Beyond The Matrix: Theological Considerations In The Metaverse


In the movie, “The Matrix,” Morpheus, the captain of the Nebuchadnezzar, speaks to the concept of the metaverse when he says: “What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world, built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.”

While the Matrix in the movie is a fictional representation of the metaverse, it proposes the notion that this virtual world uses advanced computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and other cutting-edge technologies with a desired outcome: human control.

Does this mean the metaverse really is about control? In this article, I would like to explore the wide range of potential implications of the metaverse, both positive and negative–for individuals, society, and culture as it relates to theology. These include new forms of social interaction, economic ramifications, ethical and moral questions, and its effects on the physical reality we are all born into.

In the end, my goal is for you to be able to answer that question based on the evidence we will explore. As Morpheus said: “Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.”

Definition of Metaverse

The term “metaverse” was first coined by Neal Stephenson, a science fiction writer known for his work on linguistics, philosophy, cryptography, and the history of science. He wrote a book in 1992 entitled: Snow Crash, which describes the metaverse as a virtual space where society can interact with each other and digital objects in an alternate world.

Since then, the topic has grown leaps and bounds. The Wall Street journal describes the metaverse as, “a new form of the internet that’s more immersive and lifelike, with a growing number of digital spaces that people can navigate with an avatar, or digital persona.”

Venture capitalist Andreesen Horowitz succinctly defines the metaverse as a “fully realized virtual world that can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time.”

Overall, the metaverse can be thought of as a virtual world that people can enter and interact with in a more immersive and lifelike way than traditional internet experiences.

Explanation of its growing popularity and potential impact

Recently, there have been various peer-reviewed articles written on this subject. For example, Schroeder argues that the metaverse is not a single, unified concept but rather a constellation of ideas and practices that are constantly evolving (Defining the Metaverse. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 7(2), 1-7).

In Pang’s article: “The Metaverse: A Techno-Social Phenomenon of the Digital Age,” the author argues that the metaverse is not just a technological innovation but a complex socio-technical phenomenon that reflects and shapes broader social trends and values.

Additionally, “The Journal of Human-Computer Interaction,” discusses embodiment, imagination, and presence in the Metaverse and contends that avatars in the metaverse are a crucial element, enabling users to embody and express themselves in new and creative ways.

There have been theologians who have also published peer-reviewed journals on the metaverse. For instance, Eduardo J. Echeverria wrote an article entitled, “Transhumanism, Technology, and Christian hope,” where he discusses the implications of transhuman technologies like virtual and augmented realities that will impact our understanding of human nature and our relationship with God.

Additionally, Robert Geraci, in his book “Virtually Sacred: Myth and Meaning in World of Warcraft and Second life,” explores the religious and spiritual dimensions of virtual worlds–such as the metaverse.

It’s important to emphasize that both theists and non-theists have written on this subject because it is a wide topic that will directly affect every human being on earth, regardless of one’s worldview or belief system. Let’s shift our focus now to the effects of social interaction in the metaverse.

Social Interaction

There are many new forms of social interaction that have already emerged in the metaverse. These include virtual communities, enhanced communication, shared experiences, and collaborative creation.

For instance, in Second Life, users can create their own avatars and interact with each other in many ways: shopping, restaurants, bars, amusement parks, etc. These virtual communities can even include cities where people live, work, and socialize together.

In this virtual world, communication goes above and beyond how people typically communicate on just the internet through email, social media, video chat, and over the phone. Instead, people are immersed into the metaverse.

During a demo, Zuckerberg and other Meta executives put on virtual reality headsets and turned into avatars within a virtual workspace. It was there that they collaborated with each other and interacted with the virtual objects collectively. This augmented experience is different than typing to friends or family on Facebook or Twitter in front of a screen device.

Furthermore, this collectiveness can be discovered in VRChat, Roblox, Minecraft, and Decentraland. For example, in Decrentraland, users can buy and sell virtual real estate through a blockchain-based virtual world.

These are just a few examples of the types of metaverse games that exist and how they are already changing social interaction. In light of what we just learned, let’s now consider how this social interaction affects us spiritually.

