When it comes to deeper Christian spirituality, computers are rarely considered a good companion. In recent years I have heard of people giving up social media sites for Lent. I have also heard many people talk about fasting not from food but from the Internet. Much like there are now unplugged spiritual retreats that outright ban electronic devices. This is enough to make one wonder if Christian spirituality is Luddite in nature. Given how it is clear that a lot of Christians today feel that deeper spiritual focus does not mix well with computers. The detail that we need to remember is that computers in all shapes and sizes ranging from desktops, laptops, smart phones & watches and tablets are simply tools. Tools by there very nature are neutral and this it is impossible for a computer to be hostile toward Christianity or any other religion. It is true that computers, just like any other tool, can be used in ways that are either helpful or harmful to one’s spiritual health.
I wonder what it was that more recently changed the church’s view of technology. Christianity has a long legacy of being on the cutting edge of information technology. Early Christians soon became known as the people of the book to those outside the church. This not only refers to the value the church placed upon the Bible but also to their advanced technology. At the time, the codex was the latest breakthrough in information technology. A codex is the oldest form of organizing written pages that we would recognize as a book today. In short a codex is a stack of pages with handwritten content that are bound together on one side. I am sure it comes as a shock to a lot of us today how big of an information technology breakthrough the codex was at the time. Compared to the scroll, the codex is superior at every level. A scroll has sequential access memory which makes it awkward to use and even handle. As compared to the codex with its more advanced “random access memory” which makes it much easier to use. This new style of data access forever changed how people of all faiths read their sacred texts. The ability to turn to any page with ease was what led us to index the Bible into chapters and verses. The codex was also much more economical than the scroll for several reasons. First the codex is bound in a way that allows for easy use of both sides of the papyrus, vellum or paper. The second is that codices are more durable because the pages are bound within a protective cover. The Bible was the first major work to be widely published as a codex. The codex was developed by the Romans and not the church. Yet, the church’s early adaptation of the codex happened at just the right time. This is why the spread of codex technology is associated with the rise of Christianity.
The next major point of early information technology adaptation was the printing press. The first modern book to be mass printed on a printing press in the West was the Gutenberg Bible. The Gutenberg Bible was produced over several years in the early to mid 1450’s. The Bible was also the first book that was electronically indexed in a computer system. The Univac Bible of 1955 was both the first ebook and the first instance of computer Bible software. The Univac Bible was used to create a concordance for the Revised Standard Version Bible. This was so ahead of its time that few people realized how big of a deal it was. The first Bible ebook predates Microsoft(1975) by 20 years and Apple(1976) by 21 years. Yes the first electronic Bible came decades before the first household personal computers. (Click here to see pictures of the Univac Bible project)
Unfortunately, the technology explosion created by the computer revolution has become a stumbling block. The church is not alone in the struggle to adapt to the increasingly computer driven world. Now is not the time to get bogged down pointing fingers at each others in the blame game. Even if it was possible to name names and explain how we dropped the ball with computers, it will not help. What matters most is that we week to get back on track with information technology. As the church we need to work on figuring out how to best use computers to our spiritual benefit. We need to find a way to develop deeper Christian spirituality in the increasingly shallow cyber-world of our Internet driven culture.