Dr. Peter Singh
Cybertheology is a new consciousness – a contextual consciousness which discerns the presence and praxis of God in particular concrete realities of human existence, and makes the actions of God and the realities to involve in dialogue with each other. Information and Communication Technology, although it comes from human kind, changes the society in which it is used. In the recent years we experience the emergence of two realities called Virtual reality1 and digital divide which narrowly divides the people in terms of access, capability and distribution of ICT. The cyberspace therefore poses many new challenges to our ability to formulate a new theology and thus to fashion a new faith community, the Church.
Problematising the new contexts
Virtual reality has been redefined as creating new content, relationships, community and hope. Many religious thinkers who call themselves as info-mystics consider cybercontent as “images of the Divine”, the Internet as an emerging metaphor for God. They also say that the Internet has the potential to be a redemptive vehicle to carry humankind to higher levels of consciousness, helping flawed human matter, evolve into a state of pure mind. Stephen O’Leary envisions a spiritual renaissance online, as computer-based rituals, rich in iconography, image, music and sound, unite people in worship, transcending boundaries of time and space. Religious learning will also be affected, with sacred texts once accessible only to scholars being made available to all. The whole globe including the planets have come very close to the humanity and so “Love your neighbour as yourself” finds new expression in the context of cyberspace. Christian understanding is that God is omnipresent. As virtual reality is not entirely another reality away from God, we have no hesitation to believe that God is present in the cyberspace also. The cyber-revolution demonstrates that God is as available to us as the unseen world of digits.
At the same time, many Christian thinkers warn us about the perils associated with cybercontent. One of the greatest challenges offered by Cybercontent is the enormous pressure to “conform to the pattern of this world“ (Romans 12:2). In the same voice, they address the question of artificial intelligence which claims to be in the business of creating intelligent living beings. The outpouring of Information marks the fading of meaning in Cyberspace. Jean Baudrillard states it concisely, “We live in a world where there is more and more information and less and less meaning“. For some cybercontent are the tools of the devil. The devil´s tools are lawlessness and a world without God. They consider virtual reality as breaking the second commandment of the Decalogue: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image“. Tal Brooke writes, cyberspace created cyber runaways, that is children not just leaving home, but they go to secret locations. David Lochhead finds that Internet that has fostered the growth of electronic neighborhoods, ultimately works at their dissolution, because the typical use of the Internet is a highly individualistic, idiosyncratic activity7. They do not foster community except for a very small and dedicated in-group. But it is not automatic. Edward Cornish explains the eroding community dimension by using a common social practice called “cocooning“ which isolates individuals from others by keeping them safe and snug infront of their home entertainment centres and computer screens when they could be playing with their children, talking to neighbours over the fense, or attending musical concerts, houses of worship. This tends to desocialise people, and make them more and more prone to antisocial and criminal behaviour. Cyberspace technologies have pushed the concept of community beyond these physical limits in a situation of “social saturation“. The public sphere of Jürgen Habermass is giving new meanings as public places have become “social graveyards“. To use Martin Buber's terms, the “I-Thou” relationship, which is “characterized by openness, reciprocity, and a deep sense of personal involvement”, may be eclipsed by the “I-it” relationship that lacks the personal and interactive dimensions. Cyberspace has absorbed the interpersonal or face-to-face encounter. On-line relationships are not real. It involves fantasy, lies and deceit. One such example is the widespread misuse of anonymity and assumed identities by hiding their identity involve in cybersex. Critics say this as death of the solid self and the birth of the decentred and diffused self, which floats on the shifting surface of our pluralistic culture.
Further, the proponents of cyberspace argue that income, gender, caste, age and ethnicity have become unimportant in virtual reality. But it is not true. These traditional divisions still play a major role in the cyberspace. Jodi O´Brien argues that these divisions are reproduced in online interaction. Digital divide is deepening the existing forms of exclusion. Those who are unemployed, poor, housebound, disabled (differently abled), less educated and in many communities women have been excluded from access to information technologies. Exclusion reduces the capacity of individuals to contribute to and benefit from society, economy and so from information technology. There is no technological solution to the problem of exclusion. Thus, a clear disparity is seen between those who are online and those who are offline. This can be explained in 3 Cs, namely, concepts – the best and latest knowledge and ideas; competence- the ability to operate at the higher standards of any place anywhere; and connections- more relationships which provide access to the resources of the other people and organisations around the world. The digitally divided in the cyberspace is the majority of the people who live in the rural Indian villages also in slums in the urban centers. They are the dalits, adivasis and tribals and women who have been impoverished and because of their poverty they are illiterate. It is a painful and destructive human condition, largely hidden from those who live in the virtual reality. The virtual reality inhabitants regard information technology as aids to better living standards, but the poor in the villages see them as more sophisticated weapons the rich use to reinforce and reintroduce new power structures of exploitation and oppression. Technology is power and that power is never neutral. It serves the purpose of a few.
