April 15, 2014

Technology Undermining Religion

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Farsi Wikipedia for the 13th week, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Even though we all benefit greatly from technology, we are also quite fond of complaining about it. It is becoming almost cliche to complain about how technology is supposed to make our lives easier but has instead introduced all sorts of new problems that end up detracting from how we live. There is some truth to this, at least in the sense that technology has become something besides a tool for simplifying the way we do tasks. It has transformed the way we live, and some people have found these transformations to be rather negative. Just look, they say, at how the technology of the Internet has undermined the hold of religious belief on our society.

I think that part of the reason we complain is that we are quick to take technological advances for granted. Once we become accustomed to them, we no longer perceive them as remarkable. At least, not until something happens that leads us to reflect on just how remarkable some of our modern technology is.

A few months ago, I found myself in my car late on a Sunday night careening through what little traffic there was. I was I had one hand on the wheel and one on my dog, who was laying on a towel covering the back seat and covered with blood. So much blood. I tried to call the vet, but of course they were closed on Sundays (Jesus and all). They had given me the name of an emergency vet, which was naturally located about as far away as possible while still managing to be located in the same town. I was heading in that direction as quickly as I could but had no idea where it was. I was close to panic.

I managed to pick up my cell phone and use Siri to locate the vet and the phone's GPS to get me there. It was so easy, I barely had to think about what I was doing or take my focus off the road in front of me. I got there in one piece as quickly as I could have, and everything would turn out okay. The injury wasn't nearly as bad as the blood suggested. The dog would die months later for reasons unrelated to this injury, but he was okay for now.

As someone who spent his youth and young adulthood in the days before the widespread availability of cell phones, GPS, and the Internet, it still blows my mind that a modern phone can do all this. How dare the religionists whine about science! It has done nothing to erase my feelings of awe; it has helped to amplify them.

And what about the effects of the Internet on religious belief? I understand that people determined to cling to ancient superstitions don't like this aspect of the Internet, but isn't it important to recognize why the Internet has had such an effect? If the Internet has helped to undermine religious belief, it is mostly because it has exposed more people to alternative conceptions of the world around them. The Internet has made it easier for us to access knowledge, learn about science, encounter many alternative religions, and to communicate with each other. If religious belief has not fared well in the face of these benefits, perhaps it should fade into oblivion. If it looks silly in the light of reason, maybe that's okay.

Sometimes I wonder where we might be today if the period of time during which Christianity had the power to enforce its will (i.e., the Dark Ages) had been a bit shorter or not had happened at all. As remarkable as today's science and technology is, I have to think that it might have been even greater had we not had to endure 1,000 years of darkness at the hands of medieval Christians.

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