The Technium

The Internet Is My Religion

[Translations: Japanese]

Well, it is not really MY religion (mine is more like this) but it is this guy’s religion, and I think he speaks for millions.

Jim Gilliam is a former Christian evangelical, a two-time cancer survivor, and is very passionate and articulate about his beliefs. What he believes now is that he has faith in people, God is real, and “the internet is my religion.” He finds grace and goodness in the best of what happens online, and he uses the language of religion to try to identify this spark of the true, good and beautiful. I won’t try to justify his faith in the internet, but I do think that the internet — particularly in its planetary scale — will continue to attract a religious metaphor as it grows.

I think we should prepare ourselves for all kinds of new religions based around the idea of a planetary soul. As in a single web of electronic neurons around the globe, connecting all sentient beings. The Noosphere will go from a hypothetical speculation by a Catholic priest to an outright competitor to the Catholic faith. We will see the rise of Noosnics, Globalists, Overminders, Bit Monks, Quantumarians, and a hundred other sects and cults that take seriously the idea of a glorified planetary spirit as a reflection of the divine.

Or as one wag told me, the history of the universe marches from the cosmos to the bios to the technos to the god-knows. I think the double-funny of that one is that the coming era of the god-knows can also mean an era of religion, spirituality and theism. As long as completely counterintuitive facts like quantum physics and gravitons are the height of science, we will have spiritualism. In some way a belief in souls is easer to hold than belief in one particle in two places at once.

At some point the one machine we have made, the continuous cloak of electronic neurons wrapped around the globe, will produce some impulse, some emergent behavior, some new phenomenon that is evident to all did not arise with us, but came out of this gigantic web — and at that point many people will begin to see God in it. This larger-than-us life will trigger old reactions, including awe. And fear. And those ancient emotions will breed primeval religious practices. Petitions typed out for good luck, just in case, why not?

The fact that most other people will deny there is anything special happening will harden the belief of the few that in fact they are particularly sensitive to the stirrings and whispers of the planetary superorganism. Why can’t they hear it, see it, sense it?

The internet will become a religion in part because everything will happen on it, including all other religions. But mostly because it will be the first platform for true Otherness that will appear on the planet. Not Other as in other variety of human, or other variety of animal, but Other as in an agent not like us, yet bigger than us. A true alien being. Of which we are part. This conundrum will trigger so many spiritual and religious buttons that it will also shake the established religions.

There will be dogma. Thou shalt use the internet this way or that. Or do not use it this way or that. Don’t go here, or release that. Or you’ll be excluded from its constant goodness. Cut off! Can you image growing up in 50 years wholly dependent on the exo-mind, and then being excommunicated?!!

The internet is my religion, and I will not deny it or defy it.

  • Just read Jan Chipchase’s piece on “Is Internet Acces a Human Right?”

    Links nicely to your musings on Internet as religion (or Internet as G*d).

    How about Internet as a way to rejoin atman to Brahma so that tat tvam asi happens in real time while we’re working to solve real problems?

  • JohnnyPat

     Most people will have a need to feel part of something larger than themselves. For most of our history religion was the only vehicle for that. For a short time, politics did, I suppose. But now that science is providing the answers to many of our most important questions, religion is getting left behind, and many of us feel a little emptier for it. I know I do. 

    I was raised Catholic. It wasn’t a hard-ass authoritarian Catholicism. My parish priest founded the largest homeless shelter in our city. He allowed girls to serve at the altar in defiance of the bishop. He claimed that he played the lottery so that he could buy our CYO basketball league it’s own gym. He even prayed for the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor during mass. But as I got older and read more history and science, and developed different ideas about sexuality and reproductive rights, I just couldn’t go back anymore. Why would I, or anyone, choose to live their lives by rules created for a nomadic desert culture that existed 6000 years ago when we don’t even live by the rules that governed large portions of this country 150 years ago? No one, including the church, ever offered a very good answer. 

    I wouldn’t call my participation in the internet as a religious experience, but it has helped me feel more connected in a very humanist way. That wouldn’t have been possible with the connecting web that before this moment in history just couldn’t exist. It’ll be interesting to see how human nature, for good or ill, comes to shape that web. Or if the web itself grows into something large enough and powerful enough that it begins to influence human nature.  I would guess that like all spiritual institutions, it will flourish for a while before it becomes corrupted, at which point something else will come to take its place. I just have no idea what that “something else” could possibly be.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      JohnnyPat, thanks. What you said is not uncommon. I really do think a lot of people identify this way, even when they come from different backgrounds.

  • I don’t think we can contemplate God in our minds.  It’s a power that we’re only aware of.  The Internet is becoming the king of the hill by exposing every weakness in the most popular religions and creating an evolution in our beliefs.  In this context, it’s becoming a religion b/c that’s what religions do.  They change the way people believe and think about everything.  

    I’m not making the argument for the Internet as God, but it’s more plausible than Jesus.  Wait….Don’t stone me, Jesus is my idol and I aspire to reach his level of being.  I just think that Christianity is getting him wrong.  This is not an attack on Christ.  I just disagree with Christianity.  

    I guess my religion did one thing right.  I feel really guilty now ;)

  • Nathaniel Bluedorn

    You get me to think.

  • “I think we should prepare ourselves for all kinds of new religions based around the idea of a planetary soul. As in a single web of electronic neurons around the globe, connecting all sentient beings.”

    Why does a belief that we are all connected in some way, through our common human experience, offline or online, have to be characterized as a religion? I feel that connection but I don’t need a religion to help me understand it or to mediate that experience for me.Religions have shown themselves to be extremely damaging to our societies. They have consistently been divisive, aggressive, and oppressive in their evangelism. We don’t need that. Let them die out.

