Sunday, May 20, 2012

When Religion and the Internet Clash

Hutterite children praying
Photo by Annie Griffiths Belt for
National Geographic

While Internet-linked computers and digital devices have effortlessly made their way into mainstream homes around the world, several religious and cultural communities are fighting against them as a threat to their foundational beliefs.

Tonight an orthodox Jewish rally is scheduled to convene at Citi Field, the Mets baseball stadium in New York City. The topic of the rally: "the dangers of the Internet, and how to use it in a religiously responsible way." (New York Times) The group sold so many tickets that they rented the nearby Arthur Ashe tennis stadium to accommodate more attendees. The religion heavily segregates the sexes, so women attended the rally via teleconference in schools and other public places.

According to the New York Times article by Sharon Otterman:
Speakers at the rally in Queens will not seek to ban the Internet, but rather to raise awareness about how, unmonitored, it poses a grave risk to the community, said Eytan Kobre, a spokesman for the organizers. The risk, he said, comes not only from pornography, but also from social media and the addictive pull of the Internet, which can limit human interaction, reading and study.
In Lakewood, New York, Orthodox Jewish schools and synagogues already prohibit children and high school students from using the Internet, and adult use requires a rabbi's approval.

Other religious groups have been in the media for their clashes with the digital world. Next week the National Geographic channel will air a new reality series featuring a Hutterite colony in Montana. According to the series web site:
Most of the colony is holding tight to the age-old traditions of their ancestors, while others are flirting with modern society. Some feel that bringing modern technology, education, and ideas into the colony will only help it, while others fear that this modern way of thinking threatens their very existence.
By allowing television cameras to film their everyday lives, it seems that some Hutterites don't have as strong convictions against intermingling with modern society as Orthodox Jews. Maybe they're getting paid a fortune to share their way of life with the world, and the temptation was too great for even community leaders. I'm curious.

Religions of all kinds have long valued a disconnection with the rest of the world. But as the Internet and new digital devices are "shrinking" the world by improving communication between people all over the globe, it is also making it easier for religious members to mix with and be tempted by outside influences. My guess is that these ways of life have never been challenged to this extent. I wonder if over time we'll see a softening of separatist religious beliefs and a general fusing of many cultures. Sociologists have probably already documented and written about it. Maintaining a way of life and a moral tradition has got to be of great concern to some religious leaders, and as the New York Orthodox Jews are doing, they are rallying, educating their followers, and fighting to keep the outside world from creeping in.

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