Internet & World Wide Web
ii. the Internet and religion
The Internet as we know today can be described as communication medium, a computer system or as a discourse (Agree 1998). Nevertheless, for example Jones puts greater emphasis on the social network edge of the Internet (1998). From the outlook of the religion being online it is clear that Internet is not only great communication tool, it offers great business opportunities but moreover as Campbell paraphrases Wertheim: “[the Internet] can also be conceptualized as reconnecting people with spiritual side of life,” (2004b, 113). Clearly, the Internet beginnings may be linked to the power struggle during the Cold war – the Internet as a proof that USA is as “high-tech developed” as USSR. Moreover, today is the Internet as yet another business space and also powerful tool for business – truly the symbol of consumerism. Campbell writes: “New media technologies offer opportunities for experimentation with methods of interconnection and communication,” (2004b, 108). We know that the creation and development of such new media technologies may have different motivations; according to Campbell such motivations are very often commercial still they can have also spiritual aims (2004b).
The Internet became very much part of our daily lives; at least for those living in the Western world, and without question have its important share in the social evolution. The Internet represents many things. It is a tool for communicating and to some degree source of information but most certainly not just that. The Internet comes with an extra space – a sub-world to the world we live in. It seems that the Internet to some degree reflects the real world. Still we may hope that if we use this high-tech human intelligence proving medium “rightly”, it will help the World society to improve. Such perfection is described differently each time dependent on what one considers to be perfection. This is already puzzling. How can we use the Internet rightly, when each have different opinion what is right depending on his/hers ideologies, and how the Internet can lead us to a societal perfection, when each defines such perfection differently?
Religion is today without question present on the Internet. It is to a degree an absurdum. Religions often represent the traditional – at least speaking about the “classic religions” (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) and the Internet is a symbol of modernity. This idea will be further developed when discussing the “re-intellectualization of Islam”, the discussion about traditional interpretation and current believers. But still, religions being presented and functioning on the Internet is truly a trend of the global communication. In fact it is a great example while trying to examine the role of the Internet in individual lives and in the society in general. Did the Internet bring landmark to the societal evolution? To some degree it did, yes. Did the Internet overhaul our lives, our moral standards or our way of thinking? Not really. Does the Internet have a great potential in the ever more multicultural world? Yes it does, to some degree.
Campbell makes link between the Internet and the club culture (2004b). In fact, we may say that this connection is rather successful. Both the Internet and the club culture have certain vibe or aura which is to attract new audiences to the “old themes” such as the meaning of life, the responsibility for you or others, and finding your place within a society. Campbell proposes that the Internet “has become a canvas of personal expression, a place to learn and test new ways of being” and she continues: “this is exemplified by people’s attempts to create new space of social interaction on Web sites, in chat rooms, and through e-mail,” (2004b, 107). Campbell brings us to the idea which introduces both Webmaster and DJ as someone who is able to transform the new media technology into a “creative tool, enabling […] to form new spaces of communication and experience” (2004b, 107). In fact the Internet can be understood as “a personalized public space of individual” (Campbell 2004b, 107).
Hey listen up to your local DJ.
You better hear what he’s got to say-
There’s not a problem that I can’t fix
Cause I can do it in the mix!
(Indeep in Campbell, 2004b)
Without question both the Internet and the club culture creates “new mix”, often by using traditional narratives, in order to brings us to new narratives and social perspective. Campbell believes that the new narratives are highly dependent on your approach to life – this would be according to Campbell one’s motivations and interpretation of life (2004b). In fact, clearly the Internet is not to be considered only informational tool and clubs only places of entertainment but they can be also understood as new spiritual space.
It is obvious that the Internet can easily become place which helps you to practice your religion (Barna Research Group 1998). The Internet is becoming part of our spiritual life.
Moriarty brings to our attention the importance of social networking while looking on the religion online. He had research the Christian network called 5loaves to come to some interesting conclusions (2005). Moriarty claims that “…online Christian community is here to stay. It will likely pay less of a peripheral role and more of central role as technological developments become more integrated part of world culture…,” (2005, 11). From other researchers we can suppose that religion online is not likely to replace the offline practice (Campbell 2003 & Cowan 2004). Moriarty reports that most religion online community seems to connect in order to “share and learn new ideas” moreover he observes that users of 5loaves feel to “grow as Christians” (2005, 11). This confirms the idea that religion being present online facilitates practicing of religion and proposes extra spiritual space for members of such online communities.
The Pew Internet and American Life Project Religion Surfers survey from 2001 shows that 67% of surfers have looked for information about their own religion, 37% gave spiritual advice over the e-mail and 21% sought such spiritual guidance over the e-mail (Larsen 2004). Further, 81% of surfers said their religious faith is very strong and 86% of surfers pray at least once a day (Larsen 2004).
Plantinga, a philosophy professor at Notre Dame, says: “One of the sustaining causes of religious disagreement has been the sense of strangeness, of pure unfamiliarity […] the communication revolution will not wash out the important differences, but will learn to grade our differences in order of importance” (Ramo 1996).
