Ecclesiastical thoughts on Total Recall (Part 1)

WARNING – POSSIBLE PLOT SPOILERS (but I don’t think there’s anything major until Part 2)

I’ve just been to see the remake of Total Recall starring Colin Farrell. I came out of the cinema and had a bunch of profound ecclesiastical thoughts (pretty rare) so here they are in a series of posts which I’ve tried to break down into manageable chunks / themes.

I really enjoyed the film, which is quite a surprise as I’m not normally a big fan of remakes (although Italian Job wasn’t bad either). The 1990 original starring Arnold Schwarzenegger is a science fiction classic about a secret agent who has his memory erased after siding with the ‘enemy’ on Mars. Anywho, the remake (or reboot may be a more accurate description) is similarly set in the future but based on earth after most of the planet is made uninhabitable.

For me, the remake is great on a number of levels. The makers have used the original story arc, the best characters and memorable moments from the 1990 version. They have rebooted the aesthetic using imagery previously seen in films like Blade Runner, 5th Element and Inception. The tech is similar to Minority Report but turns some into implants rather than gloves and incorporates holograms and other more modern cinematic trickery. Characters and their costumes were reminiscent of Star Wars and iRobot. The set is incredible with many layers of buildings incorporating iconic buildings from the present (not to give too much away but it’s London which makes a nice change from the States). Really there is not a lot to dislike

It got me thinking about how our taste in films is similar to our taste in churches – we all like different things and enjoy different elements of what we experience. What would church look like for you if you could take all the best parts, your favourite aesthetics, characters, costumes etc and build your own version around the story (the best story, you know, the Bible one)?

Obviously this is not possible in most physical spaces or services but this gets pretty exciting if we think about it in the context of Augmented Reality. What if you turned up to church with your AR contact lenses and could choose what the building looked like, what the minister was wearing (careful there…), what the lighting was. Perhaps it would also be of interest to have different audio options so you could choose the voice for the sermon like a sat nav?

Take this a step further and I assume at some point we’ll be able to walk into any church in the world and join with other worshippers right from the comfort of our own homes through a holodeck or virtual reality room. I’ll be going to the Sagrada Familia fairly often but this has also got me thinking about the impact technology may have on illegal religious gatherings and the persecuted church – could you be imprisoned for attending a service in your holosuite that is happening somewhere else in the world?

But what, I hear you ask, is the intermediate step until the tech catches up? Well, I’m going to suggest that online church, whatever you may think about it, is probably where some of these ideas will flourish. The idea of being able to choose aesthetic elements to create your own sacred space really appeals to me – you could have a different space for each day of the week for example. What is possibly more exciting than the aesthetic options is that you could also choose music playlists, liturgy, prayers and interactive elements.

For example – you could choose to place yourself in an ancient crypt with a few candles but listen to rock music, look at impressionist art and read prayers from missionaries in Peru. Or, you could be in the great outdoors (better if you were to use a projector rather than a laptop screen) and do some interpretive dance to the latest Christian Rap artist before settling down to communion while listening to a Harry Baker poem.

It will not be long before the church needs to decide how it will engage with emerging technologies – right now it’s not a big deal as they are not fully integrated into our society but they will be and I’ll bet it’s sooner rather than later.

Are you ready for the future? Is your church?


  1. Great post, combining as it does Total Recall and online church!

    I’m not sure about the potential for futuristic technology in online churches, the only online churches I know of with the money to invest in state of the art technology are the big ‘campus’ churches in the US which seem to be more about streaming very good live worship and then following it up with online materials and chat. Those of us who are at the more ‘creative’ end tend to be doing what we’re doing on a shoestring which is strong on authentic community and innovative uses for existing technology, but not so good on funding and developing new forms of tech.

    1. Thanks for your comment Pam. I think as with all technology, eventually it will become affordable so we can all access it. I agree that the creative end of the spectrum seems to also be the people without any cash most of the time. What’s your experience of using any new technologies as part of your online activities?

  2. I started off my online church experience as a team member of the Church of Fools in 2004. This was only ever meant to run as an experiment for 3 months and it had what was at the time state of the art 3D imagery, so you took control of a cartoon avatar and moved it around a cartoon church, interacting with other people via on screen gestures and typed speech bubbles.

    When that closed it became 2D – on a forum. Some people tried working in the Habbo Hotel – another 2D site aimed at children and young people – which I also tried, and I’ve also done some stuff on Second Life. I think there’s a real problem with all these representations of physical places which is that we tend to expect people to behave as they would if we were together physically. But in fact the behaviour on Church of Fools was a major problem because it became a target for groups of ‘ragers’ who both wanted to hijack the technology to play with and to disrupt proceedings because that entertained them – so this was classic trolling, annoying people for your own entertainment.

    On i-church we’ve adopted a deliberate policy of using what’s available, mainly freeware, in line with our Benedictine ethos. This can actually lead to some very creative developments but it can also feel frustrating at times.

    I’ve recently acquired my first smartphone and I’m already fascinated by what a different experience going online is from my phone, also with the potential for using apps to create community without any concept of ‘sacred space’ which can be created when people are visiting a website.

    1. Pam,

      I don’t see any reason why you can’t create sacred space via an app, it may be in a different format but apps such as the pollocks theatre show that it’s possible.

      I’d be interested to know more about the ‘creative developments’ that you are working on with i-church.

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