I recently attended a conference in Birmingham that combined the topics of religion and the challenges of living in a digital age. It was the 34th World Congress with The International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF) and the theme was ‘Challenges for Religious Freedom in the Digital Age’.
We live in a world that is interconnected in more ways than ever before – both economically and digitally. One of the main messages at the conference was: In order to live together we must foster communication and understanding.
The keynote speaker was Karen Armstrong, a celebrated author and religious commentator. It was great to hear her speak live. Previously, I’d seen her online when she won the 2008 TED Prize for the creation of the Charter for Compassion.
Two of the thoughts she shared on stage were: ‘Compassion is in all religion’ and ‘don’t impose on others what you don’t want imposed on yourself’.
With our ability to share content and thoughts online comes personal responsibility. What you do online can have a huge impact on other people’s thoughts and feelings both in a positive way and in a negative way. To create and develop a world that we would all like to live in we need to use our intellect, morality and personal discipline to take action. Talking alone will not make compassion work.
Peace and diversity
Conflict has always existed yet one of the keynote speakers at the conference, Kathy Matsui, a Professor at Seisen University, asserted that: ‘Human beings are not on earth to compete for dominance.’
Our ability to connect electronically has meant a lot to us and the development of the world. It’s natural for humans to connect and seek contact. Several speakers at the conference touched on the topic of diversity. One asked: ‘Why did a wise God create such diversity?’
Diversity makes us stronger and helps us to see a problem from new perspectives. We must always learn from each other. Other people can help us to grow.
When I train people in social media one of my messages is: ‘Adults learn best by discussing a topic they are passionate about with other people who are experts in the topic.’ So, in the complex world of social media and communication, by talking to other wise people we can quickly develop our own minds.
Language and numbers
There is a lot of knowledge in this world and we cannot keep it all in our minds. In the past we had books and libraries. Now we have the ability to share our knowledge with a larger audience and we do this in a way that enables people to easily find information, that is, through the use of good web-design, categories and keywords.
One of the speakers, Roby Kannanchira, a Carmelite priest, said: ‘To keep knowledge in a digital format is a way of acquiring new knowledge. To discuss the new knowledge is a way of developing your wisdom.’
Our language is a gift and thanks to language we can communicate our knowledge and share it further. In some parts of the world internet penetration is almost zero, in the Western world it’s close to 90% and for the future we should hope for a more equal way to connect.
Digital technology is about numbers. It’s about ‘1’ and ‘0’ – one and zero are the two magic numbers that are needed to digitise everything online. Without numbers we would not be able to send an email or check out a website. We need numbers to form a new concept online. We explain our world using numbers, we call each other using a phone number, and in the digital world we use numbers all the time without even thinking about it.
One of the Muslim speakers, Aladdine Touhami, compared one and zero to masculinity and femininity. You need a balance of both to get anything to work.
Morality and technology
Technology does not have a natural moral centre and we must embrace responsible online behaviour. Your words can reach far and you must choose them wisely.
Bishop Angaelos, a very active Twitter user was one of the speakers. He said that social media should not be seen as either a villain or saviour.
For me, it feels as if we have lost our privacy online. Of course, we can choose what to share, but a lot of data is collected about us by big corporations and that’s a bit creepy. What do Facebook and Google actually know about us? Probably far too much!
Internet censorship and surveillance is a reality in over 40 countries at the moment. What kind of impact does this have? Where do you draw the line concerning what people can control?
The meaning of ‘guru’ in Sikhism
During the conference I also visited two Sikh gurdwaras. I had never been to a gurdwara before and I found it very exciting. We were told the meaning if the word ‘guru’.
In my job working with social media I often hear the expression ‘social media guru’ and it sometimes has negative connotations. I have been called a social media guru in some interviews and I am absolutely fine with that.
One of the people who welcomed us to the gurdwara said that guru means spiritual enlightenment and a guru takes you from darkness to light. I think that sounds beautiful.
The interfaith tour
I also had the opportunity to listen to two young Frenchmen who, with five other men from five different religions, had travelled the world exploring religion and promoting interfaith activities. You should check out some of their videos and posts on social media and their website.
Our ability to use digital tools will help us to develop a more human world. The question is what can you do to help?
As humans we can connect on many levels, we can meet up, play sport, go for a coffee, chat online, share a moment on Snapchat, share our holiday pics on Facebook, we can send a text message, we can fly all around the world, jump on a train and so on. We will always connect and be connected – today there are just so many more opportunities to do so.
The final words I would like to share with you are: All human beings have one thing in common and that is that we can all become better communicators.
All the best and thank you for reading,