The Avatars of Change are among the first groups attempting to create a
new spirituality unique to the metaverse.
“We are an ecumenical religious and cultural order, united
by the Avatarian Way,”
the group charter announces. “May Great Avatar Smile Upon You!” Last week, it was near two hundred Residents
strong. “It's more about people of good will collecting for charity and
establishing quiet places for meditation and discussion,” Change’s founder
Taras Balderdash tells me.
By designation, at least, it is interdenominational,
welcoming members of every faith based on traditions rooted to the material
world. So Avatars of Change count among
their followers Christians, Jews, Hindus, and even more exotic sects, all
greeted as brethren by every member with open arms.
Residents who are Muslim, however, have an extra hurdle to
leap. That’s because Balderdash recently
put a group proposition up for a vote: "... Islam is not a faith that is tolerant of other faiths and therefore cannot be Avatarian. Please vote yes if you consider Islam tolerant of other faiths and a valid Avatarian Way."
The vote, as Taras Balderdash put it to me mildly, caused “a
lot of misunderstanding, a little stubbornness (that's my part), and a
democratic process.” Nonetheless, he
continues, “if people feel very strongly that they have to accept belligerent
intolerance as an Avatarian Way,
then I want nothing to do with the Order.”
This is the challenge of creating a new kind of religious
affiliation in Second Life, separate from the world that was left behind. To explore this uniquely modern burden of
faith, I visited a Confucian Scholar in a sky temple that loomed high above a
shopping mall— and later, with a dreadlocked Sufi mystic in a steampunk
dirigible hovering near the sea.