The Web and the Net have become so interwoven in the daily life and culture of the U.S. that it is sometimes hard to remember what life was like before their advent. The Internet in something like its current form has been with us for a little more than a decade. Its most famous offspring, the World Wide Web, was composed of approximately 26 servers in 1992 (Berners-Lee 1992), and in less than ten years has exploded into a resource of more than a billion pages. While originally communication tools for researchers and academics, business and commercial interests have fueled the enormous growth of the Web and the Net: indeed, these have become such vital, ever-expanding engines of commerce and culture in the past six years that attacks on these technologies - e.g., in the form of viruses and worms such as the "Code Red" worm that is wreaking havoc on the Net at the time of this writing - evoke the highest priority responses from governments and multinational corporations.
And what do these rapid shifts in our culture - shifts driven by constantly changing technologies that are often instantaneously deployed through our cultural lives, especially as driven by commercial interests - bode for the Church?
Not surprisingly, responses to this question have been shaped by the larger context of both academic and popular writing. Beginning in the 1980s, both popular and scholarly literatures concerned with CMC were increasingly dominated by postmodern perspectives. These characteristically included an enthusiasm for hypertext and its instantiations in the Internet and the Web, as exemplifying notions of decentering, fragmentation, and "rhizomatic" webs of concepts, sounds, and images. These postmodern notions, as the term implies, were further affiliated with claims regarding culture and history. In particular, early hypertext enthusiasts - most notably, Jay David Bolter (1984, 1991, 2001) and George Landow (1992, 1994) - forcefully argued that hypertext overcomes the limitations and terrors of modernity as ostensibly marked by narrowly linear, exclusively text-based forms of thought embodied in the book as a communication technology made possible by the printing press. This postmodern enthusiasm for the new technologies and the many forms of liberation they promised extended, of course, to the religious: the postmodern turn, as manifest in and driven by the technologies of the Net and the Web, has been (and continues to be) hailed as promising a radical transformation of all things religious - including our understanding of what it means to be a religious community, what it means to experience the presence of the Divine, and what role the Scriptures, as textually-based forms of authority, might play in religious communities as they migrate into cyberspace.
In the following, I examine the postmodern promise of the Internet and the Web for religious communities - specifically, but not exclusively, for the Western Christian Churches. I will review a specific form of this enthusiasm, which I have called "cybergnosticism," building on the analyses of Stephen D. O'Leary and Brenda Brasher. As the name implies, cybergnostics seek liberation from the body in an ostensibly purer and more perfect cyberspace. This, however, raises the question of what it means to experience the presence of the Divine as well as human Others. In particular, it leads to ontological questions: specifically, what is the role of body in what relationship(s) to mind and soul in defining who we are as human beings? These questions are further tied to epistemological issues: most fundamentally, what is the role of body in our knowing the world, other human beings, and the Divine? In slightly different terms, to pursue these questions requires us to examine the meaning of embodiment - and, in theological terms, to review the meanings of incarnation and its implications. In this first section, I will argue that contra the postmodern enthusiasm for a disembodied life online - most famously, as a cyborg - both philosophical and religious considerations point instead to a more holistic understanding of the relationship between mind and body, one that emphasizes embodiment as a central element in defining human being and knowing.
In the second section, I then examine related postmodern enthusiasms for the apparently liberating powers of the Net and the Web, first of all because postmodern communication theories raise important questions regarding the role of the Bible - arguably, the most important cultural artifact resulting from the invention of the printing press - as authority in religious communities. Briefly, the postmodern enthusiasm for hypertext and CMC posits that the role of Scripture, especially for Protestants (and most especially for fundamentalists) as tied to modernity and the age of print will radically change as books, including the Bible in printed form, are increasingly replaced by shared electronic versions, versions that open up the text (as what Phil Mullins [forthcoming] perceptively calls "the fluid word" - an intentionally equivocal phrase designed to include reference to Scripture as the Word of God) to constant transformation by both individuals and communities. Insofar as this argument holds, the "secondary orality of cyberspace" - i.e., the return to something of an oral culture, one now instantiated in the electronic media of the Web and the Net - promises an overturning of religious sensibilities at least comparable to that achieved by the Protestant Reformation. A specific issue raised by such relocations is the role of critical thinking in our approaches to Scripture - one that further involves larger questions of our views of the relationship between faith and reason. A central question here is what will happen to the forms of critical thinking endorsed, for example, in historical-critical approaches to Scripture and affiliated with more "liberal" understandings of the Bible. I will also review here the suggestions of Kate Lindemann for designing Web pages in ways that directly imitate Medieval illuminated manuscripts, so as to make possible a form of contemplative reading and prayer known as lectio divina. From a larger perspective, the questions of Scripture, authority, critical thinking, and contemplative reading suggest that the usual "modern vs. postmodern" dichotomy that has shaped much of the discussion and thought about the powers and potentials of the Web and the Net for the Church may no longer be an adequate framework. Rather, as Lindemann's project of implementing a Medieval conjunction of text and image on the Web suggests, the Net and the Web and their impacts on our lives can also be helpfully understood using the historical lenses of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
This initial foray into postmodern celebrations draws mixed conclusions, indicating that postmodernism underestimated the role of embodiment in shaping human identity and community. Hence, many of its enthusiasms for the Net and the Web as technologies of radical liberation are being replaced with more modest claims - ones that stress the role of CMC in the life of the Church, as well as in the larger secular world, as supplement, not replacement.
|The Postmodern Promises of the Internet: Liberation or Denigration Online?|
For postmodern enthusiasts, the online environment provides radically new forms of community and religious experiences - ones that dramatically challenge traditional (by which is meant variously 20th ct., modern, and/or more ancient) views.
