Sunday, 25 March 2012

Is this a church?


You and I have (at least) one thing in common.  You might not expect it to be the thing that I am about to say, because it doesn't sound quite like the sort of thing I would normally write.

We have been brought together by the power of a mysterious, worldwide and transcendent entity.  In our daily lives we witness to our fellow humans, evangelising to young and old and teaching our followers about the deepest meanings of life.  The spiritual support that we bring to each other fulfils the pastoral needs of members of our broader community.  Uplifting those who feel oppressed, we can all play our part in comforting the afflicted and protecting them from the evil influences all around us.

In spite of these powerful and wonderful strengths we are divided into different 'churches'.  Our 'faith' might  divide us from our closest friends and family.  Some of us are persecuted for our beliefs by people who are not so enlightened.

The name of this transcendent entity is written with no vowels. 

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Of course I am drawing an analogy, and all analogies are wrong.  But it is clear to me that the internet offers an international opportunity for all of us to join a community of like-minded people, whatever our views might be.  We are no longer separated from each other as we have been throughout the whole of human history, limited by the happenstance of our birth and upbringing.

Internet christianity - not quite the same thing.  (Source here)

Almost every day I communicate with people all around the globe.  At last the minority groups who's diversity strengthens humanity can act together.

Our 'churches' are neither physical buildings nor gatherings of believers at a special time of the day or week.  They are much more transcendent than that.  The church of Facebook has more followers than most 'real' religions (certainly if you divide the big religions into their factions).  The cult of Twitter opens up a meritocratic world to anyone who wants their word to be heard.  Free blogging facilities let all of us expand on our views and invite comments from others.  Even the sect of Second Life offers companionship and friendship to insomniacs who need to wile away the dark hours while the world around them sleeps peacefully.  Each of these online communities plays a role similar to that of a church.

Persecution is rife too.  How often do you hear people say "Facebook is just evil".  "Twitter is such a waste of time - why do I want to know what lady Gaga had for breakfast?" "Online friends are not real friends". "Second Life is only there because of the virtual sex."  "Why would I want to read the ramblings of an amateur writer on a blog - I never read blogs".  "Get out and get a life" and the old and unfounded canard "too much screen time will damage your eyes".

All of these show a definite narrow-mindedness, and they neglect to celebrate the unity of the world wide web.  It is not even worth debunking them.  Whatever its flaws the world-wide web allows communication on a scale that has never been known before.  Whether your preferred access to the web is through Windows, Mac, Linux or other more specialised operating systems, and whether via desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, we all have a huge resource at our fingertips.

Of course we all know that in an ideal world it would be great if everyone could have fulfilling and satisfying 'real lives' with real people who we can see and touch.  But whether our own personal limitations are geographical, physical or psychological, the online communities all play a role like that of the churches.  We can all support the unfortunate and 'disabled' (whatever that might mean) and everyone can be equal in a way that is not always possible in reality.

Good or bad, if you are reading this then you must be part of one of those communities.  Where would we be without them?

I believe we would be impoverished?


1 comment:

John Loengaard said...

Somehow I'm reminded of the technomages from babylon 5.

"We are dreamers, shapers, singers, and makers. We study the mysteries of laser and circuit, crystal and scanner, holographic demons and invocations of equations. These are the tools we employ, and we know many things."– Elric

Perhaps it's describing something that I usually think of as well understood as a mystery.

In any case I find the church analogy rather strained, and counter to your final line - for me at least, we would indeed be impoverished in some ways without the online communities, but churches I could well do without.