Joel Kotkin at Forbes.com recently published an article titled: “Our Father, Who Art in the Apple Store: The Decline of Christmas and the Looming Tech Nightmare.” As someone who is strongly religious but also passionate about technology (specifically my MacBook Pro, iPad, and iPhone) the article caught my attention. Furthermore, as a millennial who works for a religious blog, I know that the intersection of technology and religion is where the new evangelization should focus its attention.
Kotkin’s premise is that technology, and specifically the Internet, is causing the secularization of the world.
According to a recent poll he cites from the UK, “seventeen percent of UK residents believe that Google has their best interests at heart. Seventeen percent believe religious institutions do. A dead-even tie.” The percentage of UK residents who are confident in their religious institutions is shocking. But according to Kotkin, U.S. millennials are not far behind: “Religious disbelief has been rising particularly among U.S. millennials, a group that, according to Pew, largely eschews traditional religion and embraces technology as a primary value. Some 26 percent profess no religious affiliation, twice the level of their boomer parents.”
Quoting a computer scientist who has done research on the intersection of technology and religion, Kotkin asserts that the Internet is responsible for religious decline. According to him, technology champions the self and contradicts fundamental religious values of community.
Kotkin also believes that digital interaction is having a detrimental effect on society and human relationships. Intimate relationship are harder to forge and family formation is delayed. Kotkin also notes the trend toward “biological computing” and the subsumption of the human into the machine.
I agree with Kotkin that there are many problems with the rise in technology, but as with all forms of technological advance prior to the digital age it is the faithful and the Church’s responsibility to figure out a way to deal with technological innovation.
I was recently at a seminar conducted by the director of the New Media Project, a fascinating project on the intersection of faith and technology out of the Christian Theological Seminary. Many of the participants at the seminar where both excited and worried about advances in technology and what that means for the faith. In reflecting on this topic, I came to a few conclusions that I would like to share:
- Christianity has always used technology to further its efforts at evangelization. Roman roads and other forms of transportation allowed for the dissemination of the faith quickly across the then known world. Likewise, the printing press was used to standardize the faith and disseminate information quickly and cheaply.
- Local Christian communities have valued direct contact, but Christianity is made up of local communities that are often far removed from one another. Letters between Paul and the churches or bishops and other bishops during antiquity were often the only means of contact between different Christian communities. Letters are not all that different from the Facebook messages, posts, and tweets of the modern world.
- The Church can utilize technological images to make the faith understandable to people today. I will give one example. Our ecclesiology holds that the universal Church is made up of all the bishops of the local churches in communion with one another. The Church is therefore a vast web of parishes connected to one another through the communion between the bishops of every diocese. The internet is exactly the same thing: local computers tied together by routers, hubs, etc.
Instead of being fearful of what technology is doing to religion, those of us who are technologically literate should help the Church harness technology for evangelization. Our theological language can be digitized and even our liturgies come to incorporate technological innovation.
Yes, the Church should be cautious about technological integration, but technological integration will be more successful than technological isolation. If the Church continues to isolate herself from technology then she will find herself becoming as obsolete as my Windows 95. As more and more people begin to “plug in,” “unplugging” the Church is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.
The Church should “plug in” and do its best to go viral.
What are your thoughts on technology and religion? How can Christianity utilize technology in its liturgy? How can the faith go viral?