In their 1996 essay, "The Unknown God of the Internet: Religious Communication from the Ancient Agora to the Virtual Forum," Stephen D. O'Leary and Brenda Brasher offer an early scholarly analysis of "technologized religion" - of initial efforts to translate religious community and experience into the online environments of e-mail listserves and Usenet groups. They observe at least one important way in which the religious diaspora into cyberspace appears to fulfill postmodern promises of greater equality and empowerment of those otherwise marginalized in the world of face-to-face interactions and communities: some of the earliest religious colonizers of cyberspace included pagans, New Age proponents, Latter Day Saints ("Mormons"), Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others who often found themselves isolated and estranged in their "real-life" communities in the U.S. (249-254). O'Leary and Brasher further celebrate the vision of the early Donna Haraway, whose now classic "Manifesto for Cyborgs" (1990) argued that women would likewise realize important freedoms as divorced from their bodies in cyberspace, freedoms simply not possible in a real world marked by sexism in all of its forms, including the bodily and sexual objectification of women (O'Leary & Brasher 1996: 259f.).
The authors' keenness, however, is not unqualified. Most significantly, they identify two elements of online experience that I call collectively "cybergnosticism." The first element is the tendency of the new media to reduce all forms of knowledge to "information." Their reference to physicist Heinz Pagels is worth repeating:
As the Internet and the Web place more and more information at our fingertips - and as searching through and retrieving the vast amounts of information "out there" becomes easier and easier - O'Leary and Brasher worry that we are losing sight of the quest for wisdom and becoming increasingly engaged in "a contemporary analogue of Gnosticism, the mystical quest for the knowledge [i.e., information] that saves" (262).
Secondly, they recognize that however creative and interesting it may be, the experience of disembodiment in cyberspace - an experience that is the necessary condition for women and others seeking a particular kind of freedom - is illusory. Above all, this is an illusion linked to the danger of encouraging "bodily alienation due to the sustained illusion of disembodiment" (260).
As I see it, there are at least three difficulties here. One, I believe O'Leary and Brasher are quite correct to see that our sense of disembodiment in cyberspace is ultimately an illusion. If nothing else, religious people - whatever their tradition - want to live their lives truthfully, not as based on an illusion. No matter what our other worries about being online may include - e.g., easy access to pornography, predation by pedophiles, etc. - a more fundamental issue is just how far life online helps us to understand who we really are, what world(s) we really live in, and what sort(s) of relationship(s) we really can and ought to have with the human, natural, and divine orders. While research data on what life online does to us is, at best, incomplete and highly controversial, the now famous studies undertaken at Carnegie Mellon (Kraut et al. 1998, Kraut et al. in press) and Stanford (Nie & Erbring 2000) should at least give religious people pause and occasion to reflect how far life online may lead us away from our generally accepted beliefs about who we are as human beings and the relationships with one another that we should pursue.
Two, I have argued elsewhere (Ess 1999) that the cybergnosticism described here runs the specific danger of contradicting the prophetic emphases of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - the call to imitate a God who liberates human beings as embodied beings in history (the Exodus event), a God whose Presence among us is marked by the freeing of slaves and prisoners (Leviticus 25), and to form a community characterized by the elimination of all social distinctions (Galatians 3.28), a community of shared human prosperity that will not be bought at the cost of exploiting nature, but rather will arise precisely in a harmony with the natural order that ostensibly reflects the Creator's intentions at the beginning of the world (Isaiah 11.1-9). This prophetic vision follows from an essentially optimistic vision of the world - one that affirms first of all the goodness of all Creation, including body, sexuality, and community among the human, natural, and divine domains. But as cybergnosticism replicates the Gnostic disdain of the material world - what Nietzsche calls "the metaphysics of the hangman" (1988: 500) - it emphasizes a contempt for the created order that seeks escape from rather than fulfillment in the material world. If our basic ontology, by presuming a radical difference between body and soul, thereby locates salvation in flight from the world of body, community, and nature - then clearly we are not likely to endorse the prophetic insistence on doing justice (Micah 6.8) and making righteousness flow like an everlasting stream (Amos 5.24).
