The ethics of the internet

In his 2000 book Cities of God Graham Ward devotes a chapter to formulating a christian response to the internet. Of course, he sees the web as a threat. He primarily castigates it for moving us out of the real world into a virtual reality. He however does not despair of the internet, but suggests that theology can work to redeem it (!). His suggestion is to focus on the social aspects of the web and only use it as a prosthesis to better ‘real’ social life.

Well, thank god, the internet has been redeemed! VR is a thing of the past (and was perhaps abandoned precisely because it separated us too much from the ‘real world’) and the web 2.0 is more social than Ward probably ever dreamed of.

There is, however, a fundamental problem with Ward’s analysis. Like all good theologians he instinctively takes that which is foreign to christianity to be bad and in need of saving. He is only intent on neutralizing the demonic powers of the internets. Much more constructive would be to invert his entire process: to ask what the internet can bring to christianity (Ward’s religion) or more generally put, to ethics. We should not approach the web with a pre-fabricated morality and try to ‘fix’ the online experience accordingly. Rather, we need to ask: what can the internet do for ethics? How can we use it to become better ourselves? What is the ethics that can use the web to the fullest? Those are the right questions. The ones that will bring us forward. In answering them might well lie our hope for a future, any future.

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