Social intimacy: Religion in the Digital Age

Today’s article by guest-writer, Dino Demarchi…

'God is our wireless provider.'
(cc) Jeff Howard

It is a simple logical fact that we’re all “part-time atheists”. Atheism is the disbelief in certain particular gods. If one believes in Allah, he or she does not believe in Anubis, Mithras, Odin, Zeus, Mars or Krishna. Religion and theism can be treated as two separate phenomena (see Buddhism and Daoism). But what is religion? What is its true essence? Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels took religion for the drug with which the proletarians dull their pain—“opium for the masses”—and prevents them from overthrowing the bourgeoisie. Émile Durkheim identified religion with the social glue that bounds society together. Modernity therefore means to trade one religion (supernaturalism) for another (nationalism). Factory chimneys became the new church towers. Max Weber associated the decline of religion with “the disenchantment of the world”. But contrary to what Marx, Durkheim and Weber had predicted, religions began to adapt and develop in response to the rationalization process.

Religion has gone pop! Jediists take inspiration from the Star Wars franchise, Matrixists from the Matrix trilogy. LaVeyan Satanists quote H. P. Lovecraft. New Agers mix astrology with tarot cards, eastern mysticism, crystal healing, yoga, pyramid hats and modern science. There are UFO cults such as Scientology and the Raelians. There are neo-pagans and fans of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Avalon series who combine feminism with Celticism. Secularization is not the once-and-for-all unilateral process that takes places everywhere homogeneously. Despite the decline in church attendance, religion has not disappeared. In most parts of the world it hasn’t lost its social significance. Europe is the exception.

It can be argued that religions are “identity goods” in today’s consumer society. They are brands like Abercrombie & Fitch and Apple. In our age of supermarket pluralism, people pick-and-mix their religion à la carte. In addition, religious communities take part in the production of commodities. For instance, al-Qaeda produce hip-hop music videos and develop browser games to attract and recruit new teenage warriors. As Adam Possamai put it: “Post-war consumer culture dominates the western lifestyle with its mass-produced commodities.” And further: “Consumer choice is not limited to shopping, but is extended to education, health, politics and religion.” Philosophers and cultural theorists argue whether the consumers simply reproduce the status quo or undermine the social power structures through subversive acts of bricolage and deconstruction (see Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, Cultural Studies).

What makes religion so irresistible are its social and experiential aspects. It gives our lives meaning through community, it develops a deeper sense of the connection and recognition we all deeply desire. According to Jacques Lacan, the “master-signifier” is a shape-shifter: an empty vessel at the heart of the “symbolic order” that can be filled with any substance (God). It is the supreme symbol and the center of gravity around which language circulates. All gods are man-made. Why not think of the opportunities we’d be missing if we didn’t take a pragmatic approach? We are already religiophobes, so why not try something new? As a matter of fact, not all religions are about supernaturalist nonsense. Laozi sanctified the differentiation process through which the natural world has emerged. It is fulfilling and rewarding to explore the treates of religious practice. Our employers and romantic partners can’t give us what has hitherto been provided by large religious communities and their infrastructure.

The Syntheist Movement proclaims that their post-secular philosophy is the Hegelian overcoming of classical theism and modern atheism. People are free to engage in any spiritual quest as they see fit and build sanctuaries anywhere in the world. Why not take inspiration from the sense of awe and wonderment we get while digging deep into the quantum realm or pondering about the magnitude of the universe or the ways in which different species have evolved over millions of years? Spirituality is a choice, not a feature of the world. Why not try and practice spiritual anarchism? It is perfectly acceptable to start a brand new religion and subscribe to pro-science naturalism.



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Dino Demarchi is a Swiss media expert, sociologist and philosopher who graduated from the University of Zurich in 2009. He has been actively involved in multiple internet communities and online initiatives since the 1990s. 

This post was adapted by the author from its original source at and is published with permission.


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