Theological discourse could be implemented in the metaverse in a variety of ways. For instance, just as communities gather together in synagogues, mosques, and church buildings–religious organizations could also hold these services within the metaverse.

I can imagine a virtual synagogue where Jewish people from around the world come together for Torah study, prayer, pilgrimages to the Western wall in Jerusalem, and have the ark, bimah, and prayer books to interact with one another. I can envision a virtual Mosque for Muslim communities to come together for prayer and Quran study or participate in a virtual Hajj to Mecca. Their virtual spaces could include a mihrab and prayer rugs along the way.

Finally, there could be a Christian church where people gather for worship, Bible study, fellowship, etc. The church itself could include a pulpit, altar for prayer, and hymnals in the pew racks for people to pick up and follow along during the worship.

It’s quite possible that the metaverse could have the potential to make interfaith dialogue and cooperation easier and more successful. As you know, in the physical world, it can be difficult for people to interact with others that have different worldviews, especially because of geographical distance, language barriers, and cultural distinctions.

However, people in the metaverse could locate instantaneously to wherever they would like to engage spiritually and even have options to translate with artificial intelligence, so language barriers are not a hindrance. Overall, social interaction in the metaverse would be a reflection of the physical world, but with more convenience for dialogue and religious exploration.

Economic Ramifications

William Gibson, a science fiction author, famous for using the term “cyberspace,” once said: “The future is already here–it’s just not evenly distributed.” Let’s discuss if the metaverse will also be limited in its ability to bring equality for all.

There are currently companies that are investing in this universe. For example, marketing, advertising, and e-commerce can be built in so that when avatars are walking through cities, they can see your virtual sign. This sign could point them to a website or even give the person access to buy a product there on the spot. This type of engagement will be a novel way for businesses to create new revenue streams.

Another economic ramification will be increased competition. As more space gets limited, investors will want to compete for a virtual space that will be in a prime location, akin to a property on 5th avenue in New York. Moreover, the metaverse could change employment. It could lead to a whole subset of jobs like virtual architects, designers, and innovators. Similarly, it could lead to workers in traditional industries in the physical world to be replaced by virtual equivalents.

Metaverse experts also believe that this world could open up opportunities for digital assets like virtual real estate, clothing, and accessories for avatars. Consequently, these economic ramifications could lead to regulatory changes such as intellectual property rights, taxation, and data privacy. Now that we have covered the social and economic ramifications, let’s delve into some ethical and moral questions relating to God.

Ethical and Moral Questions

While we have discussed some of the positive aspects of the metaverse, such as connecting with like-minded people, instantaneous access to spiritual experiences, unique economic opportunities, and a more feasible inter-faith opportunity with the addition of AI overcoming language and cultural barriers, there are still some grave concerns that we should uncover.

As Morpheus said to Neo in The Matrix: “Welcome to the desert of the real” – the moment of realization that there is a deeper, more nefarious perspective, in the metaverse landscape.

First, there are concerns around privacy and data protection. There are companies that collect data on the movements, actions, and interactions people–who are avatars in the game–are making in order to target advertise or even sell to other companies, which undervalues one’s privacy.

For example, Clearview AI is a facial recognition software that attained over three billion images from social media without user consent. There is a concern this database could be breached by hackers with ill intent.

How do the teachings of theology resolve this tension? Jesus taught his followers to treat others as they would like to be treated. This golden rule should be applied to both the physical and virtual worlds in order to keep the universe safe. For we are all created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect.

Hinduism also has a similar role in respect for all living beings and life forms, including animals and plants. This religion also places a high emphasis on respect towards parents and the elderly.

Islam also has a saying: “The believers are but brothers, so make settlement between your brothers. And fear Allah that you may receive mercy.” This captures the theological notion that humanity is connected through a relationship with a Creator, and so these theological perspectives will surely affect how religious people interpret the metaverse.

Secondly, there are issues of identity and ownership in the virtual world. For example, let’s say an architect builds a specific location, and an artist comes into this world and trades virtual assets such as paintings and clothing in that sector. Who owns the rights, the architect or the designer? How will virtual assets be transferred and protected in a way that is legally binding?

