Walking along the river Elbe during this year’s visit to my old home town of Hamburg I was approached by two men with a video camera. They told me that they were working on an university project and if I would like to answers a couple of questions.
“Could I imagine to live in a virtual world ?” and “Would I like it ?”
I immediately thought of and told them the story Yuval Noah Harari told about his home town of Jerusalem :
“Recently I went with my nephew to hunt Pokémon. We were walking down the street and a bunch of kids approached us. They were also hunting Pokemon. My nephew and these children got into a bit of a fight because they were trying to capture the same invisible creatures. It seemed strange to me. But these Pokémon were very real to the children. And then it hit me: This is just like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he says in the interview.
“I look at the stones of buildings in Jerusalem and I just see stones. But Christians, Jews, and Muslims who look at the same stones see a holy city. It’s their imagination, but they are willing to kill for it. That’s virtual reality, too,” he adds.
I was the first person they had approached and my interviewers were taken aback with what hit them and stopped recording after ten minutes. The questions had got me talking and I have not stopped thinking about how much we actually live in a virtual world.
A long time ago visiting a religious festival in the hills of Sardinia and later the Vatican my eyes were opened what religion was all about. (see my previous blog “Thank you Brian Tamaki”)
However I am still fascinated that so many people feel the need for some imaginary friend up somewhere to tell them what to do. While writing this I came across more from Harari :
“Well, the thing about humans is that we’re very good at inventing fictional stories, and believing in these stories, and then we can’t tell the difference between the imagination and reality. . . . In the real world there are no angels or demons, no gods, no sin, but you look at the world through the bible and suddenly the entire world is filled with angels and demons, and this is a sin, and you shouldn’t do this or do that, and it’s all in the imagination.”
Sadly the imaginary world of religion in the 21st century still leads us into war, terror and mayhem. One would have hoped that we left the dark ages well and truly behind and enlightenment would have overcome (our need for) religion. At the extremes there seems to be no progress. The deeds in the name of or at least associated with religion like attacks on mosques, churches and synagogues speak for themselves.
In my own experience talking to many people I find good and bad.
For instance at my local weekend market is one man of the more aggressive Christian fringe who not surprisingly also spreads various conspiracy theories. I normally have a friendly banter but one time shortly after the Christchurch attack I had to intervene when he had aggressive words with a stall holder of probably Indian or Pakistani origin wearing a headscarf. Other market goers were also upset.
On the other hand I regularly talk to a nice Jehovah’s Witnesses couple trying to convince them of the errors of their ways. These discussions are friendly and respectful. I see how sincerely they hold to their believes and that they do no harm. After one of those discussions I came up with a possible answer :
Back to the original questions.
Yes, I cannot only imagine to live in a virtual world but unfortunately we all live in a religious virtual world mostly to our detriment.
No, I don’t like it. We all would be better of with no religion at all. The world is full of enough problems to cause conflicts. We don’t need religion to act ethically and help and support each other. We are fast approaching the existential crisis of climate change. The last thing we need is bickering over some ancient pieces of historical fiction like the Torah, Bible and Quran.
Dr. Hans B. Grueber