Three, our postmodern enthusiasm for the life of an online cyborg raises the question, as mentioned earlier, of what it means to experience the presence of the Divine as well as human Others. To explore this question even briefly, we require a little theological background. Both Catholicism and some Protestant traditions emphasize precisely the goodness of the body and Creation as they develop a Christology which argues that when God takes on human form (the specific meaning of in-carnation - "becoming flesh"), the human body is thus reaffirmed as sacred. These traditions, of course, fully endorse a notion of the soul as distinct from the body, and the correlative belief in an afterlife and salvation as entailing (but not exclusively so) the everlasting life of the soul as opposed to the mortal body. But by foregrounding such doctrines of incarnation, they reassert something of an originally Jewish affirmation of the goodness of body, sexuality, and life "in this world." Moreover, as Catholicism and some strands of Protestantism stress incarnation, they further stress that God is known in important ways through the material world, not against it. That is, just as the disciples knew Jesus "in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24.30-35), so Catholics experience the real presence of the Divine in the bread and wine really consumed by embodied creatures in communion. While Protestants, of course, insist that the bread and wine are symbols, not really the body and blood of Christ, communion remains a central sacrament, one that brings the community of believers together through a ritualized common meal. Even for Protestants, communion is a sacrament of real bread and real wine (or grape juice) that represents an embodied Lord who brings the believers together as embodied creatures in a face-to-face community.
A particular aspect of these sorts of experiences is that in them we know an Other - both the Others of our human community and the Divine Other as manifested (really or symbolically) in the matter of bread and wine.
But our online experience is as disembodied beings - and, in the developed world at least, almost always as human beings by ourselves, i.e., alone, in front of a screen and terminal. And the Other before us - whether in the form of text scrolling across the screen in a chat room, or from our e-mail reader, or even in the form of video images accompanied by sound - remains under our control as an electronic avatar or simulacrum. Unlike the embodied believers who surround us in communion, and unlike (for the believer) the Divine who encounters us in the breaking of the bread, the electronic Other can be manipulated, ignored, and simply switched off as we will.
In light of the centrality of embodiment in Christian theology and the sacrament of communion as the medium in which both human and Divine are fully known, the question thus forcefully confronts us: in our well-meaning efforts to exploit the new media to (re)call attention to our existence and our message of Good News in a culture increasingly located in cyberspace, are we engaging in a migration to an online environment that fundamentally threatens our lives as embodied creatures, where such embodiment sustains and gives meaning to traditional forms of community, worship, prayer, and communion?
Postmodern proponents of the Church online (Sweet 1999, Voelz [forthcoming]) argue - with no little justification - that such questions run the danger of becoming a kind of spiritual Luddism, a fundamental fear of technology coupled with a conservative sense that the ways things have been is the way things always must be. Instead, the best days of the Church lie ahead as it - like women and all others marginalized in the "real" world - has at least the possibility of realizing new forms of community and new experiences and, in the case of the Church, the imperative of spreading the Good News to all the world. In my view, however, such claims in turn run the danger of falling into subtle forms of Gnosticism - and/or remnants of a Cartesian dualism that reiterates the Gnostic insistence on the radical difference between soul and body, with a decided preference for the former. As I hope these comments make clear, the debate here is not simply a historical or philosophical one: it is fundamentally also a theological dispute, one that requires us to clarify - and perhaps revise, especially if we wish to promote the possibilities of the Church online - the role of embodiment in our knowledge of the human and divine Other, and thereby in our common life together.
|Scripture, Authority, Critical Thinking - and Contemplative Reading|
One of the most significant postmodern claims concerns the role of the printed book in general - and thus the Bible in particular - as cultural artifacts whose power is both narrow and limited to modernity. While not doing justice to the rich and extensive literature on hypertext and the work of Walter Ong (1988), for our purposes the arguments can be paraphrased this way: drawing on the theoretical communication work of Innis, Eisenstein, and McLuhan, Ong begins with the view that all forms of communication - including basic language - constitute technologies of communication that in turn profoundly shape (indeed, in the view of some, determine) culture. Human cultural history is then subdivided along the lines of orality, literacy (marked by the invention of the alphabet and the rise of text), print (defined by the invention of the printing press), and what Ong calls the "secondary orality" of electronic culture (Chesebro & Bertelson 1996). Oral cultures - those which rely on the "technologies" of storytelling, including repetitive phrases and generic frameworks to aid the memory - are characterized as comparatively egalitarian, because more or less everyone can speak, and thus participate in this communication technology. In literate cultures, by contrast, the technologies of reading and writing - at least until the 19th century - are the preserve of an elite. These technologies, moreover, are characteristically used in a "top-down" fashion, so as to impose the worldview and commands of the few upon the illiterate many. In addition, once inscribed in clay or imprinted on paper, the text is permanent and unchangeable - evoking from the reader, the argument goes, a largely passive response. With regard to the Bible, it is argued that it takes preeminence as a religious authority only with development of the printing press. As the printing press and rising literacy make it available to more and more readers - and in a single, standardized edition (the "Authorized King James Version") in contrast to the literally thousands of variant manuscripts and versions of the Bible prior to printing - it becomes plausible to believe "in" the Bible itself as an infallible, inerrant, and literally true text, one that evokes what Mullins calls "worshipful reading" (1996: 278-284). Prior to the press, religious authority clearly rested to a much greater degree in the oral transmission of not only Biblical texts, but also Church teachings, traditions, etc. In sharp contrast with the claims of Reformers and Enlightenment theorists alike, the new age of print does not simply bring about liberation and freedom from the ostensibly oppressive religious structures of the Medieval world: paradoxically - if not dialectically (Horkheimer & Adorno 1972) - the new age brings about new structures of centralized authoritarian rule, a rule that disseminates its wishes and commands precisely through the medium of the printed text.
