From the Boidem - 
an occasional column on computers and information technologies in everyday life

June 25, 2001*: The Church of the Eternal Click.

Even I wouldn't be foolish enough to try and review the more or less countless references to religion on the web. I can't prove this, but I wouldn't be surprised to discover that religion, spirituality, astrology and the like hold a respectable ranking in the "most sites" sweepstakes. Of course people look for these sites less than they look for pornography sites, but the promoters of these sites aren't trying to make a buck. They're trying to disseminate THE WORD and for them posting as much material as possible to the web is a goal unto itself.

But though reviewing the wealth of information on both mainstream religions and on cults that can be found on the web doesn't interest me, examining the web as a religious experience definitely does. Here as well, however, just what that means is unclear. Does it mean that I want to examine how religious communities use the web? There certainly is no lack of that.

What interests me is actually something quite a bit different. I want to know if the web can be a platform on which a religious experience takes place. The Catholic Church has apparently determined that confession can't be offered or taken via the internet. It sees this aspect of religion as something that can't be done online. Charles Henderson, the guide of the site on Christianity, however, has a slightly different take on the matter. Henderson asks (and yes, I admit that it's the sort of question that truly interests me) Does God surf the Net?. Among other things Henderson writes:

One of the most important passages in the New Testament is the opening several verses at the beginning of the gospel of John. "In the beginning was the Word....." "Word," refers not to the Bible, nor to any spoken word, but rather to the Logos which in Greek thought is the structure of reason that gives order to the cosmos and links all things together, both things in heaven and things on earth. Christians, of course, identify Christ as the living Word in which all things hold together. I've stated on several occasions that a contemporary paraphrase of the prologue might well read, "In the beginning was the Web."
Henderson seems to be suggesting that the basic concept of holding things together, of either finding some unifying principle within a wealth of diverse objects, or of actually brining about that unification, is in some basic way a religious experience. When we put together a jig-saw puzzle, we experience a sense of satisfaction - and not only because we've finished the task. Seeing the completed whole gives us a a very real sense of fulfillment. We approach this wholeness on many fronts, not only when we struggle with a jig-saw puzzle.

A few web sites seem to offer us shelter from the chaos of the web (and presumably from the office atmosphere in which many surfers encounter it). One site of calm in a sea of chaos is the Spiritual Internet Object. (From experience I've learned that it's a good idea to offer a saved version of this site, housed on this server.) The reasoning behind this page seems to be similar to that of many of the more standard religious sites: get to the people where you can find them. Just because people are in a relatively counter-spiritual setting like clicking away in front of their computers doesn't mean you can't offer them spiritual calm. So the Spiritual Internet Object is there for us to focus our meditations. One might expect that in order to enfuse us with spiritual calm the easiest path would be to simply shut the computer off and meditate. (What's more, the Object's page opens along with at least one pop-up window, meaning that if we don't download it for our contemplation, when we turn it it for calm the first thing that happens is that we are jolted with an advertisement.) The developers of this object seem to understand that few people are about to shut down and run to the nearest ashram. So they offer us a sort of spiritual coffee break.

I won't offer any scientific proof, but basic human experience, both on and off the web, suggests that randomality reigns in our world. The order we find is the order we make. But make it we do, and make it we must. Perhaps inexperienced web surfers click the way that elementary school children write stories: "and then..., and then..., and then...". These are clicks that seek to find out what happens next. But the experienced web surfer clicks to establish context, to find out how divergent bits of information relate to each other. Do we really expect to find that context? Perhaps we might better ask "if we didn't click, would that context still be exist?". Whether it does or doesn't isn't really the issue. Sometimes our clicks succeed in uncovering a fundamental inter-relatedness. Even when they don't, they strengthen our belief, our gut feeling, that such an inter-relatedness must exist. And with each click, we do our part to make it so.

That's it for this edition. Reactions and suggestions can be sent to:

Jay Hurvitz

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