virtual either, decentralizing his consciousness through the transition of his fleshly sense organs to hard impenetrable circuitry. Why would he (as many have posited he will) utilize his newfound invincibility to float through vast and dull expenses of sky? Does he not already abhor this plane? Nay, the virtual world is his domain, free from these imposing and godly restraints of space, time, and, finally, society.

In years since the Columbine massacre, a line so statistically inappropriate that it is oft mocked was drawn between violent video games and the mass shooter. It is plain to see that the categories of virtual killer and mass murderer are in no way, shape, or form mutually exclusive, but both phenomena have developed aggressively enough in the postmodern era that they have been crystallized as contemporary expressions of social pathology. The virtual killer’s soul is guarded by the knowledge that only the specter of suffering is created, but both delight similarly in the ancient delectations of violence and cruelty that contemporary technologies (whether in personal weaponry or audiovisual simulation) have greatly enhanced in scope.

The experience of this antisocial urge; that is to kill and maim, is, has, and always will be an integral component of the simulated experience. A recent AAA video game title to achieve critical acclaim, Red Dead Redemption II, sees Rockstar games once again revolutionizing simulated murder. In addition to realistic and permanent bullet wound decals, the player is invited to kidnap and torture their victims, drown them, burn them alive, kill their livestock in front of them while they plead “don’t do this“ or drop them from a cliff. This new breadth and depth of simulated violence made available to the masses satiates a commercial demand. But this is not the full picture.

Upon release, the game was lauded in the press for its prosocial aspects. The player develops simulated bonds with the other members of their camp. They may engage in altruism through charitable giving, sucking the poison from the rattlesnake bite a fellow traveler has incurred, rescuing women from their abusive boyfriends, stopping robberies, and returning runaway horses to their owners

The thread that binds together all of these aforementioned acts, whether pro- or anti-simulated-social is the subversion of the social in favor of the solipsistic. The player, by merit of being the sole possessor of being in the simulated world is the be-all end-all. Dissolution of the screen consciousness and entry into this world of false beings alleviates the inductee of the Holy Constraint of the Other, a behavioral plane inhabited in the base reality only by those with disordered personalities. Some will be cruel, others kind, but all who partake will reach a new peak of individualistic experience, entering a world where there is truly ‘no outside text,’ only projection.

The virtual landscape is the deepest opportunity to date to “do what thou wilt unassuaged of purpose;” the precise invitation of Satan to Christ. The time for the horrors of techno futurism will be made manifest draws near. Will you, as Christ did, humbly submit to the spatial temporal and social constraints that God has ordained or will you seek to deify yourself? To achieve the latter, one must only bow down before the beast in worship.

All drawings are originals by the author, John A. Williams

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