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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, October 07, 2002
    The spirituality of the web
    Sometimes after blogging I go straight onto weblogs.com to see my name in lights but also to play a little investigative game of checking out some other weblogs listed there. Usually one or two names catch the eye and reward a look. One such is theoblogical.org which is devoted to exploring theological issues as associated with internet / new techology. Some good links from there, not least to an article in spirituality.com where writer David Weinberger discusses The spirituality of the web and makes the claim that the very architecture of the web "is" spiritual, even though he thinks that most of the creators of the Net are rational, non-theistic, secular humanists (like himself):
      Here's how I think the Web's architecture is spiritual: The Web isn't a pile of content. It isn't a collection of wires. Well, it is both those things but if that's all it was, it would be profoundly uninteresting. What makes it a web is the fact that it has links. That's quite literally what turned the Internet into the Web. But every link says, "Here's something I care about. Maybe you will, too. So, go away from my page and go visit this other page." Every link is a small act of generosity, of selflessness. And that's what I understand human spirituality to be about, at least to a large degree. Thus, the Web's architecture is spiritual.
    Weinberger feels that the Web is influencing a return to our best nature:
      I see it all the time! My email is filled with messages from people I don't know. (No, I don't mean spam.) Or from people I have only gotten to know through email. We talk about what matters to us. These are elevating not because they're high-minded, sober, responsible, thoughtful, eyes-gazing-upwards. Definitely not. They're elevating because the content that we develop through talking is eye-opening and not to mention it's often funny. The world I live in every day is greatly enriched not just by the presence of these strangers but by the "availability"Ñthe possibilityÑof these co-dwellers. Or take a look at weblogs. People writing about what they care about butÑmore importantÑlinking up with other webloggers, responding and continuing conversations. These relationshipsÑseemingly dry and mediated by a keyboardÑhave an emotional depth proven by the response of webloggers to one another during times of personal trial. Quite amazing.
    And his most interesting observation, for me, is about how the new communications may reshape ministry. He speaks of the Web as being the marketplace reborn, where people are put into direct contact with one another, hyperlinks replacing hierarchy. He sees organized religion as "certainly one of the tougher established hierarchies to crack!" but continues:
      I would expect that the Net will reduce the trappings of authority of ministries. E.g., if you email a question to your minister, don't you expect a more personal and revelatory answer than you might get in more formal circumstances? And won't Web sites pull together parishioners in ways that let them minister to one another outside of the structure of the church?
    Well, it's an interesting development, I hope it does help reshape some aspects of what we do as it works its way out. Particularly in terms of interacting with the younger public - like this site being accessible to those I preach at during school hours, the texts of my talks available to them to read, offering them the opportunity to re-engage with what I've said outside hours, challenge and discuss and hopefully help make meaningful conversations grow.