By contrast, finally, Ong argues that a "secondary orality" in the electronic culture created by the mass media and new communications technologies conjoins the more egalitarian and participative community of orality with the global reach of the new technologies: "secondary orality generates a sense for groups immeasurably larger than those of the primary oral culture - McLuhan's 'global village'" (Ong 1988: 136, quoted in O'Leary & Brasher 1996: 236). In part, this will come as we shift from the authority of fixed, mass-produced texts to what Mullins calls "the fluid word" - precisely the electronic word, malleable and open to change by anyone across a network, and open, further, to a nearly infinite web of hypertextual links that can be added more or less by anyone: each new link, of course, then opens the original text up to still another interpretation in an unending hermeneutical dance of reading and creating new meaning.
Scholars familiar with the Talmud will recognize that such hypertextual linking and the resulting trees of diverse interpretations are in fact neither entirely new, nor possible only in electronic form. On the contrary, the Talmud itself instantiates both the "technologies" of orality and literacy/text, textually recording multiple interpretations and applications of a single text from the Torah of Moses (the Pentateuch or the first five books of the TANAKH, the Hebrew Scriptures), as these interpretations, applications, critiques, etc., arose across the Oral Torah. Even as a printed page, with the (written) Torah text at the center, surrounded by rings of interpretation and application, the Talmud retains a hypertextual openness: the page is printed with blank space at its edges, suggesting that the dance of interpretation will continue (see Neusner 1991: 157-174). Moreover, Christof Hardmeier (forthcoming) argues that the Torah of Moses itself includes in the book of Deuteronomy a similar conjunction of the oral and the literate - an "inscribed orality." As such, the narrative preserved in the text is not merely a dead record of past events: rather, it is shaped so as to recreate through contemporary rereadings as performances something like the participatory oral community originally gathered to hear what is described as a speech of Moses.
Hence the boundaries between orality and literacy can be blurred. Nonetheless, the characteristics of secondary orality clearly recall the earliest days of the Christian Church as described in Acts 1-5. The emerging Church struggles with the religious authorities of the day, whose power is in part the power of literacy - i.e., their access to the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. In contrast with the hierarchical authorities of text and tradition as interpreted through an elite priesthood, the early Christian community takes up the radically democratic idea of every member's engagement with the Holy Spirit. The result - at least for a time - is an egalitarian community in which property is shared, thus obliterating the prevailing hierarchy of rich vs. poor. Furthermore, the early Church practices gender equality (though only for one or two generations - with patriarchy returning forcefully in the third generation, as expressed with painful clarity in the pastoral epistles, including I Timothy 2.11-12) and resistance to violence (until the 300s and the Conversion of Constantine). The early Church thus comes remarkably close to realizing the fully egalitarian body of Christ, in which there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free man/woman (Gal. 3.28).
I have argued elsewhere (Ess 1999) that if the migration to cyberspace returns the Church to this, its earliest understanding and practice - one marked by equality and full participation by all - it will thus not only fulfill the postmodern promise of liberation from centralized forms of authority instantiated in print: it will also thereby cohere with the prophetic conception of the Presence of the Divine.
At the same time, however, the sharp contrast between literacy and orality makes it clear that such a shift will profoundly challenge especially the religious communities that first arose in the late 19th century in North America, i.e., those which affirm - contra modern historical-critical schools of Biblical scholarship - that the Bible is the infallible and literal Word of God. Such an affirmation emerges as itself simply an artifact of a specific communication technology (the printing press) - one that will fall by the wayside as the new electronic communication technologies of the Web and the Net come to predominate and (re)turn us to oral forms of religious authority.
The secondary orality of cyberspace may thus promise a great overturning of religious sensibilities. But what, then, will happen to the critical modes of thought developed in our approaches to Scripture - particularly those historical-critical methods associated with more "liberal" interpretations of the Bible - and what does this mean for our view of the relationship between faith and reason?
