Video: Online religious observance gains a foothold

By Don Teague Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/21/2007 7:48:40 PM ET 2007-05-21T23:48:40

One of the fastest growing sites on the internet isn't a Web site, but a 3-D virtual world built and owned by it's residents.  It's called "Second Life," and for millions of users, it's a place to escape reality.

But just like the real world, good and evil also exist in "Second Life."  As a result, religion is finding it's way there too.

For Jeff and Deziray Click in Oklahoma City, it's a typical Sunday at church, while 800 miles away, Nathan Carline is attending the same church in virtual reality.

"I can just get up in my PJs, turn the computer on and I'm right there," Carline says.

In a computer-generated, secular world called "Second Life" where more than 6 million people interact and explore virtual cities -- some rated PG, many for adults only -- a new religious frontier is emerging, with churches, synagogues and mosques trying to gain a foothold.

Life Church, an evangelical mega church in Oklahoma City, has invested thousands of real dollars to build a presence in Second Life. Its Sunday services are now live in both worlds.

Life Church is basically the same church whether it's in the real world or the virtual world. The difference in Second Life is the people -- virtual selves can be male or female, human or not. One particular Cheetah came to church wearing Hawaiian shorts and said he only feels accepted here, in the virtual church.

But is this really church?

Elaine Heath is an ordained minister and professor at Southern Methodist University. She says that people have to be in a community living out faith together to really have a church. Still, Nathan Karline says the message is the same. He hasn't been to a real church since finding faith in Second Life.

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