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Timothy C. Morgan

A Cyber-Pilgrim's Progress

When technology functions as a religion, as savior and liberator, we begin to project divine attributes onto it.

Whenever I come across new prognostications about how the Internet, cyberspace, or virtual reality will bring about either a new age of prosperity, or a millennium of evil and despair, I enjoy reaching for a favorite book, The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation (Pantheon, 1984).

A joint project of The Nation magazine and the Institute of Expertology, this book has a chapter on Homo Faber (Man the toolmaker) and the unstoppable march of technology, including such gems as these:

  • "I think there is a world market for about five computers," a remark made in 1943, attributed to Thomas J. Watson, the late chairman of ibm.
  • "[A] few decades hence, energy may be free—just like the unmetered air," John von Neumann, the Fermi Award-winning mathematician and cofounder of game theory, in 1956.
  • "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home," Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977.

The technoprophecies of the 1990s, often either deeply pessimistic or blithely utopian, view the development of cyberspace as if it were a newly discovered continent, full of delights to be exploited and dangers to be sidestepped.

In much the same way as explorers of an earlier era did, the cybernauts of this new world, courtesy of more than 120 million computers linked worldwide, are bringing all the great religions of the world along with them. Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and thousands of other religious groups have staked out territory in cyberspace. For the uninitiated Christian, the Christian Cyberspace Companion, by Jason Baker, furnishes an excellent introduction to the Internet and provides a valuable appendix of key religion resources.

Now that religion and the cyberfaithful are online, what do they aim to accomplish? How is cyberspace changing the rules and practice of religion? What are the tradeoffs?

Answering such questions is dependent on understanding as best we can how the ...

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