The questions that we need to raise here are: How do we discern the presence and praxis of God in these new realities? Is it possible to locate God in these two different realities? The traditional Christian piety has located God within time - called eternity - and space - called heaven. We have to locate God in a new way. God fits because there is a place for God to live. Reality is a place of process. Process theology provides a model to resolve this question. Not everything is in process; but to be actual is to be a process. To be fully real is to be in process, and thus, the real is not beyond change, i.e., it is not absolute or unchanging. In Process, God does not coerce, rather God offers the Divine to each actuality. In this manner, we are co-creating with God. As we become, choosing for God, we and God together create. Now, is God also to be found in these realities that we are now creating? John’s gospel puts before us two young men. Jesus asks them a question: ‘what are you looking for?’ and they reply with a further question, ‘Master, where do you dwell?’ God is hovering over our search constantly moving us on to fresh realizations and ways of imagining things in a new sense of time and space where digits inform our situation. Jennifer Cobb says that God is in the connectedness, the spiritual basis of the universe is understood as creative events unfolding in time and the creative process forms the soul of cyberspace. She further says that if grace is the experience of the divine flowing in our lives, then experiencing the creative process is grace and experiencing it in cyberspace is cyber grace.
Cyber theology is not static but a process. One of the theologians who made a significant contribution to integrate faith and science and technology was Teilhard de Chardin. Teilhard returns to the Bible and finds a God who is most compatible with a world in continual evolution. Not the static and unchanging God of the philosophers, the unmoved mover who stands over and against creation, rather the same God who is so intimately related to the world. That is why a Christian scientist can combine faithfulness to the word of God and openness to scientific enterprise without putting them into water - tight compartments. Although God is essentially an incorporeal being, God created the physical world and found it to be good (Genesis 1:31; 1 Timothy 4:3-4). Despite of the loss of this goodness through the disobedience and sin of human, Jesus deigned to enter the world by taking on himself a human nature (John 1:14). Jesus and his incarnation and his presence present particular challenge in the context of the cyberspace. Incarnation is rejecting one’s own position and moving to another’s place. Incarnation is indented to serve the humanity, to give light to those who are forced in darkness and “to give life in its fullness” to the perishing. God took a definite purpose and position through incarnation. Incarnation was God’s paradigm of communication to the humanity. By breaking down the wall of hostility, Jesus identified himself with the poor, out castes, gentiles, women and the illiterate disciples and the mass from Galilee which provide a paradigm for a theology which emerges from the context of digital divide in which people have been alienated in terms of income, caste, gender, education and ethnicity. The Incarnational - Galilean pattern of Jesus’ ministry is our paradigm of doing theology. This paradigm believes that Christ's incarnation is God's manner of reconstructing people. Incarnation is rejecting one’s own position and moving to another’s place. Incarnation is indented to serve the humanity, to give light to those who are forced in darkness and “to give life in its fullness” to the perishing. God wants none of them to be left out. This is out of His inclusive love. Access is related to the biblical concept of right to people, justice and liberation. The message of the Bible is that oppression is sinful and wicked, an offense against God. But there is hope because God will liberate the oppressed from their suffering and misery (Ex.3:7). By breaking down the wall of hostility, Jesus identified himself with the poor, out castes, gentiles, women and the illiterate disciples and the mass from Galilee which provide a paradigm for a theology which emerges from the context of digital divide in which people have been alienated in terms of income, caste, gender, education and ethnicity. The Galilean pattern of Jesus’ ministry is our paradigm of doing theology. The Holy Spirit and the Logos have the same substance but distinct modalities. Having influenced by the world, the Holy Spirit communicates and relates with the world and therefore, theologians use expressions like ''universal consciousness'' or ''creative process'' that inspires the human to do good. The liberating, healing, and inclusive ministry of Jesus, the incarnated Word and the Universal Consciousness overturns hierarchical structures and invites the outcast to the table can be taken as a new paradigm of cyber theology.
Cyber theology emphsises the idea of the “household of God“. In God’s oikos there will be no information rich and information poor. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female“. In this egalitarian oikos of God there will be no exclusion. Then, this theology becomes a theology of affirmation, affirming equality and justice in the household of God. Christian theology here requires metanoia and affirmation, repentance on the part of those in the virtual reality and the affirmation on the part of the digitally divided. To the question that ‘Lord, where do you dwell?, we thought the answer was all about atoms. Now we have discovered that it is about digits as well. This new experience is not the sole property of the powerful in the society. Cyber theology is not a prosperity theology which gives hopes and promises, rather it goes into the depth of the existing realities, locating God in this new reality, taking a praxis orientation, with an aim to bring transformation in society. It addresses the context within which the digitally divided have to reconstruct their lives according to the recent trends. It involves the difficult task of breaking down of class systems, caste oppression, gender and literacy discrimination, and ethnic identity crisis; and also the difficult task of building an inclusive society recognizing the hopes and aspirations of the majority of the people in India. Cyber theology is opposed to Kyriarchy which is a social system or set of connecting social systems built around domination, oppression, and submission. It describes interconnected, interacting, and self-extending systems of domination and submission, in which some people might be oppressed and some are privileged. Kyriarchy encompasses economic injustice, and other forms of dominating hierarchies, empire building in which the subordination of one group to another is institutionalized. How do we live in the cyberspace? A gospel answer might be to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Cyber theology addresses the context within which the digitally divided have to reconstruct their lives according to the recent trends. In this process there are lots to give up and lots to gain and in this giving and gaining process people will be able to reconstruct their lives. In this sense cyber theology is a theology of reconstruction. It involves the difficult task of breaking down of class systems, caste oppression, gender and literacy discrimination, and ethnic identity crisis; and also the difficult task of building an inclusive society recognising the hopes and aspirations of the majority of the people in India. In this sense, Cyber theology is a theology of liberation. Cybertheology directs an exodus of the digitally divided towards the cyberspace to invent God in the new and challenging avenues of life. The new exodus has begun.