The Culture of (Cyber) Death

John Paul II in Evangelicum Vitae (The Gospel of Life) warned about a growing culture of death, and that

with the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological progress there arises new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being. At the same time a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes against life a new and--if possible--even more sinister character.
The Pope's encyclical was written in 1995, just as the internet revolution was getting started. But he foresaw how this would go down. And it has gone very far down indeed. In recent years, this new culture of death has taken the form of video games (ostensibly for adults, but widely available for children) with the theme of sex, violence, and crime. These games represent the real education that we give our children, for no school can (or should) compete with such advanced pedagogical techniques. As Andrew Tuplin writes in Adbusters:
Although Grand Theft Auto IV allows you to kill anything that walks, you cannot (yet) sex anything that walks. Sex in the game is restricted to prostitutes who willingly engage. This design choice has allowed the game maker, Rockstar Games, to negate some particularly unsettling in-game situations such as virtual rape or virtual pedophilia. Though I believe there would be a public outcry if such morally repellent things were included in the game, explaining exactly why virtual sex and murder are acceptable – while virtual rape is not – is a difficult argument.
Indeed. Though marketing considerations may prevent virtual rape, the logic of the game permits, or even encourages it. Of course, these games have the power to form our minds--and our souls--in ways that real life could not. The virtual replaces the real in the formation of habits. After all, a real murder might sicken us and present us with unpleasant consequences; but we can practice a virtual murder an infinite number of times. One can get into the habit of murder without even exercising the courage that a real murderer might have to exercise. Reality at least imposes some limits, even on the murderer or the rapist. But in virtual (non)reality, our avatars do our killing for us, and can do so infinitely.

The first commentator to recognize the dangers of this virtual reality did so long before anyone had imagined the computer. In fact, he warned us of the problem 2,000 years before the computer. As Andrew Tulpin notes:
When Jesus began teaching and interpreting the moral code of the day, he radically redefined adultery, translocating the sin from the physical realm of actions and words to the virtual world of the mind and imagination. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” What Jesus teaches is that God is concerned not only with what plays out in the physical world of actions (reality), but also with what takes place in the virtual world of our minds. A sociological approach to morality judges murder wrong because it harms an innocent person. A theological approach to morality finds murder sinful not only because of the physical act, but also because God is offended by an angry mind as well as violent hands. The humanist or secular view of morality is concerned only with what we do. True religious morality is concerned not only with what we do, but with who we are, with what we desire to do.
More and more, we have abandoned real education for virtual education, an education death, greed, lust, and vice. Yet soon, our civilization will need all the courage and prudence we can must to survive the troubles that lay in store for us. The task, I suspect, will fall to a remnant as it always does. But no remnant in history has faced not only such a depraved population, but such a population so well-schooled in depravity. Had I the foresight and wisdom, I would have loved and encouraged my children more than I did to strengthen them to deal with the world we have left them.


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