Again, instead of an either/or between postmodernity and modernity, what may emerge is an intriguing middle ground. For example, David Kolb has argued in favor of several postmodernist views - but he has also criticized the postmodernist insistence that electronic culture represents the end of print and all affiliated forms of thought and argument, including the canons of logic. Rather than a focusing on a conflict between seemingly narrow, linear modes of thought affiliated with print on the one hand, and the explosive freedoms of postmodern electronic hypertext on the other, Kolb - himself a published author of hypertext (1994) - argues that the latter may be an excellent medium for instantiating the argumentative strategies of the 19th century print-oriented philosophers Hegel and Nietzsche (1996). More recently, Phil Mullins (forthcoming) has argued that despite its many important lessons, postmodernism is in danger of becoming mired in a self-contradictory epistemological relativism when it claims that all "truths" are the result of power and vested interests, and thus enjoy a validity only relative to a particular time, place, and context. In other words, "truth is always local" - but postmodernists want to assert that this particular truth is universal, not local. In order to move beyond the dichotomy of a modernism claiming that only "objective" knowledge is valid vs. a postmodernism that appears to run the danger of reducing all knowledge to individual subjectivity, Mullins develops his own account of a "post-critical" critical thinking. Relying on Polanyi and Peirce's semiotic theory, Mullins attempts to avoid postmodern relativisms while still preserving a postmodern epistemological pluralism that follows from the rejection of the narrowly modernist - better, positivist - insistence that only "objective" knowledge is desirable. With regard to Biblical texts, this sort of tactic would retain something of the critical approach marking the historical-critical schools of Biblical scholarship, while acknowledging the legitimacy of a diversity of interpretations and understandings (in contrast with seeking "the" ostensive original meaning of a text) - without, however, falling into a relativistic "anything goes" that would have to affirm that any interpretation is just as good as the next (prophetic vs. authoritarian, etc.).
In a way somewhat parallel to Mullins' strategy of seeking out a middle ground between positivist (modernist) objectivity and postmodernist relativism, Kate Lindemann (forthcoming) approaches Web page design vis-à-vis Medieval illuminated manuscripts from a phenomenological perspective. She thereby distinguishes between "objective" observation of the modern sciences and contemplative seeing as evoked by illuminated manuscripts, Orthodox icons, etc. For Lindemann, contemplative seeing issues in an experience of kinship and understanding of what is seen - in contrast with a scientific/objective approach that leads to objective data and theoretical/abstract claims about objects held at a distance. The illuminated manuscript - and, she argues, carefully designed Web pages that exploit the ability of Web documents to conjoin image and text - are conducive to the contemplative seeing affiliated with the prayer form known as lectio divina ("divine reading"). In addition, using conjoining audio files of communities reading aloud a Psalm or other text suitable for prayer and meditation, she argues, would allow Christian communities to recapture the contemplative religious experiences linked to reading in the ancient and medieval worlds. (It should be noted that such Web design is currently rare among Christian sites - but is already exploited by Buddhist, Hindu, and other religious traditions.)
One of the consequences of adopting Lindemann's design suggestions is that Web surfers are required to act in a way which runs directly counter to the usual sense of speed and urgency associated with accessing information on the Web. Lindemann thereby opposes the postmodern celebration of speed in electronic culture, and - like Kolb and Mullins - obliges us to reconsider the usual contrast between modernity (print/text) and postmodernity (electronic orality) that shaped much of the discourse concerning CMC in the 1980s and 1990s.
Thus, both individually and collectively, Mullins, Kolb, and Lindemann suggest that the categories of modernity vs. postmodernity are not the only ones available to us for fruitful consideration of the Internet and the Web. In fact, Mullins elaborates on the links with the Medieval world apparent in Lindemann's analysis. He cites Renaissance historian James Mehl, who observes that our contemporary experience is one of rapid cultural change and is perhaps best understood as similar to the Renaissance (Mehl 2000: 14, cited in Mullins [forthcoming]). I have likewise argued that the Internet and the Web resonate with the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, first and foremost because they make possible cultural flows of an unprecedented scope, scale, and speed. Just as those cultural flows resulted in the flowering of what we now understand as modern natural science, so I would hope that the contemporary cultural flows facilitated by the Internet might make possible a (re)new(ed) form of Renaissance humanism. In ways both facilitated and limited by their virtual representation through the Internet and the Web, the diverse peoples and cultures of the world have the possibility of coming to know and understand one another better. This is, however, only a possibility, not an inevitability. Despite the glowing promises of a McLuhanesque "electronic global village," there is evidence that ethnocentrism survives in cyberspace (Halavais 2000), with potentially imperialistic consequences (Barwell & Bowles 2000). Nonetheless, the dramatically expanding knowledge of "Others" in the Renaissance - from the recovered worldviews of the Greeks and Romans to increasing understanding of Asia, the Muslim world, and the peoples of the New World - led not only to colonization and warfare but also to a humanist sensibility: when we move beyond our view of the Other as a customer and/or exploitable resource, if we overcome our ethnocentrisms and learn how to inhabit (however partially and incompletely) the worldviews and lifeworlds of different cultures and peoples, we are enriched in personal, humane, and communally important ways. (Ess 2000)
This brief review of postmodern celebrations results in decidedly mixed conclusions. An electronic hypertextual cyberspace opens up new possibilities for realizing the prophetic vision of liberation and equality - but it also threatens the prophetic vision with a cybergnosticism that reduces all forms of knowledge, including philosophical and religious wisdom, to information alone. As Huxley's Brave New World argued, the most radical threat to freedom and humanity is not totalitarian control, but the simple elimination of the very vocabulary, and thus the very concepts, of freedom and humanity (see Postman 1985). Especially as the cultures of the Web and the Net are increasingly driven by the dynamics of commerce, contra the promises of liberation, the technologies of cyberspace make it ever easier and "normal" to view all of life as solely a matter of self-interested economic production and consumption - including the colonizing view of the "Other" as simply a potential customer and/or exploitable resource. Instead of the liberated cyborgs envisioned by the early Donna Haraway, at their extreme the commercializing cultures of the Net and the Web turn all of us into the Borg, a "culture" of unindividuated drones whose work is solely to consume and integrate all Others they encounter into a homogeneity that is more machine than human ("Prepare to be assimilated ... resistance is futile").
