The virtual environment has become pre-eminent in American life. Young and old spend an enormous amount of time in front of a computer screen. The word, virtual, in its use has become almost completely identified with the computer age in which we live. Virtual is opposite the real physical environment. It is an imitation of reality.
We are caught up in the fascinating and sometimes dangerous computer world. Many good things originate with the computer–music. news and weather, information of all sorts, wholesome entertainment, etc. The computer can broaden and enrich our experience. If we can’t get to Yellowstone to see the beautiful Lower Falls, we can watch it on the computer screen in all its glory–the roar of the water, the rainbow, and the mist. In the past one would have had to spend much time doing research that is now at his fingertips. One can even watch movies on a computer screen.
On the other hand, the Internet has many dark corners. It is used by the unscrupulous to defraud people. There is subject matter that one would screen the children from and is not good for any of us. There also exists the problem of “information glut.” Advertising, while necessary, becomes overwhelming. One could go on and on.
The computer itself is morally neutral. It is not in itself either good or bad. It is in its use that we find good, and evil. Human beings have fallen into sin. Our use of the machine can be for ill purposes. Many spend their time making sure that evil prowls on the Internet. Moreover, only in a limited way does the computer promote the moral life and virtue. One can research the Bible or the great philosophers to learn the wisdom of the ages. But, one can also find deep wickedness on its landscape.
For the sake of America and the strong moral fiber that makes the nation great, we Christians must be intentional about virtue and the moral life, more intentional than our obsession with the computer. In our desperate national moral condition, we must give as much and more energy to cultivating the good life. The good life has much to do with right living and less to do with well-to-do living. Secularism and materialism have made devastating inroads into American life. They have attenuated its moral fiber. Christians, especially, need to be leaders in moral commitment. This call does not imply that Christians are perfect. Our perfection must wait until the coming of the Kingdom of God. Despite the fact that we still struggle with sin, we must not allow our guilt to prevent us from doing and speaking the right. We are not being hypocrites in doing so unless we are set on continuing in our sin while claiming to be always morally right and upright.
Virtual or virtue? The choice is not an either/or. What is required is a proper regard for each. When we step into the virtual as when we are in the real, we must remember Christ’s call to the moral life. When we call others into relationship with Christ, we are calling them into a life dedicated to God’s purposes in the world. We must do as Paul calls on the Romans to do, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies or drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13: 12-14 ESV) Verses 13 and 14 influenced Saint Augustine to abandon his waywardness and become a Christian. Not long after he came upon these words, he was catechized and baptized by Saint Ambrose in Milan.
Michael G. Tavella
September 30, 2023