Religion in the virtual world
by, 05-25-2010 at 08:42 PM (3248 Views)
Today I decided to check out Second Life's religious community. Perhaps ironically, when I did a search for "religion", the Atheist Center came up third. Since it was only following a store and a roleplay sim, it's actually the first result in terms of religious institutions. Even more humorously ironic was that the only person there at the moment was a woman who belonged to both the atheist group as well as a bdsm group called "White Slaves for Black Goddess." I'm easily amused.
With its floor to ceiling bookshelves, the Atheist Center's first floor definitely appeals to my inner librarian, but it's mostly just decorative. The second floor has some generic scientific stuff like the periodic table of elements and images of fossils, but of course atheists can rarely argue their points without insult so the required mockery is in the form of a poster with cartoons of Muhammad. The third floor is a lounging area and includes a stripper pole. There's not much substance to the Atheist Center and I didn't find any literature, which was most disappointing of all. It appears to be mostly a gathering space.
After the Atheist Center, I went to Ummah of Noor, one of many Muslim sims. It has a dress code so I quickly put on a hijab. Ummah of Noor might seems confusing because it's a Muslim sim, but has the "True Message of Jesus Library," but keep in mind that Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet (just not the Messiah). The name is really just a sort of marketing tactic to draw non-Muslims to the information center. The sim is unimpressive, which is disappointing considering how beautiful Islamic architecture is. It's also a little scary. Everyone I spoke with was friendly, but focused on conversion. One woman quickly invited me to her women's group and one man I spoke with, who lives in Jordan, said he hoped I'd read about Islam and convert soon. Looking at the profiles of some of the people around, I discovered a group called Al-Qaeda-Taliban. The Group Charter didn't contain anything but a link.
There are many beautiful churches and centers for many different kinds of Christians, but I'm pretty sure I was Mexican in another life so when I saw la Catedral de Guadalajara in the Search results, I quickly zoomed over. The interior construction is a bit crude, but I enjoyed the overall atmosphere of the sim especially Puerto Vallarta Beach and the melancholic rancheras playing. It made me want to drown my non-sorrows in tequila. I had to pop in my favorite Juan Gabriel cd before I could continue my tour on to Adam ondi Ahman.
Adam ondi Ahman is a meeting and education center for Mormons. I was greeted by a child avatar, Skyler Goode, who turned out to be the estate manager. And it's an impressive estate complete with a walk-through park with information on the Book of Mormon, a large meetinghouse, and genealogy center. The members of the church do not hold services in Second Life, but Skylar assured me it is an active community and they even have inworld missionaries. Although the sim is not officially associated with the Church of Latter Day Saints, Skylar told me the church leadership is aware of it and approves.
There are a number of Jewish places to visit, but Zeide Kamp caught my attention because it is described as being modeled after an Eastern European village in the late 1800s. It's cute and primarily an education center. Every building has a sign with information relevant to the the Judaism. For example, the sign outside the tailor's place describes orthodox clothing customs. The village includes a beautiful Shul (temple), an impressive Yeshiva (school), a pretty Mikva (ritual baths), and even a cemetery.
I was pleasantly surprised to find there are a lot of other religions represented in SL. There are quite a number of Buddhist sims and a few Hindu temples dedicated to various gods. I decided to visit the Mahalakshmi Devi Hindu Temple devoted to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity among other things. It's just a small parcel of land with a one-room building, largely empty save for the image of the goddess and various puja (Hindu ritual) items. I didn't see anyone or find any information so I don't know how active it is. I love the painted elephant outside.
I was also happy to discover a few Shinto shrines. I visited Little Yoshiwara's Grand Amaterasu omikami Shrine and Uzume Shrine. Whew! Try saying that three times quickly. In Japanese mythology, Amaterasu is the beautiful sun goddess. Her name literally means "that which illuminates heaven". One famous story tells that Amaterasu secluded herself in a cave and thus the world sank into darkness. To lure her out, the goddess Uzume performed a bawdy dance. Sure enough, Amaterasu came out of her cave to see what all the noise was about and the gods convinced her to return to the heavens. She remains important to this day. Her shrine in Japan is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years, the Japanese Imperial family claims to be descended from Amaterasu, and she is represented on the Japanese flag by the red disk. Uzume is worshiped as well. The shrine area is clean and simple, as Japanese design often is, but very pretty with Amaterasu's shrine at the center of a park that includes a tea area and a the sacred tree that houses the kami, or divine spirits.
I wanted to see how minoritarian I could get. I found a handful of modern pagan places including Sacred Cauldron, which is a large and beautiful outdoorsy sim. It's Wicca-based and offers several ritual spaces, classes, a drumming circle, shopping, and a pub. I particularly liked the standing stones pictured here.
I also found a gathering place for LaVeyan Satanists. The Satanic Temple of the Morning Star is not associated with the real life Church of Satan, but claims to be in line with its philosophy. It's poorly constructed and there's no information about a group or meeting times, but I'll give them credit for even having it.
There are some things I searched for, but didn't find, namely anything African-diasporic. I found nothing on Voodoo, Lucumi, Candomble, and nothing orisha based in Africa either. This has piqued my curiousity regarding the black communities in SL. More on this later.