How the Internet Changes Religion (2)

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How the Internet Changes Religion (2)

To understand how the internet is changing religion, we have to think about how the internet is changing our humanness. And to think about that, we need to think about how we relate to knowledge and truth. We need to examine what we think knowledge is. How do we get it? What do we do with it once we do? Is knowledge truth? Are facts knowledge?

What is knowledge?

We tend to distinguish between knowledge and opinion, don’t we? Before the change I’ll describe later, it was common to make a hard and fast distinction between the many, many opinions out there, and the few, hard, reliable, facts.

The things we knew, we thought, were undeniable; they were bedrock-solid and undeniably true. Opinion, on the other hand, was fuzzier. There were many opinions, but knowing something, gives it a different status.

emergent christianity right wrongAlso, the things we know take on the nature of exclusivity. Once we know something, debate stops. If something is true, if something is known, its opposite is not also true. Once I know that your shirt is red, it is not also blue. If something is true, it is not, at the same time, false.

So yes, the things we know have an exclusive quality about them.

But the things we know also have a universal quality. If something is true for me, it is also true for you. If your shirt is red, it is red for both of us. It remains red no matter how many people we ask. This instinct is so deep, we don’t even have a plural form of the word “knowledge.” Why would we? If I know something, there is no other thing to compete with it.

Perhaps you can see where I’m heading. In the next post, I’ll talk about how these fundamental assumptions about what is known and true, are being undercut by the common experience of being able to go online and find everything human beings know with a few clicks. When all human “the-shirt-is-red” knowledge is is digitized, stored online, and immediately accessible, something happens to the way we experience it.

religion_i-am-right_you-are-wrong TNIn the old, familiar way of thinking about what we know, “the facts” were orderly, stable, and didn’t change over time. That is no longer true. Things we knew never changed. Opinions changed, and sometimes we realized that things we once thought we knew, had in fact, only been opinion. Nevertheless, when something was reliably known, it didn’t change. What an orderly world it used to be! Things were stable, firm under our feet, and unwavering in their reliability. Know something . . . and you were done. You never needed to re-know it.

In the coming posts, I’ll suggest that our most visceral ways of experiencing truth are eroding under us. Our experience of this profound, new technology, the internet, is changing some long-held ways of thinking, living, being community, and being Christian.

Next post.



  1. Hey Doug,

    I hope you are doing well. I was reading your blog and was hoping to get your perspective about the composite of exclusive AND universal knowledge. One of the things I battle with is your example about the TRUE red shirt. Exclusive: Once I see it is red; it’s RED…not blue or green. Universal: Once I see it is red, its red for me…and its red for everyone else.

    My Confliction: Those of us who are unlucky enough to be protanomalous and/or deuteranomalous individuals (red-green color weak) may never see the red shirt as you see it, regardless of how much we try and want to. On some occasions, we are able to artificially define what we see as one color to be “red” because you have told us it’s red…but nonetheless we do not truly see it as red. Vice versa, sometimes we may think we see red (and so we think that to be TRUE); but alas it is not. And because of this, we feel that we miss out on a lot of what others get to experience. This is actually a fairly prevalent disorder (especially for men); though awareness of the prevalence is not.

    So when the newest ad comes out about corrective surgery or new glasses that can help color-weak individuals “fix” their brokenness, many drive towards it — whether its true or just a blatant gimmick. But, I don’t think the person who IS NOT color weak is going to pay that much attention to it, unless he/she has a vested interest (i.e. a friend who he/she knows to have the disorder).

    My Point: “…our most visceral ways of experiencing truth are eroding under us. Our experience of this profound, new technology, the internet, is changing some long-held ways of thinking, living, being community, and being Christian.” For those who have always craved a way to seek and obtain (in some instances) “artificial truth,” they will cling to ANYTHING in the hope of being considered fixed, accepted, part of the in-crowd, experienced. And, I immediately begin to think of our YOUTH; and how they communicate / influence each other.

    It is imperative that we have a strong focus on enlisting, educating, and empowering our youth during this time…not just for them, but for the “red-green color weak” teens who will be influenced by our teens. Our teens’ tweets, facebook pages, IMs, blogposts, etc are going to reach SO MUCH MORE people than they can imagine.

    So how do we get them (our youth) onboard with your mindset and position…which I believe to be credible?
    – Should NRCC have appointments of some of our youth as “Youth Elders” in our church community?
    – Should the youth (perhaps not all of them, but some) be teamed up with a church elder and empowered to post blogs on behalf of NRCC; in addition to you and Robin?
    – Should we have youth “truth” drives, in which we encourage youths to bring in internet-driven information and we look to dissect it…not to disprove, but get them thinking about how to scrutinize that with which they seek truth?

    Just some thoughts I wanted to offer. I’m deeply concerned for our youth right now. Aidan turns 7 this Friday (time flies), and he is already leveraging technology (iPhone / iPad / Computer) and the internet for learning activities.

    • you bring up a really important point i didn’t have space in that post to include (i will later)…
      young people w/ the red-green troubles, are actually ahead of the game.

      if i see a red shirt, and you see a red shirt, we look at it… look at each other… and then agree… “that’s a red shirt.”
      what we don’t know at that point is if what you see is the color i call “green” but because of social convention, we have both been trained to call “red.”

      that is the core problem we humans have.
      we think we have access to Reality through our 5 senses, but in fact, all we have access to is our perceptions about reality.

      a philosopher some time ago (schopenhauer) pointed this out, and helped us realize that there must be two realities… the REAL reality that exists behind our perceptions. it is a reality we don’t have access to; the reality of what color the shirt REALLY is… of if there is even a shirt really there.

      layered on top of that reality, schopenhauer, said, is the derivative reality called “perceptive reality.” it is the reality that we perceive through our 5 senses.

      your point is exactly what i’ll be saying later. as we move into the quantum/internet age, to make our lives work for us, we have to take both of these realities into account. particularly, we have to work with the reality that our reality is really only perception. in the past, we haven’t taken that seriously. we’ve lived and acted like our perceptive reality is real. turns out, that’s a bit arrogant.

      and yes!!!
      when we hammer this out, we have to help our young people frame it “out loud.” they already have a gut instinct for this dynamic, but as elders, we can help them frame it explicitly, instead of rattling around inside them tacitly.

      it is my mission in life to help them frame a christian story that works in the explicit, 2-reality world we live in.


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