Did you share my shock and dismay when you heard that the “Greatest Show on Earth” was closing? Kenneth Feld, the owner of Ringling Brothers, and Barnum and Bailey Circus, confirmed the disappointing news. When asked the main cause of the closure, he said that there were multiple reasons including declining attendance, high operational costs, and prolonged encounters with animal rights defenders. But there was more.
In 1835, Phineas Taylor Barnum started a traveling road show that featured unusual animals doing bizarre tricks, and strange people. Some of his performers included a supposed 161 year-woman (Joice Heth), a man that was 25 inches tall (General Tom Thumb), the Swedish Nightingale (Jenny Lind), and "Jumbo," an enormous 11 ½ -foot tall, 6½ ton elephant. Eventually Barnum merged with other groups that featured exotic animals, clowns, juggling acts, and trapeze artists.
In the early 20th Century, some municipalities actually closed schools and factories when the circus came to town. The amazing entertainment and spell-binding animals drew large crowds of children and adults. However, something changed. After 146 years, the circus lost its’ appeal. Why? What changed?
For one thing, the loss of the elephants was a real knock-out punch. People loved to see them parade into the arena and then perform. When the Circus announced the retirement of the elephants, attendance immediately declined. Another reason for its’ demise may be that the circus could not shake the perception that they were abusing the very animals that delighted audiences all over the world. What some people once viewed as entertainment, they now regarded as mistreatment of animals.
But there was one explosive reason Kenneth Feld gave that set off alarm bells in my head. Feld said, “The competitor in many ways is time.” The circus tried to tailor their acts to young children by limiting the length of each act. But that failed. Feld said about children, “Try getting a 3 or 4 -year-old to sit for 12 minutes.” But they will spend hours with their iPads and computers. Why?
Warning! Could it be that the virtual reality of video games, television, and the internet has captured young minds, where reality has failed? Do you know much about Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Well, the kids do! While you have been mesmerized by dancing elephants and juggling monkeys, your kids have been baptized into the unreal world of Pokémon Go and Google Glass.
AR simulates artificial objects in the real environment; VR creates an artificial environment for humans to inhabit. VR can be experienced with headgear like Microsoft HoloLens and Sony’s Project Morpheus. AR can be experienced in kids games like “Augmented Reality Sandbox” and the “Racially Altered Disney Princesses Touch.” AI is experienced by most children in video games, and Siri, Google Now, and Cortana.
Can you imagine where this will lead? Friends, if the extravaganza of the “Greatest Show on Earth” cannot compete against AR, VR, and AI, what will the church do? Too many children are more absorbed with the unreal world, and are not learning to live in the real world. They ignore or deny real world situations. Psychologist worry about people who deny reality. Indeed, there are real people who deny reality by avoiding unpleasant confrontations and skipping uncomfortable appointments. This can easily lead to substance abuse and psychological hibernation.
I am a voice of warning. The Devil can easily capture mushy minds that live in an unreal world of make-believe characters and games that are being promoted through VR, AR, and AI. There may be legitimate and safe uses for this technology. On the other hand, perverted use of these technologies could well be the “wiles” of the enemy to keep our young people away from Christ. Consider Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” That word wiles comes from the Greek term methodeia. It means an organized, systematic means of leading someone astray. A modern word for “wiles” would be “machinations,” or crafty schemes and plots.
How do we fight the enemy? Before we let our children play with the newest technological devices, we had better suit them in the full armor of God. (Ephesians 6:10-20) Before we let our children get swallowed up in an unreal world of monsters and transformers, we MUST teach them to deal with the real world. I guarantee you that any temptation that your child will face in the real world, is present and magnified in the augmented, virtual, and artificial world they will find on their computers. Do you agree? Do you have other thoughts?