I have argued that postmodernism has underestimated the role of embodiment. If, however, we recover and revise our understanding of embodiment - for Christians, in light of what may be meant by incarnation - in shaping and constituting human identity, community, and knowledge of both the human and divine Other, we may be able to avoid cybergnosticism as well as the distortions of spirit that come from the idolatry of the market. By utilizing the liberating possibilities of cyberspace while remaining firmly rooted in our individual and shared lives as embodied beings, it is perhaps possible to exploit these new technologies in the service of the prophetic vision rather than allowing it to dissolve in the noise and swirl of the information flood.
In particular, by reconsidering early postmodern claims made about the hypertextual realms of electronic culture in the light of specific examples of argument, concepts of Scripture and critical thinking, and Web page design, Kolb, Mullins, and Lindemann help us to see ways in which the Net and the Web represent not so much a radical postmodern overturning of all that is modern - but rather an extension of ways of arguing, thinking critically, and reading prayerfully that characterize the modern and ancient worlds. These examples thus provide the epistemological counterpart to the ontological lessons of embodiment: these are ways of knowing in cyberspace, consistent with living as embodied creatures in communion with one another and the Divine.
These (re)discoveries and technological extensions of embodiment and modes of knowledge thus move us beyond an initial postmodern either/or - a radical dichotomy between modernity and postmodernity that itself appears rooted in the Cartesian dualism founding modern thought (!) - to a complementary view of new and old that sees the role of CMC in the life of the Church as supplement, not replacement. Such a move, in fact, is consistent with a larger shift in the literatures of CMC as these likewise have swung in the past few years from a sense of dualistic opposition between objectivity and subjectivity, between modernity and postmodernity, towards what Katherine Hayles characterizes as a "reflexive epistemology" correlated with embodiment.
Moreover, there is a crucial political counterpart to this scholarly turn. For postmodernists especially, one of the central promises of the Internet and the Web is their potential for bringing about greater democratization as these technologies increase access to information and equalize communication (see Harrison & Falvey 2001 for an overview). It is here, of course, that the prophetic vision and secular hopes intersect: both aim towards greater equality and a democratic polity. In the secular world, however, we have seen the democratization promise of CMC meet with, at best, mixed results. Most recently, in fact, political events in Yugoslavia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and elsewhere have made it clear that greater communication possibilities via the Internet are at best necessary - but not sufficient - conditions for democratic revolutions. In all of these cases, activists used the Internet and related technologies (e.g., text messaging via so-called iMode or Internet-capable mobile phones) to organize community opposition and action against corrupt and oppressive regimes. But in all of these cases, the Internet alone did not bring about democratic revolution or peaceful change of corrupt regimes. In addition, in each case political change required the presence of real bodies in organized demonstrations and protests. That is to say: in the real world of embodied creatures, who engage with one another as both mind-and-body, significant political change has required real minds-and-bodies placed in harm's way, in a very real world of tear gas and the threat of gunfire.
Insofar as the prophetic vision likewise calls for equality, peace, and shared prosperity among embodied creatures, so the Church may also take up the enormous communicative possibilities of the Web and the Net as powerful tools for realizing that vision. However, the Church will have to do so not out of a Gnostic/Cartesian dualism and resulting contempt for the material world - a dualism and sense of contempt, after all, encapsulated in the doctrine of Original Sin. Rather, in keeping with the parallel shifts we've seen here towards an ontology of embodiment as grounded in incarnation theology and correlative suggestions for "post-critical" thinking and contemplative seeing - the Church will need to reconsider and revise its understandings of incarnation and embodiment. The promise of doing so is not simply that the Church will thereby be better poised to take advantage of the new technologies in ways that will sustain and perhaps more fully realize the prophetic vision. More than this, the Church will bring to the forefront an affirmation of body-and-soul, and of the created order inhabited by such embodied beings. This recovery of some of our oldest understandings of what it means to be human and what it means to live as individuals and community in harmony with the Creator and the created order - understandings, perhaps paradoxically, sharpened and made more urgently pertinent by the rise of the Net and the Web - will allow the Church to contribute to a larger "global village" as a synthesis of both online and real-world engagements, a synthesis in which both our minds and bodies are at home.
