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Sunday, January 08, 2006

Technology: Good or Bad? Discuss.

Catholic News Service just ran a story on a Philippine church where the Internet is the new Liberation theology. Father Benigno Beltran is convinced that he can use the Internet to build his local community, while simultaneously helping local peasants to rise above the poverty line.

Witness the utopia he foresees:

The church will have solar panels, a rain catchment system, waterless composting toilets, and we'll build it from blocks of recycled residual waste. The design uses special vents that take advantage of wind movement so we won't have to air condition the whole thing, and if we need electricity we'll use coconut diesel to run the generators," Father Beltran told Catholic News Service.

Meanwhile, a commentator in the blogosphere, an Oregon bookseller named Kathryn Judson, has noticed other aspects of the same article that make her uncomfortable:

Tell me this priest is joking when he says:

"We'll liberate the parishes for enterprise development and job creation. And we'll tell people that if they don't buy our organic health soap it will be 10 more years in purgatory for them. That's what the priests should be saying."

At least he must be half joking? Right?'s a liberation theology that embraces globalization. I guess that's progress...

And globalization of economics brought poor countries like the Philippines to the debt-riddled status they now cannot climb out of. Can globalized information be the balm for the wound made by globalized markets?

Many social network theorists think so, hope so, and pray so. California's progressive Christian "netroots" movement has its roots in social networking theory preached from the Sociology and Computer Science departments of Berkeley. These theorists, like CrossLeft friends Kaliya Hamlin and danah boyd, argue that technology is helping youth around the world to escape from the rigid social structures of their own cultures.

But here we have a priest promising to use the Internet not only for liberation and identity building purposes, but for more strictly defining the doctrine of Purgatory. Sin is subservience to the Free Market. Virtue is works on behalf of the local market. A new doctrine, with the power of the Internet behind it, stands to invent a theology of the globalized market. It may also subvert church hierarchy.

It could also be used, in the wrong hands, for the benefit of cultish doctrines that have little to do with the church's mission to serve God and neighbor. Less hemp-loving readers may be wondering, with the critical blogger, whether not buying organic soap really constitutes a 10-year-burning offense.



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