The Anti-Epiphany of Meta

What hath the Metaverse to do with Epiphany?

It is still Christmas—even if only for a little longer. Then comes Epiphany on January 6. But what hath the Metaverse to do with Epiphany?

For materialists today, the role of sight, which figures so prominently in the ancient and medieval world, is often misunderstood. Moderns simply take for granted that what our eyes behold is all there is to see. But the old world was not so. It was haunted by what Lewis calls “the numinous.” Both the antique and medieval man knew the world was charged with the supernatural—either with Hopkins’ “grandeur of God” or with Aeschylus’ dread of the furies. (Or both.) Man could have “visions” in the city or in the wilderness, and he could find to his terror or delight that there’s more than meets the eye. So, the experience of an “epiphany” affects not only the physical sight but the spiritual and intellectual vision as well.

The word “epiphany” simply means a sudden revelation. At root, the word has to do with “light.” In the light, the essence of a thing becomes manifest to oneself or to others. The epiphany scenes in Scripture bring greater recognition and realization of who Jesus is and what he means. Historically, the church recognizes three images in Scripture to mark the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth: the visitation of the Magi from the east (Luke 2; Matt. 2), the baptism of the Lord by John in the Jordan (Matt. 3:13-17), and the first miracle of Christ's ministry, the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Each of these scenes in the life of Jesus reveals something about his true nature and purpose.

In literature, however, the concept has taken on the idea of a more general moment of realization, to the extent that it has become a stock literary device. If you’re Flannery O’Connor, your characters might suffer a violent and sacramental revelation. If you’re James Joyce, however, your characters might be revealed as the unrepentant cynics they really are.

But the epiphany of characters, the manifestation of their true meaning and purpose, was not simply a way to entertain. Epiphany mattered because it was a glimpse into what is real. Consider, for instance, how the art of story was (and still is) a primary way in which a character is revealed. Conflict and suffering often function as a kind of lantern, throwing into relief the contours of form and the meaning of who the person really is in that moment. Thus, the substance of “character” is mediated through an event, one which “shows forth” a deeper and clearer picture of reality.

But this cannot happen in the Metaverse. We already know about “Zoom fatigue” and the false assumption that nothing significant is lost in the transition from in-person meetings to digitally mediated ones. We already know about the danger of what Roger Scruton calls the “reduced-risk” encounters online. We are perhaps already well-aware of the deception in “Hiding Behind the Screen,” where, in the “screenful form of conducting relationships, I enjoy a power over the other person of which he himself is not really aware.” But what about the Metaverse? If even our current mode of digitized relationships is already a problem, enough to stunt moral growth and compromise the healthy development of human society, then how much more the Metaverse? How much more is the possibility for an epiphany obscured? How much more the ability to behold revelation darkened?

Then the eyes of Adam and Eve were opened to the Metaverse, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed digital fig leaves together to make themselves absurd avatars.

The hubris of the Metaverse is ironic, that under the cover of false “skins” we can eliminate the hope of reality ever breaking through. Having been more conditioned to online activities in the last few years than ever before, humans are now beginning to grow so accustomed to outsourcing life online that what was once lampooned in the nerd playing Second Life is now a celebrated as if it were mainstream. With its layers of unreality, Metaverse is therefore the anti-epiphany.

We are losing the possibility of epiphany. It is not just visual noise that eclipses our vision, nor the digital din which now drowns out even the superficial song of the siren, let alone the meaningful sounds of silence and sense. Perception of epiphany is under attack today, adding a further annihilation of the moments of realization in our lives. The function of the Metaverse is a complete repudiation of epiphany, a demonic parody of its truth-revealing operation. It’s not hard to see why something darker lurks behind Meta. Real life is our first life; in real life we have epiphanies. But in “Second Life”—and in its now more respectable sibling, the Metaverse—we only have reveries.

Further Reading

is the Director of Membership and Publishing at the Association of Classical Christian Schools. He is author of The Age of Martha: A Call to Contemplative Learning in Frenzied Culture (2019). He was the Research Editor of Bibliotheca in 2015 and has worked in classical Christian education for 20 years. He and his family live in the Northwest, where he writes, fly fishes, and remains a classical hack.

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