Saturday, October 31, 2009

The World Wide Web as a Forum for the Unfolding of Spirit

Meeting in Seoul, South Korea, the board of the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) voted to make it possible for Internet addresses to be written entirely in non-Latin alphabets. Though a few security experts raised concerns that internationalization of names might make cyber-attacks more likely, Icann did not see the additional domain diversity as having a substantial effect on the threat level.

Both practically and symbolically, this clears the way for the Web to emerge more fully as a connection point within and between cultures. Thirty thousand years after the invention of human language, the remarkable evolutionary process continues.

Looking to put Icann’s decision in a theological context, I pulled my wife’s copy of Peter Hodgson’s Winds of the Spirit off the shelf. In a chapter on “The Liberation of the World,” I read about the importance of having “a universal horizon of encounter” (p. 310) when engaging in religious dialog.

Hodgson was writing in 1994, quoting another theologian (David Krieger), who had written in 1991; surely neither man had the Net much in mind. Fifteen years later, however, it’s become a truism to observe that if Martin Luther were posting the 95 Theses today, he’d be posting them on the Web, probably using a Blackberry. Two years ago, in its Reformation Day cover, the Lutheran magazine riffed on this fact by showing one of Luther’s theses on a Blackberry that had been rechristened a Wittenberry.

Of course, the Web is also a crowded marketplace where display ads constantly clamor for attention, no matter what the primary content is on the page. The tension between the respective roles — universal horizon of encounter vs. universal emporium of wares — is nothing new. But with the Word Wide Web, it’s taking place on a bigger stage than ever before, in, as they say, “real time.”

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