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"Technology can be seen as a reflection of the people who build and use it. So it's no surprise that the explosion of computing at the end of the 20th century has given theologians much fodder for spiritual study.

The Web, for example, 'is the biggest mirror for humanity ever,' says Phillip Clayton, a visiting professor at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. And that mirror displays 'the same vices and virtues, the same selfishness and altruism that we find across cultures and throughout history,' Clayton says. Yet technology is more than a passive mirror, he goes on to say—it transforms us. The spiritual question to ask, then, is whether these transformations are good or bad.

"The Web can clearly transform us for the good—and not just because it lets us point, click and buy . . . candles from Pottery Barn or yoga pants from J. Crew. In the wake of the September 11 tragedy, notes [Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the Center for Learning and Leadership, in NYC], people used the Web to make donations; they also sent messages around the world to let loved ones know they were OK or to comfort the bereaved. Beyond just letting us do good, Kula says, the Web has the power to subtly—almost subliminally—make us think good. Take the Google search engine. When you type in the name Einstein and get back 1.2 million entries—more than any physics student could ever hope to review in a lifetime of diligent study—you also get a lesson in those age-old spiritual attributes of humility and awe (in addition to learning a bit about the theory of relativity). 'This highlights our finitude, the fact that we can never really be cognizant of everything that's happening,' Kula says. The Web also lets people transcend appearances, break down boundaries, and experience the interconnectedness that is the province of mystics in many spiritual traditions, Kula says. 'Every time we log on, we participate in a global mind and brain.' "

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A way will open up . . .
January 28, 2002

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