I grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin. As a boy, I fished for perch, trout, and Coho salmon, as did many of my neighbors. There was a bait shop just across the street from my house—ah, July’s aromas! (Lest you think I’m from a posh background, these were the days when lakefronts were used for factories, oil tankers, and coal boats for the power plant.)
A lesson I learned from the man who owned the bait shop is that fish don’t usually take bait unless they are hungry; fortunately, they are almost always hungry, though there are exceptions, especially during spawning season.
The people who devise the internet’s clickbait have come to learn a similar lesson: human minds are almost always hungry though, unlike fish, we will take bait not only when we’re truly hungry, but also when we’re bored, merely curious, trying to avoid other tasks, and so on.
I will confess that when I rose to the clickbait of “Can Silicon Valley Find God?” it was out of a tiny bit of hunger/curiosity, but mostly as a diversionquest that the internet specializes in gratifying and prolonging.
The essay focused on the relationship between artificial intelligence and different facets of spirituality, including a substantive focus on ethics, though learning how those ethics are determined for tech companies—and by whom—seems, at best, an unsteady pursuit.
The author pointed out that for most of us (and this will certainly be true for anyone reading a blog post on the internet), AI functions a bit like Jung’s Vocatus Atque non Vocatus God—called upon or not called upon, AI is present in varied ways throughout the course of our daily lives.
Conversely, it is largely presumed that for those who work in technology and related fields, God, or religion, or even spirituality, are largely non vocatus realities. The indifference or aversion of tech to religion is summed up with a quote from the fictional TV show Silicon Valley: “You can be openly polyamorous, and people here will call you brave. You can put microdoses of LSD in your cereal, and people will call you a pioneer,” one character says after the chief executive of his company “outs” another tech worker as a believer. “But the one thing you cannot be is a Christian.”
Like the bait shop of my boyhood, there was plenty of other bait in the original article to click on (including the quote above). As a boy, going to the bait shop to scoop minnows out of a tub (or sometimes to purchase maggots to feed my Venus Flytrap), I’d usually find myself spending time digging around in the earthworm bed, or inspecting new and colorful lures on the shelves. Clicking on article links on the internet resonates strongly with that memory.
As someone involved in the field of liturgy, the most intriguing clickbait contained in that original article was one that spoke about the emergence of services to assist corporations in the preparation of corporation liturgies. (I would read about the “divinity consultants” at a later date.)
The liturgical services of Nuos Formation were described thusly: “Liturgies, while usually associated with religion, are simply the formative practices, language, symbols, rituals and rhythms we take part in every day. Your liturgies are what hold and form your company’s culture. Develop your company’s liturgy so you can scale a culture that allows your team to navigate challenges with resilience, elegance and joy.”
The home page, concerning “business formation,” did mention “spirit” but contained no overt naming of religion or the divine. Clicking a bit deeper, into “spiritual formation,” one does encounter theistic/deistic language, with one reference to the “Body of Christ.” Head to the third page, and you’ll be brought to Assissi House, a retreat center with various spiritual direction services offered. It intrigued me that only the first—and least conventionally religious—page was the only one to mention liturgies. The overall dynamic of progressing through the three pages struck me as something of a [click]bait and switch; I don’t necessarily mean that pejoratively.
Whether it’s the tech company seeking a path of ethical behavior, or a corporation service offering liturgies, I found myself wondering why it seems that so many non-ecclesial institutions grasp evangelization and ritual better than the Church often does, have managed to touch something well below the surface of people’s lives, and have likewise managed to get a response.
I don’t know if Silicon Valley can find God, but it seems to me that, as always, God—called upon or not—is still tirelessly trying to find us.