Friday, March 14, 2008

Thank Nogod That the Internet Will Liberate Us From That Evil Fundamentalist Religion

If you've spent any time listening to John and Ken on KFI radio in Los Angeles, you've probably noted John Kobylt's dismissive attitude toward religion. Often when talking about Islam, but at times when talking about Christianity, you get the feeling that Kobylt thinks that all religions are a bunch of superstitions in which adherents are several centuries behind the times. The implication, of course, is that mature, modern people "grow out" of religion.

Peter Bowman of Internet Evolution seems to approach religion from a similar vein - not as bullhorn-y as Kobylt, but with apparently similar sentiments.

The Web has become the new spiritual media battleground for recruiting, educating, and committing people to religious institutions. This competition will become even more extreme and fundamentalist in the future....

The Net also serves as a haven for religious entrepreneurs to form new religions and spiritual foundations online. Their actions continuously dilute the efforts of the more institutional players, many of whom are just now discovering the large role the Internet will play in connecting with and influencing followers. In response, devout Christians and Muslims are becoming even more fundamentalist in response to the increasing presence of religions that they view as heresies or even downright evil....

Historically, people generally tend to become less religious when they are more educated and wealthy, and access to the Internet provides many with a gateway to escape physical, mental, or geographical boundaries. It remains to be seen whether this tendency will continue as technical globalization enriches regions of the world that were formerly impoverished.

If the Arab and Muslim worlds can use their wealth from oil revenues to better educate and connect their people, then perhaps the world may see increasing secularism there, or even an Islamic version of our Protestant Reformation. The current surge of Islamic extremism may only be a phase.

At the same time, Western Europe is becoming more secular, the U.S. is falling from the peak of evangelical Christianity in the 90s and 00s, the center of Christianity is moving from the northern to the southern hemisphere, and the Western world is seeing more religious diversity and competition. Could it be that the future of religious domination will be determined by third world countries that have yet to be connected online?

In some respects I agree with Bowman's thesis and believe that God will work more powerfully in the Third World than in the First. Already some Episcopalians/Anglicans are looking to Bishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria rather than anyone in the United States or the United Kingdom. It could be entirely possible that the true leaders of the Christian will rise, or have already risen, in places not burdened with wealth.

But the underlying idea that secularism is the wave of the future doesn't necessarily pan out. The first two secular societies that came to mind are France and the former Soviet Union, neither of which appear to be a model to emulate.

And then there's Turkey, in which at least one person states that secularism and fundamentalism are identical.

[T]he nature of Turkey’s secularism blame. Merve Kavakci, who in 1999 was stripped of her citizenship after turning up to take her parliamentary seat in a headscarf, has called it “secular fundamentalism.” Mustafa Akyol explains:

“Theirs is an intolerant version of secularism imported from France in the early 20th century, a time when the anticlerical zealotry of French revolutionism was at its zenith, and the Nietzschean claim “God is dead” was the intellectual norm.”

Interestingly, Akyol observes that this “authoritarian secular nationalism” meant that Turkey “was never really a convincing example of the compatibility of Islam with modernity for Muslims in other nations.

As long as we're talking about secular fundamentalism, let's see what a religiously-owned newspaper (the Christian Science Monitor) said about it:

Two particularly provocative books, in fact, hit the top of Publishers Weekly's religion bestseller list in December [2006]. No. 1, "The God Delusion," by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, and No. 2, "Letter to a Christian Nation," by writer Sam Harris, are no-holds-barred, antireligion polemics that call for the eradication of all manifestations of faith.

"I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented," declares Dr. Dawkins, the famed Oxford professor who wrote "The Selfish Gene."

These offerings are so intolerant of religion of any kind - liberal, moderate, or fundamentalist - that some scientists and secularists have critiqued their peers for oversimplification and for a secular fundamentalism.

"They undermine their own case by writing in a language that suffers from many things they say are true of believers - intolerance, disrespect, extremism," says Alan Wolfe, a professor of religion at Boston College, who is a secularist and author of several books on American religious perspectives.

But back to technology. I can't access the article that goes with this abstract (Alan G. Padgett), but it's an interesting abstract.

In debate with John Caiazza, we clarify the meaning of the terms technology and secular, arguing that technology is not really secular. Only when combined with antireligious secularism do we get the modern techno-secular worldview. Science is not secular in the strong sense, nor does its practice automatically lead to the techno-secular. As a complete worldview, techno-secularism is antireligious, but it also is dehumanizing and destructive of our environment. Religion may provide a transcendent source for a humanizing morality that might move technology in a more ecofriendly, humane direction. The alternative is not a happy one for our posthuman technological future.

As long as I'm quoting abstracts, here are two more. Kenneth W. Kemp:

In this paper, I defend the following theses: (1) Arguments for the truth of scientific theories and appeals to supernatural agency are generically similarboth are legitimate cases of argument to the best explanation. (2) The two are nevertheless specifically differentthere are significant differences in method by and the extent to which each can improve early, reasonably good, explanations. (3) The prospect of conflict between scientists and theologians is diminished by the facts that the situations in which appeal to supernatural agency is theologically most plausible are situations which are of least interest to scientists, and the situations of most interest to scientists are situations in which appeals to supernatural agency are theologically least compelling.

Michael A. Corey:

In this paper it will be argued that an appeal to supernatural agency can indeed be an appropriate and fruitful aspect of the modern scientific enterprise. This conclusion can be defended on two levels: 1) because most appeals to supernatural agency are centered around finding a sufficient explanation for secondary causes, and not primary ones, which in turn leaves the empirical domain of modern science relatively unscathed, and 2) because there are, in fact, three distinct stages to the scientific method—a theory-building stage, a data-acquisition stage, and an interpretive stage—only one (the data-acquisition stage) of which is relatively incompatible with supernatural agency as a direct explanation. The other two stages, by contrast, are entirely compatible with this general form of explanation.

So are these two correct?

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