Cybertheology: Thinking Christianity in the Era of the Internet
By: Antonio Spadaro, Translated by Maria Way
Spadaro is also the author of a variety of works that discuss the intersection of technology and theology. Cybertheology is one such endeavor to explore how contemporary Christians, particularly those from the Catholic denomination, use of technology such as mobile phones, the Internet, and virtual reality, have challenged traditionally held beliefs and customs of believers. Two premising questions guide Spadaro's exploration over six chapters. The first is how the Internet has altered the conventional understanding of the Church and the Eucharist (Spadaro, 2014, p. xi). The second question is regarding the impact of the causality of the two forces on believers' understanding of 'classical themes of theology' (Spadaro, 2014, p. xi) such as grace, revelation, and redemption.
In chapter one, Spadaro argues that the Internet has evolved into an intertwined relationship that is a 'cultural environment' (p. 3) between the technology and its user, a new realm of thought, of relationships, of education. And once thought as separate, the two planes of analog and digital have meshed together. The translucent nature of cell phones serves as windows to the Internet (p. 4). The rapid growth and ubiquitous use of technology have changed humans Spadaro argues, or at least that humans harmonize with the world and environment around them; when one changes, so does the other (p. 5).
So, in essence, technology has influenced the ability to absorb and perceive reality and faith (Spadaro, 2014, p. 6). The Internet has, of course, provided the gospel with some deal of stress. Spadaro advises users to seek balance in living in the age of the web (p. 8). Spadaro poignantly asks the reader, 'if technology, in particular the digital revolution, changes our way of thinking, then does this not mean that we, in some way, have to reconsider the faith and how to communicate it[?]' (p. 9). The philosophical term of ‘cybertheology’ as it were, is hard to define (Spadaro, 2014, p. 16). Nonetheless, reflection on faith in the digital age is necessary (Spadaro, 2014, p. 17).
In Chapter two, Spadaro delves into more of the practical implications for humans interfacing with technology. The iPod shuffle, for example, finds dual uses in changing the user's environment. First, as a way of shielding the user from banal conversations. Then as a way to decipher the world. In the same way, Spadaro argues that the Christian must use discernment to serve as a decoder but highlight the pitfalls of information in the digital age, often removed from its context (p. 24 - 25). Spadaro then goes on to explore how God lives in digital networks. Using search engines and the search term 'God' as an example, Spadaro argues that while technological advanced and easy to use, search engines cannot answer existential questions. Instead, as of the book's writing, returning information on video games and musical festivals.
In Chapter 3, Spadaro analyzes social networks concerning the traditional sense of the two parts of our lives, public and private. He argues that with the Internet, there is a third place, a blend of the two. To illustrate his point, Spadaro uses the example of a coffee shop. One might go to a public place like a coffee shop to be nearby of other people but then disconnect from those people with headphones and laptops. In terms of how technology has made friendship, presence neighborly relations 'fluid', Spadaro argues that the local Church needs to take that into account. In that vein, Spadaro considers that the Church is a support structure and likens its operations to a computer cluster where a complex task is offloaded and distributed to many computers for efficient processing (p. 38-39).
Combating the standard tropes of hooded hackers in the basement, Spadaro defines a hacker for who they are, curious and intellectual individuals. The latter have a particular way they advance their hobbies. They are people who not only want to take apart programs and objects but also seek their unintended uses. Spadaro argues that hackers share in many of the Christian ideals (p. 53-54). Equating two different models for the Church, Spardao investigates the traditional expert-led hierarchy of the Cathedral and contrasts that to the Bazaar, which is Open Source projects (p. 60-61). Having a little bit of experience in Open Source projects, Sparado is possibly not understanding how the Open Source ecosystem works. For example, anyone can contribute to a project but only after the final step of screening by the 'experts.' Only then is the contribution accepted into the larger body of code.
Chapter 5 & 6
In Chapter 5, Spadaro uses the example of the microphone whereby that small change alone could amplify the speaker's voice so that much more of the congregation could hear the message. The microphone is just one example of how technology is changing how the Christian message is both shared and taught to believers and non-believers. Spadaro also explores new forms of presence in the Church, including virtual reality, as found in the Second Life video game where people model the real word in the game and use avatars to navigate and communicate with other inhabitants. Chapter 6, the final chapter, covers the notion that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin foretold the invention of the Internet (p. 97-100).
Spadaro makes many compelling points as he contrasts not only how technology has affected many aspects of the Church but how it affects our lives. He adeptly argues that the Church is often behind the times in technology adoption. However, at the same time, he argues that technology is not just a new arena to share the Gospel message, but rather a holistic view is needed by looking at the intersection of technology, the Church, and those who hear and speak the Word. A few points on contention on Spadaro's possible misuse of computing lingo in logically equating them to Gospel terms. For example, 'Saving' as in saving a file paired with 'Saving' as in redemption. While the equation might be superfluously valid, it seems a bit innocent—however, an overall good book with many compelling arguments—four out of five stars.
Spadaro, A., & Way, M. (2014). Cybertheology: thinking Christianity in the era of the Internet.
New York: Fordham University Press.