Is the Internet destroying our morals?
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a warning that the Internet was "numbing" young people and creating an "educational emergency - a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence."
Speaking at a Vatican conference on culture, Benedict also expressed concern that "a large number of young people" are "establish[ing] forms of communication that do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation."
Benedict's comments created an uproar, but he has a point. Studies show that Internet addiction is linked to depression; in 2007, the comedy website Cracked offered a surprisingly moving take on this phenomenon titled "7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable."
It's tempting, knowing this, to suggest that we all take a step away from our keyboards, turn off our computers, and go find a field to frolic in.
As much as I love the instant gratification of being able to download the latest Kanye West album the moment it is released and being able to stay connected to my family back in Minnesota through Facebook, I also know that the Internet has created a new kind of culture in which the rules of engagement have shifted dramatically. The rise of cyberbullying in recent years demonstrates that our more-connected world comes with new moral and ethical questions that we must respond to with creativity and acumen.
As we saw with "Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,"culture wars are born online. But I also believe that the Internet has created opportunities to open channels of dialogue that were, previous to now, next to impossible. Where culture wars are born, so too can we build bridges.
With this conviction, I am excited by the launch of State of Formation, a new online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders from around the world, founded by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and run in partnership with Hebrew College, Andover Newton and collaboration with Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.
My hope is that State of Formation will be just one of many attempts to use the Internet as a tool to make our world more connected, not more isolated; more informed, not less; more humane, not more cruel.
When I stopped believing in God, I swore off religion altogether, believing that it was an inherently bad thing because it had negatively impacted my life. Today, as an interfaith activist, I recognize that religion can be harnessed for good, especially when we work across lines of religious and secular identity to uncover our common values and act in unity.
Just as religion can and has been used as a force to commit to evil, the Internet can allow bullies to dominate the conversation. But the Internet, like religion, can also be a tool for transformation, if we wield it responsibly.
Today's guest blogger is Chris Stedman, an IFYC alum; the Interfaith and Community Service Fellow for the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University; and the Managing Director of State of Formation, a new initiative at the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. This article has been featured by On Faith and Tikkun.