How would Christians respond to fairness and rights in the virtual world? While virtual assets may not have a physical existence, there is still a representation of resources in a virtual world that is connected to a real human being. Therefore, I believe Jesus would teach justice, equality, and common good for all these situations. He commanded not to lie steal, or covet our neighbors’ possessions–therefore, I think this is a crucial element to the Judeo-Christian worldview.

From a Muslim perspective, I believe they would view ownership as a trust from God since they believe everything belongs to God and that humans are simply trustees of God’s possessions. One verse from the Quran that speaks about possessions and their purpose is Surah Al-An’am 165 which states: “And He it is who Hath made you trustees inheriting the earth. He hath raised you in ranks, some above others; that He may try you by what He hath given you. Lo! Thy Lord is swift in prosecution, and Lo! He verily is Forgiving, Merciful (Translation by Pickthall).”

In Hinduism, possessions are viewed as a means to an end rather than an end to themselves. Hindu teaches the concept of detachment from material possessions in order to focus on spiritual and moral values, so the same could be the case in the metaverse.

For example, one verse from the Bhagavad Gita discusses the importance of detachment from possessions in Chapter 2, Verse 47: “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of the work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction.”

Finally, there is this desire by metaverse proponents of decentralizing authority so there is no overarching government. This can challenge how decisions are made and conflicts are resolved.

In Judaism, The Talmudic principle of “dina d’malchuta dina,” which means “the law of the land is the law,” reflects the Jewish view that individuals have a responsibility to follow the laws and authority of the societies in which they live, while also recognizing the importance of questioning and challenging authority when necessary.

In the New Testament, Jesus makes a famous remark to the Pharisees in Matthew 22:21: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” In the context of the Roman government of the time when Jesus was alive, he is teaching that they do have a domain of authority. However, that authority ultimately belongs to God and therefore God’s law supersedes man’s laws.

Effects on Physical Reality

In the Matrix, Morpheus contrasts the physical reality and matrix when he says: “The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look at you window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work…when you go to church…when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to bind you from the truth.”

In this quote, Morpheus demonstrates that the real world has been hidden and replaced by the metaverse. This implies that the matrix was created in order to distract people from the harsh realities of the physical world they were born into.

It’s quite possible that our own world could be completely ravished by war, chaos, and anarchy. We already see remnants of this problem around the globe. I think this is partly the reason people are turning to the virtual reality as a form of escapism from this depressing physical universe we live in now that is filled with crime and emotional pain.

If there is a transition where people become more dependent on the metaverse than actual reality, it could cause a massive shift in how humans cooperate through work, transportation, entertainment, education, and healthcare.

For example, instead of a brick-and-mortar building, companies will allow more and more employers to stay at home remotely and connect through Zoom and other virtual platforms. This actually is cost-effective as there is no rent or utilities that need to be paid by the business operators.

Transportation would also be reduced as people would spend more time connecting through virtual spaces than choosing to attend conferences and events locally, regionally, and globally. This could affect the traffic congestion air pollution, and even the transportation industry such as airlines, hotels, and rental car companies.

In the healthcare world, the metaverse could allow for more remove healthcare and telemedicine. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when people were staying home due to the virus, telemedicine adoption grew more than 38 times. McKinsey & Company, a research entity, reported that $250 billion dollars of US healthcare could be spent virtually through these means.

Finally, the metaverse will affect the physical reality in the educational sector because of new opportunities for virtual learning and collaboration. Instead of flying over to a foreign country to learn the history and culture, a group of students could use a VR headset to immerse themselves in a simulated environment that recreates the scenario. This could even be adapted to historical events, such as The Industrial Revolution or World War II.


To recap this article Beyond the Matrix: Theological Considerations In The Metaverse, I stated my goal was to explore the wide range of potential implications of the metaverse, both positive and negative–for individuals, society, and culture as it relates to theology. These include new forms of social interaction, economic ramifications, ethical and moral questions, and its effects on the physical reality we are all born into.

I hope you now have a better perspective of the metaverse, and I want to end on a positive note by Neo from the Matrix: “Believe me when I say we have a difficult time ahead of us. But if we are to be prepared for it, we must first shed our fear of it.”

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