 I wish to express my great gratitude to Mark Pegrum for his invitation and encouragement in the development of this article, as well as to an anonymous Mots Pluriels reviewer whose acute comments helped me greatly improve on the original version.
 I'm acutely aware of the many ways in which our perspectives and experiences are shaped by culture - including our experience and understanding of computer-mediated communication (CMC). See, for example, Ess 2001 and Ess & Sudweeks 2001 for a more detailed overview of the role of culture in shaping the design and implementation of CMC technologies and reactions to them, with reference to examples drawn from North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and indigenous peoples. From this larger perspective, it is important to keep in mind that only something like 7% of the world's population have any reasonable access to the Internet and the Web, and only about 1% can afford to own their own computer. The difficulties and implications of this digital divide - one that appears to be growing rather than diminishing - for our shared future are, of course, enormous and demand our full attention. Because of space (and time) limits, however, in this article I draw primarily on my perspective as someone privileged to enjoy considerable access to these technologies in the context of the culture of the United States. While there are grave risks in assuming such a perspective - the view from the center of the Empire is always woefully incomplete, partial, and distorted by the advantages of power - such a perspective may still be of value, if only as it represents a view from a cultural setting in which these technologies have most fully infiltrated and reshaped our daily lives, including our religious lives.
 It is notoriously difficult to estimate the number of Internet users, Web sites, and pages with any degree of accuracy. Matrix.Net (https://www.matrix.net/index.html) notes that the number of indexible Web pages exceeded 1 billion in 2000 (see the link "Internet Timeline"). This estimate squares with the Internet host count of 109,574,429 provided for January 2001 by the Internet Software Consortium (see https://www.isc.org/ds/WWW-200101/index.html): while not every Internet host is a Web server, Web servers typically host more than one Web page. Drawing on a variety of sources, Reimar Hantke estimates that in 2001 the number of Web pages will reach between five and six billion (2001, slide 3).
 To continue to be clear about perspective: my experiences, readings, and reflections are drawn primarily - but not exclusively - from Christian traditions. For a meditation on religion and religious experience in cyberspace from a Jewish perspective, see Hammerman 2000.
By "Church" in this context, I mean to include multiple Christian traditions - Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestantism in its fecund diversity - which, despite their perhaps irreconcilable differences, claim to represent through their organization and actions the intentions of Jesus. Perhaps the best single definition here - because it is so inclusive - is suggested by Hans Küng: a Christian is one who remembers Christ (1976: 119-122).
 The Gnostics held to an ontological dualism, one that believes that the immaterial soul is a pure spark of the Divine that has become entrapped in a body enmeshed in an evil and fallen world. In this view, salvation consists in escape from the corrupt body and return to the uncorrupted Divine: but such salvation turns precisely on having the correct gnosis ("knowledge," "insight") regarding the truth of one's condition as entrapped in a body, and the possibility of reunion with the Divine in a heavenly abode. Such knowledge, as the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas makes clear, is often portrayed as a great secret, one to be shared only among the initiated (see Pagels 1979, Funk et al. 1993).
 While not referring explicitly to Gnosticism of this sort, Borgman (1999) develops a tripartite taxonomy of information to make the point that believing that all forms of human knowledge can be reduced to technologized forms of information threatens to denude our lives of meaning and sense. With regard to a different communication technology - TV - Bill McKibben (1993) makes a similar argument.
 In writing that one must know how things "really" are, I mean that one must know what reality includes. Religious people in both Eastern (e.g., Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Shinto) and Western traditions typically affirm that reality includes more than just what meets the eye - that the reality of the Divine is not always apparent on the surface of things. In philosophical terms, this is to make an ontological or metaphysical claim. I am not, that is to say, making any ontological assumptions of my own here. A further point is that while technical terms like "metaphysics" or "ontology" may seem rather abstract and far removed from everyday experience, our very use of the term "really" in the way I echo here makes the point that all of us "do" metaphysics or ontology whenever we assert that something is "really" the case.
 Very briefly, Kraut et al. (1998) and Nie & Erbring (2000) find a direct correlation between time spent online and negative social effects, e.g., greater isolation, depression, etc. The more recent study by Kraut et al. (in press) finds that after an initial period of online experience, these negative social effects begin to disappear. At the same time, however, the authors indicate that positive social benefits are generally seen for extroverts and those who enjoy greater social support to begin with, while Internet use leads to worse social outcomes for introverts and those with less social support. In other words, the Internet may have an "amplifier" effect, as it does for other forms of behavior (e.g., Greater tendencies towards aggression).
 A perceptive reviewer has correctly pointed out that flight from the body is not necessarily the same as flight from community. Certainly, examples can be found of desert hermits and other religious ascetics whose efforts to escape the ordinary world of embodied existence and its temptations are not exclusive of community: on the contrary, survival in harsh and remote environments often depends precisely on at least the community of fellow recluses (e.g., Christian desert monastics, Buddhist monastics, etc.). Moreover, it is often observed that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are "desert religions," - i.e., their foundations include profound revelational experiences in the desert to individual prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed) that nonetheless directly reach into and reshape the everyday existence of human communities away from the desert.
