Cybertheology: thinking about Christianity in the era of the Net

What I post here is a review of my book Cyberteologia. Pensare il cristianesimo ai tempi della rete [Cybertheology. Thinking about Christianity in the era of the Net] written by Maria Way (researcher on Media and Religion, London) and published on Communication Research Trends, Vol. 31 (2012) no. 3, pp. 37-41. I consider this review a great introduction to Cybertheology for English speaking people who what to know more about it.

Antonio Spadaro, s.j. is the Editor of La Civiltà Cattolica, the sometimes controversial Jesuit journal. Here, he attempts to address what he sees as a lacuna in literature on the internet: the relationship between the internet and theology. He considers that theology is, according to a ‘classical’ (although there is no designation of its origin) definition: ‘..intelligence of the faith, and we know well how intelligence, understood as critical and reflexive knowledge, is not extraneous to cultural changes that are underway.’(p.11, all translations are mine). This book’s genesis was a request that he speak on internet and faith at an Italian Bishops’ Council, Office of Social Communications’ conference on digital witnessing. No doubt he was asked because of a number of articles he had written in Civiltà Cattolica and his two previous books: Connessioni: Nuove forme della cultura (Connections: New Forms of Culture) (2006) and Web 2.0: Reti di relazione. (Web 2.0: Webs of relationships) (2010).

Spadaro notes that this request had him at a disadvantage, since the Bishops neither wanted a discussion of internet mechanisms used, nor something on the sociology of web religiosity, since neither seemed individually sufficient. This realization caused something that all of us who write will recognize: he sat in front of a blank screen, not knowing where to start, knowing only that he would have to write something on the topic’s theology when the internet’s logic is a sign of the way we now think, understand, communicate and, indeed, live. This viewpoint is easy to hold in countries where internet penetration is high (the Italian government embarked on a project to wire Italy completely some years ago), but perhaps less easy in countries with low penetration. His exploratory territory was, he believes, ‘still wild, little occupied…’(p.6). He felt he needed to explain the phenomenon from a systematic theology viewpoint, thus having two questions:

What impact has the net had on the way we understand the Church and the ecclesial communion?

What impact has it had on the ways in which we think about Revelation, grace, liturgy, the sacraments and classical theological themes?

The talk was a first step towards answering these questions, answers he is still working to supply. He began, as anyone working from a Catholic viewpoint would, by looking at Church documents on communication, specifically mentioning Benedict XVI’s 2011 talk to the Pontifical Council for Social Communication in which he mentioned Aetatis Novae (At the Dawn of a New Age) (1992). Spadaro notes (p.7) that:

‘if Christians reflect on the net, it is not only to learn to use it well, but because they are called to help humanity and to understand the profound significance of the web itself in God’s project, not as an instrument to use, but as an ambience to inhabit’.

On p.11, he quotes John Paul II’s 2005 apostolic letter ‘Rapid Development’ (n.10):

‘ [The Church] .. alerts [us] to the need to offer its own contribution for a better comprehension of the perspectives and responsibilities connected to present developments in social communications’

We often forget that the Catholic Church has used the available means of communication for its main purpose – evangelization – since it began. Electronic communication methods are just another of these means. Spadaro says he is neither sociologist, nor technician, but trained in theology, philosophy and literature. He believes that this formation has informed his views and interests on the web. Amongst influences mentioned are Marshall McLuhan, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Flannery O’Connor, Walt Whitman, St. Thomas Acquinas, T.S.Elliott, Teilhard de Chardin and one Karol Wojtyla, He also notes the encouragement of Mons. Claudio Celli, President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications (PCCS) and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi of the Pontifical Council for Culture (PCC).

To develop the project further he opened his blog ‘Cyberteologia’ on January 1st, 2011, then his Leggi tutto “Cybertheology: thinking about Christianity in the era of the Net”