For some “technology-worshipping-futurists the Internet represents great new “entity” (Ramo 1996). Ramo cities Turkel, a professor of science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who believes that: “People see the Net as new metaphor for God” (1996). Turkel believes that the Internet was maybe created by people but is “growing out of human control (Ramo 1996). This is perhaps exaggeration, but we could agree with the justification that “God created set of conditions from which life would emerge […] the Internet is one of the most dramatic examples of something that is self-organized […] God is the distributed, decentralized system” (Turkel in Ramo 1996).
It seems that the Internet maybe very useful especially for people who wish to follow religion also in their offline lives. Due to multiculturalism and generally due to ways many of us live today one may not have always an option to go to his church or mosque and talk to his priest or Imam. Helland writes: “… if statistical trends continue in Western societies, it appears that popular religion online will become significant aspect of the religious environment of the future, creating a new space where freedom of religious expression rules supreme” (2004, 34).
Ramo writes about the Monastery of Christ which is in the dessert northwest from Mexico (1996). This monastery also not being connected by telephone or being hooked to television is online. The Monastery of Christ is using solar energy and connection through one mobile phone to maintain other’s people websites. Also, Ramo writes: “… the monks have developed a heavily trafficked Benedictine home page” (1996, 52). These monks were also those who were consulted in 1996 by the Vatican for design of Vatican’s web pages (Ramo 1996).
According to Rheingold the first computer based communication linked to religion could be observed on the “bulletin boards” (1993). This was an electronic discussion forum and they were truly interactive as real conversation or maybe at some point more open because its users are to a degree anonymous. The name of the seemingly first religious discussion forum was Origins and was not meant for specifically any religious faith (Rheingold 1993). This discussion forum was an impulse for the quite typical computer based religious communication. Because Origins was not linked to any particular religion the discussion was rather open and without authority (Helland 2000). Helland even claims that part of the discussion was theological experts who wanted to discuss and clear up for them some issues (2000).
The official religious sites using the computer communication started with the creation of the World Wide Web (Helland 2004). Ramo writes about the year 1989 when Pope John Paul II decided to start the new era called “new evangelization” (1996). This was when the computer mediated telecommunication was to be used to pursue the Church ends. The official sites was created in 1995 – http://www.vatican.va (Ramo 1996). This official site quickly crashed under the strain of e-mails directed to the Pope. One year later Vatican created more developed system and also there was no more option to write directly to the Pope.
According to McCormick the official religious sites were necessary otherwise the presence of religious offline authorities would get lost in the sea of unofficial religious groups and affiliates (1998). Helland writes: “…religious and spirituality section of the World Wide Web continue to expand at a very rapid rate. In search engine subsection and categories of classification, the religion and spirituality sections have always been among the largest and most dynamic” (2004, 26). All “classic religions” – Christianity, Islam and Judaism – but also Hindu and Buddhist traditions are officially represented online. Nevertheless, we found also many “unofficial expressions” of these religions (Helland 2004, 27). Today, it is very easy for any individual to create their own website and so many people do so.
Matei and Ball-Rokeach argues “that people who connect to the Internet are more likely to use it for cultivating their social and cultural proclivities” (2001, 551). Therefore, it seems that the Internet creates an environment which mediates to people religion. Zaleski compares religion online to the golf or smoking, which you can live without but after trying you may like so much the experience that you won’t give it up (1998). Obviously, the Internet can help us fulfil our different needs which we are not in many cases able to fulfil differently or it is just easier to perform them online. On the other hand Zaleski observes that with the cyberspace you may feel the need to step back and get the “real” experience: “There’s nothing like a lot of time in cyberspace to make you really love the grit and stench of meatspace.” I would argue that even there are many “new religions” (Dawson and Hennebry1999) the “classical religions” are those we should concentrate on. This “classical religions” are the one which can offer traditionalism and thus gives a real impulse to our lives. These religions are those who are real and not just cyber and thus can have a real impact.
Dawson quotes Durkenheim while defining what is religion: “… unified system of beliefs and practises relative to sacred things…which unite one single moral community … all those who adhere to them” (2004, 75). The notion of community is crucial with all “classical religions” (Christianity, Islam and Judaism). It is the Internet which allows people to get connected and also form communities. In today multicultural world where geographical distances between people of similar mind set can become great, the Internet may help to overcome the distance obstacle. Without question, such links and virtual communities are not the same as we were use to with traditional communities; thus the character of communities changed. Nevertheless, this is a part of the human progression. Hardly, someone wants to argue that it would be better if the humanity stayed same over time being, living in the old orders. Dawson writes: “ The Internet allows individuals to reach out globally to form bonds with people of like mind, overcoming the physical barriers and social distinctions that have held them apart, but at the price of self presented and the social interactions established to text-based and largely asynchronous exchanges between physically isolated individuals” (2004, 77). Dawson follows by counting out that people appointed over the Internet lasting friendships, business partnerships and “provide therapeutic support and even get married” (2004, 78).