At the same time, however, countless examples may be found of solitary ascetics and mystics whose flight from the body, based on a dualistic contempt for "this world," is indeed also a flight from the whole of ordinary human existence, including marriage, family, and engagement in the life of the polis or political community (one of the central marks and goals of human existence for Aristotle, for example). And clearly, this flight from a human community enmeshed in the material world is the logical conclusion of such ontological dualism. Once one is fully committed to such dualism, then, one can do little other than seek one's own salvation as an individual soul in flight from the world - and hence one can do little to pursue the social concerns of justice and righteousness in the human community.
 In describing the Church as marginalized, I refer to some believers' sense that their traditions and faith commitments are under attack in a seemingly ever more materialistic and morally decaying society.
 Tex Sample (1998) is a premier example of a theologian who takes incarnational theology as central (see esp. 105f., 108) in his efforts to discern what the Church must look like in a postmodern age - one marked by the rising importance of participatory spectacle, performance, music and dance. The result is prescriptions for worship styles now familiar as "celebration" or "contemporary" worship (involving live rock bands, a full range of images projected on screens, etc.) - i.e., worship and liturgy as practiced by embodied believers who come together in the real world rather than online. See also Brenda Brasher's more recent work (2001) as well as its affiliated website for a comprehensive overview of these and related issues.
Whatever the theologians and lay believers may decide, we will see below that in the literature of CMC and related fields (including Artificial Intelligence), there has been a recent turn away from the Gnostic/Cartesian dualism that predominated much of the discussion from the 1950s through to the mid- to late 1990s, and towards a renewed interest in the significance of embodiment in human knowing, sense of self, etc. See Ess (forthcoming).
 "Historical-critical" refers to the conjunction of several schools of Biblical interpretation, including source criticism (which attempts to determine oral and written sources incorporated in a text), form criticism (which categorizes the individual genres or units of text contained within Scripture - units which likely had an independent existence prior to their incorporation), redaction criticism (the effort to determine the role of individual editors in reshaping earlier sources), and literary criticism. See Harris (2000: 46-48), Hedrick (1999: 14-26), and the Pontifical Biblical Commission (1993) for helpful summaries and further sources.
 Others have also suggested similar parallels between our time, as profoundly interwoven with the Internet, and the Medieval/Catholic world (Levy 1997), the Renaissance (Ropolyi 2000), and the Protestant Reformation (Noble 1999).
 See, for example, Baym 1995, Sobchack 1995, Argyle & Shields 1996, Bromberg 1996, Sunderland & Hearn 2000, Miani 2000, Kling 2000. Issues of gender and embodiment vis-à-vis cyberspace have also enjoyed recent popularity on the Web: see the "Featured Links" and "Courses in Cyberculture" collected at the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies (https://www.com.washington.edu/rccs/) as a start.
 Hayles foregrounds the shift from a modernist objectivist epistemology, based on a Cartesian opposition between subject and object - and thus between subjective knowledges and "objective" modes of knowledge, where only the latter are of value - to an epistemology which (echoing Kant) emphasizes the inevitable interaction between subject and object in shaping our knowledge of the world. Knowledge is not an "either/or", it is both subjective and objective. In the same way, Hayles further focuses on the meanings of embodiment in what many now see as a post-Cartesian understanding of mind-and-body in cyberspace (Bolter 2001, Brown & Duguid 2000, Dertouzos 2001). See Ess (forthcoming) for a more extensive discussion and overview of this trajectory of CMC literature.
 Augustine (4th ct. C.E.) is the primary author of the doctrine of Original Sin, a (mis)reading of the 2nd Genesis creation story (Genesis 2.4 - 3.27) that still predominates today. On this reading, human beings acquire an intrinsically sinful nature as a consequence of a first or Original Sin - committed, indeed, first by the woman and then by the man. In particular, what Elaine Pagels characterizes as the "alarmingly autonomous" passion of male sexuality - a sexuality both deeply experienced and regretted by Augustine - becomes for him the primary example and metaphor of disobedience and rebellion. Simply put, male passion and arousal are often wildly independent of and hostile to the rational control of mind and soul. For Augustine - with his earlier involvement with Manichean teachings, including their radical dualism that pitted soul against body, and male against female; and their promise of salvation for a soul no longer polluted by the material as exemplified precisely in body, sexuality, and woman, the primary loci of temptation and evil - sexual passion is not so much a gift to be celebrated (as in the Hebrew Scriptures, e.g., the Song of Solomon) as it is a punishment meted out to disobedient human beings. See Pagels (1988: 107ff.) and Ess (1995). A dualistic hostility towards body, sexuality, and woman (as the primary agent for introducing sin into the world and as man's primary temptress away from spiritual purity and attention to the Divine) results.
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