Guilt and shame used to be such large parts of my religious life. Shame still factors in – but as both a force to be addressed and one to be cleansed. Originally I thought my guilt was appropriate, though now I know better.
Because my guilt wasn’t about poor behavior of insulting the gods. It stemmed from my love of ‘spiritual-sapping’ technology. Of all the things to be ashamed of, I was ashamed that I used technology so often. From what I was reading, I should have been doing spells or rituals or devotion or saving the planet instead of exploring virtual worlds.
In some ways, those sentiments have faded from much of Pagan and polytheist dialog. In some ways, they are exactly the same. Rather than being published in books, though, they are published on blogs.
Of course, I eventually got over the guilt. It took me a bit longer than it really should have. Now technology froms a pretty important part of my practice – and the Otherfaith. Our religion wouldn’t exist without the internet.1
Technology is complicated. It can act as oppressor and resistance, often at the same time. There are a number of social justice movements affecting the world that were able to come together thanks to technology. (And while ‘hashtag activism’ might be derided by some, it does have a place and often helps inspire grassroots or on-the-ground movements.) But technology is also oppressive. We rely on slave and sweatshop labor for our phones and laptops and games. Our devices are built to be obsolete in a few years. While any technology eventually faces that fate, that of being replaced with what is better or faster or cleaner, it shouldn’t be buitl in. We have to ask if we should really be placing our energies and ideas and development into slightly varied upgrades to technology that is working just fine.
To say this issue needs nuance is an understatement. Technology is more than smartphones and laptops. It is medicine, prosthetics, being able to transport food and vaccines without them going bad. And science can give us ways to radically change our world. Can, not will. We can’t lay back and wait for scientific advancement to save us. Science and technology are not unbiased and perfect. They will not, as some have stated, reward or punish us for creating them. All that will happen – is that they will be created. Expecting science to solve our problems is akin to sitting back and waiting for the gods to fix everything.
We can’t expect technology to create radical, real change. We need to use and grow it appropriately.
From a religious perspective, the problems I face with the use and abuse of technology is something I feel can be tied to a wider rejection of animism. What is especially interesting is that I have spoken to people who identify as animists who find the idea that technology could contain spirits, or that spirits might be tied to our electronic objects, to be ‘silly’ and not worth considering. Trees and forests have spirits, not cities and man-made creations.
I, rather loudly, think there are spirits of technology and our modern world (full of its myriad different ways of living and dying). And there are spirits of the wild, forest, and country. Of mountains and rivers and the ocean. And spirits of bridges and skyscrapers and nuclear power plants. I don’t think these spirits always, or even ever, get along. But I do believe they exist. I don’t think humanity’s touch is poison, nor does it bestow grace or goodness.
We are, after all, animals.
I hardly think it’s reasonable to tell everyone to worship and interact with every kind of spirit. Factoring in spirits we already worship, we may find other types toxic or dangerous. Or simply off-putting.
I do think we restrict ourselves when we start from the assumption that technology is anti-spiritual or toxic to spiritual life, though. Beyond the Otherfaith being created from the internet, the idea that our technology has spirits and spiritual significance is something I have tried to weave into this religion. Most of our gods, after all, have assistance from scientific developments in their own world, one that mirrors ours.
1. [“Some people will take this to mean that our gods wouldn’t exist without the internet, which is obviously not what I’m saying. Our religion, the Otherfaith, certainly wouldn’t exist without the connections I made through the internet, however.”]↩
Thank you for reading. ‘of the Other People’ is a site dedicated to the Otherfaith, a modern polytheist religion. You can find more about us here and here. You can contact us here if you have any questions or would like to get involved.