    I have no problem in believing there is something greater than me, my community, my earth. I’m in a state of wonder in every moment. Without religion.

    Religion is about taking sides, it’s not inclusive, it is evangelism, it is about ideas that are damaging yet they are subsidized through tax-free deals. Smoking is bad for you and so are religions. At least Philip Morris has to pay taxes.

    Maybe the Internet can show us how we are like one another, that we experience reality in so many ways but ultimately it unites us in a shared experience that reinforces our common humanity. That’s what I find in my explorations of reality: unity rather than divisiveness and judgement.

    • All of those things about religion are true, but they don’t *need* to be true. 

      You would think that as science has explained more of the world that religions would have started to die out.  Yet they keep getting stronger, at least here in the U.S.  There are a couple key reasons for this (although there are more)

      1. Religion provides a purpose in people’s lives. Without religion, you have to figure this out for yourself, which many of us spend a great deal of time doing.  Religion simplifies this process for a lot of people, creating a worldview through which to see the world and one’s place in it.

      2. Religions are designed to spread.  Not everyone needs a religion, you don’t. Great. But unless we start to articulate our beliefs — that we are all connected and our purpose is to create a new world based on our connectedness — in a framework that others can understand, what we believe will not spread.  Which cedes ground to those who provide that framework.

      I am trying to change that. A religion based on a connected humanity creating a new world, not divisiveness and fear.

      • Kevin_Kelly

        Jim, I can only say “amen” to your points, especially “But unless we start to articulate our beliefs in a framework that others can understand, what we believe will not spread. Which cedes ground to those who provide that framework.”

        Thanks for your clear thinking and your talk (and your response here).

        • I think anything a person holds as their ultimate or most important thing in their life is indeed their god. A person might not view their ultimate thing as believing in the deity of any pre-established religion, but that does not make them any less religious in their daily behavior. The word ‘religion’ means to ‘link back’ which is often describing and explaining how historic (repeatable and non-repeatable) events shaped our world and how our own choices shape ourselves and the world that is to come.

          I often wonder why most things seem to work out in the end, even though there is (or was) overwhelming evidence that pointed towards calamity and ruin. Things do seem to get better in time, even though most would never have envisioned those improvements to come when or how they did. I think the best explanation is that it’s the Grace of God, since we all partake in these blessings even though we have really done nothing to deserve it. The denial of God’s transcendence and grace (and/or too much attention on immanence) does not motivate people to work harder to make the world a better place. On the contrary, it often makes people cowardly, self-centered, and prone to put their head in the sand. The problem many have with the God’s transcendence and grace is that it’s way too optimistic for our mere brains to grasp, and it’s far easier to stay pessimistic and partially depressed.

  • I guess my only comment is, “let’s pray against solar flares…” Except, I’m not sure to whom we should direct that prayer.

  • Slantnan

    When I first learned of the World Wide Web, I thought, “Oh, goody! Now we can all vote!” And I meant ‘tally,’ in an as-close-to-accurate manner; even if the aborigines didn’t have computers someone could just hoof it out to the tribe and take a ‘consensus’ after explaining the ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ concept. I imagined we would have this capacity just about the time fossil fuels would become obsolete when recognized as the leading cause of Global Warming. The vote, I predicted, would be to outlaw cars powered by gasoline, globally.

    I don’t think it is ‘religion’ in regards to the Internet, although it very much looks to our living grandparents like a cult, but rather ‘Faith.’ Tom is right, pure Faith, not the tenets of one religious sect or another, is the thing with the power to unite us and offer us the experience of a common humanity.

    “I have no problem in believing there is something greater than me, my community, my earth. I’m in a state of wonder in every moment. Without religion.” (Tom)

    In college I was a Kierkegaard scholar, and nothing better illustrates the concept of Faith than the last scenes of Indiana Jones’ the last Crusade. Jones picks the cup out of many and drinks from it with pure certainty that it is the right cup. When he cannot see the bridge, he steps off the precipice with a footfall. I would contend that it is his certainty (‘will to power,’ to borrow from Nietzsche) that makes it true.

    In a world where optimism is hard because we constantly see so many things that make us different, divide us, and suggest that ‘either/or’ is the maxim; ‘both or all’ is strangely not in contention. The Internet has the ability to stop an argument from becoming a war – in a dispute, you just ‘look it up on the Internet’ – a bit like asking for guidance from God – only with a real time answer.

    We’re moving toward Facebook for the same reason so many families go to church – to be part of a community. Only we don’t have to be told what to feel, think or believe – we simply ‘Like’ (think, ‘tithe’).

    On the other hand, if the Internet can be likened to ‘God,’ I’d have to say that the cell phone / smart phone is the inevitable devil. Sex, drugs, rock n roll all in one device – and it’s physically bad for us, so cigarets and distracted driving get included in the metaphor mix.

    I used to joke about the TV, calling it the ‘Eye of Hell,’ and we all credit it for being a bad influence on mankind, but it really represents more of a John the Baptist figure, announcing the coming of the Smart Phone.

    Think about it; said Smart Phone is actually changing our behavior on a neural level, literally Pavlovian. The urge to answer has given way to instinct, and if you reunite a teen with their parent-confiscated phone after some infraction, the teen behaves as if it is the Romeo of forbidden love.

    The Smart Phone truly holds the potential for A.I. to stealthily conquer and dominate the human race. The Internet holds the only promise to save us. I have complete faith that it will.

  • internet in my area

    Internet is big strategy to use a different purpose. we should arrange ourselves for all types of new religions founded round the concept of a planetary soul. As in a lone web of electronic neurons around the globe, connecting all sentient beings. The Noosphere will proceed from a ypothetical speculation by a church member cleric to an outright competitor to the church member faith.

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