A church in my neighborhood has a cell phone tower in its parking lot. This tower may be a prophetic witness to the religion of the future, which according to historian Yuval Noah Harari, is likely to be data driven, fueled by the fusion of all information.
“Religion and technology always dance a delicate tango,” Harari asserts in his 2017 book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” For example, Harari writes that Judaism and then Christianity along with other theistic religions emerged with the rise and spread of agricultural technologies.
Harari thinks these religions have served their creative purposes and are not able to deal with the opportunities and fears that arise with our current technologies.
Data religion, which “declares that the universe consists of data flow,” may govern our future. This claim may seem eccentric but, he says, science has already prepared the way for this religion.
Science will give us the “Internet-of-All-Things” to which all must be connected. In the religion of the future, “the greatest sin would be to block the data flow.”
“Traditional religions assured you that your every word and action was part of some great cosmic plan, and that God watched you every minute and cared about your thoughts and feelings,” Harari writes. “Data religion now says that your every word and action is part of the great data flow, that the algorithms are constantly watching you and that they care about everything you do and feel. Most people like this very much.”
You may doubt this final assertion, but consider how dependent we are on the diagnostic feedback doctors have through their computers. Consider our addiction to social media and smartphones with their many apps.
Harari himself has doubts about where data religion will take us, but he sees no alternative.
Old -time religions can continue to be communities of care for their participants, for the greater communities in which they dwell, and the world as a whole. Though Harari is brilliant in giving us the “big picture,” he does not understand how crucial religious communities have been and still can be for helping ordinary people live and for helping them help others.
If Harari’s prediction holds true and we are all going to be swallowed by a dominant “Internet-of-All-Things,” religious communities will be even more important in giving us alternatives.
Great teachers and prophets of religious traditions such as Confucius, Isaiah, the Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed have always voiced alternatives to dominant versions of reality. Some have emphasized the cultivation of one’s inner self, while some have emphasized care for one’s neighbors, whoever and wherever they might be, and critiqued cultural practices that undermine the general welfare.
Surely their voices are still worth our consideration.
Also still worth consideration is the perspective of many Indigenous religions that call for the respect for all our relatives on our mother Earth. If we and our home planet are to survive, we need to learn this respect.
Many readers value Faith and Values Spokane News because it makes us aware of the variety of religious experiences flourishing in our region. We may not be able to participate in most of these experiences, and we may not even understand some of them, but we should all appreciate the diversity of viewpoints presented, including those that question religion.
Our future depends on this diversity.
Walter Hesford was a professor of English at the University of Idaho, where he taught American Literature, World Literature and the Bible as Literature. He currently coordinates an interfaith discussion group, and is a member of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force and Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Moscow.