The Daily Show's Ronny Chieng featured virtual reality-based baptisms in a recent segment, hilariously noting the strangeness of AltspaceVR avatars ("God created man in his own image, not in the image of a purple dildo!"), while just as hilariously missing the actual point* by asking, "Does a virtual baptism even count?" As it happens, I just asked that very question to Bishop DJ Soto of VR Church, who's featured in the Daily Show segment, and who had a very substantial answer:
"First and foremost, we believe the sacraments of baptism and communion to be symbolic. They are an external expression of an internal experience," as DJ puts it. "We don’t ascribe to the literal transformation of the bread into the body of Christ. We don’t believe that baptism literally washes away guilt and sin. We believe these sacraments are symbolic. Therefore, in the spirit of this symbolism, VR Church celebrates VR sacraments."
Still, Bishop Soto tells me he took the Daily Show segment in, well, good faith:
"I thought it was pretty funny," he tells me over Discord. "'Pastor Morephus' had me laughing." And yes, since the segment aired, his virtual church has seen many more avatar-based attendees: "We saw a spike [last] Sunday though hard to tell if it's from The Daily Show or continued from the Syrmor video."
Speaking of which, it would have been nice if the media would credit VRChat-based reporter Syrmor for first bringing mass awareness to VR baptism in his video that's so far been seen nearly 750,000 times:
* And yes, I know The Daily Show missing the point is itself kind of the point, as we've been down this road before: When he was still host 11 years ago, Jon Stewart gave Second Life The Daily Showtreatment (without actually using Second Life).