Information Technology and Religion 
31 July, 2002
Yoshinobu Miyake
President, RELNET CORP.

1. What Historical Transition Means

1-1. Religion as the earliest "Information Business"

I remember the three elements that divide human beings from animals that I learned in elementary school. They are that human beings a) are bipedal, b) make and use tools, c) have a language system. However, these characteristics supposedly peculiar to humankind were soon found not to be so. Penguins also walk on two legs, manlike apes build devices and make use of them ingeniously, moreover, it is reported that there is "a clever monkey" who can buy a can from a vending machine with coins. In addition to tool-using apes, a certain kind of finch, catches ants to eat with a "fishing rod" made from a branch adjusted for length and girth. And, regarding language, the uniqueness of humans is also unquestionable. There is no need to cite here the examples of whales or dolphins, who communicate with each other orally.

Ape and Human

If it is not these three elements, then what on earth does divide humankind from other animals? My answer to this question is that it is undoubtedly religious passion. In the process of evolution from apes, humankind acquired a lot of cerebral cortex, so much that it can even be said to be "too much". The cerebral cortex contributed to making human beings "the lords of creation." At the same time, it produced a side effect, imagination, which gives us both overestimates and underestimates as well as life-sized estimations of the phenomena in front of us. That means that the establishment of a persecution complex, religious passion, and artistic sentiment come with the birth of humankind. Thus the existence of human and religion cannot be separated.

It was the "person of religion" such as the shaman or priest in every culture around the world, who was independent, as the earliest "business" in "primitive" hunting-and-gathering societies, when all the people were self-sufficient and before people had specialized jobs. So it's not an exaggeration to say "religion is the earliest information business."

1-2. Four "twos"

When we review human history we use various periodizations depending on our purpose. Here I'd like to propose four "twos" for this session on "Information Technology." They are 2 million years, 2 thousand years, 2 hundred years, and 2 decades.

First, a) 2 million years ago, Homo Habilis and Homo Erectus diverged from Australopithecus, the first ape-man originated in Eastern Africa. It's imagined that religious passion, such as fear of the supernatural or dedicating things to the dead was developed in this period when brain cortex was acquired rapidly. Then b) 2 thousand years ago, soon after the Iron Age started and large scale war became possible, many founders of what we now call "religion" took an important role.

Then c) 2 hundred years ago, human society evolved by leaps and bounds from tyranny and farming society to the Industrial Revolution and civil society. It meant also the constitution of the "modern" nation state. We should pay attention to the fact that this system of modern society established the "monster" of capitalism, combined with the biological character of the human brain cortex such that it is not able to see objects in life size. In consequence, "religion" was pushed away to the periphery of society, even though it had been the basis of value systems for the last 2,000 years.

Finally d) about 20 years ago, the "post modern or post cold war" society began, in which we, ourselves, live in the present. This era can be named in one word, "globalizing society," considering the spread of computers, communication satellites, and sophisticated telecommunication technology such as the internet. Many of the "negative heritages of modern society" have been destroyed by the liquidation of people, material, money, and information all over the world by globalization. At the same time a lot of "monsters" were created, such as nationalism in the political world and fundamentalism in the religious world.

Considering the above, the purpose of this article is to ask ourselves how to become aware of the present situation, what to do about it, and what can be done about it.

2. The Role of the Media for Religion

2-1. The Sophistication of the Media Changes the Cultural Accomplishment

One of the misunderstandings we often tend to be captured in when considering religion is that "it's hard to change the dogma, the essence of the founder's teachings on which a religion bases itself by ostensible reason." However, dogma can be dramatically changed through sophisticated use of the media.

Gutenberg's Bible

The most famous example is the "Reformation" of Martin Luther. The prior invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg was needed for the Reformation in 1517 to occur, a movement which denied elements of the traditional theology, such as the superiority of Pope, which had been believed for more than 1,000 years. It adopted a reformed theology said to be based on "Sola Scriputurum." Without the invention and spread of the printing press, most people would not have had a Bible, and Luther's theology would not have been possible. This means that the spread of a medium, the printing press, was a cause of Protestant theology.

The 20th century also saw a similar situation, one which we have all experiences,--the spread of television, which is characterized by the fact that a lot of people, millions or billions people around the world, can concurrently watch an incident live on TV, and by the creation of televangelists, typically in the US. Most new religions that developed rapidly after World War II more or less have some of this.

a Televangelist

It is a simplifying or extreme of doctrine. Because television is not suitable for complex thinking typical programs are such things as quiz shows on which someone acquires a cash award by answering alternatively 'true' or 'false.' It's very different from a Zen Buddhist's koan that requires deep inner understand. It's easy to define various phenomena grossly in good and evil terms and then broadcast them. From the fact that many religious and political leaders take such fundamentalist stance, you will easily understand how television affects us adversely. Moreover, this media has the same character as capitalism in that the larger the market size (=the number of believers), the more merit it has.

2-2. Is the Internet the Messiah?

The newest emerging media is the information network of personal computers tied together by the internet. This new media has something in common with the previous media in that it involves the "synchronicity of many people over the world." On the other hand, this media has created a situation in which "a receiver also transmits information," although the mass media used a fixed system of one-way communication from sender to receiver. En passant, I have run a web site named RELNET ( for 4 years. Now, despite there being many other sites run by huge old and new religious organizations, it has grown to be one of the largest religious information web sites in Japan.

It's required also at churches that the separation of the roles of professional priest or minister and layman should be insignificant. All the people should look at themselves with a critical mind, and learn by communication with others. Our situation has many points in common with that of 2 million years ago, when humankind acquired religious passion. Just as they made flint implements to fit each hand, not the standardized mass industrial production, we are engaged in creating certain information to send to others on keyboards in cave-like rooms. It's not an exaggeration to be called Homo Habilis in the 21st century. Religion can be called precisely the earliest and latest information business.

3. IT and Religious Freedom

3-1. Courage to Doubt even God

How to tackle the "monsters" of nationalism in the political world and fundamentalism in the religious world, created in post-modern society, is an emergency challenge for us in this IT society where all aspects of life are globalized. Now we gather from all over the world on the same interesting theme of, "Protecting religious minority's human rights so called religious freedom." Thus, we should pay careful attention to the judgment that the San Francisco Federal Appellate Court returned on the 26th of June saying that "the phrase 'one nation under God' in the US 'Pledge of Allegiance' is against the Constitution of the U.S. It is recited in the public primary and junior high schools. The real problem is members of Federal Government or Congress who criticize this court ruling. We should pay attention as well to the suppression of the human rights of non-Muslims in the Persian Gulf countries and of Tibetan Buddhists or Falun Gong members in China.

the Pledge of Allegiance in Public School

3-2. IT Could Be the Essential Arm

Minorities have been discriminated and pushed to the periphery of society, in some extreme cases, deprived of their lives and assets in the pre-IT society, as if that was reasonable. Now, the rapid spread of IT enables these minorities and those who respect minorities to unite even though they live separated from each other around the world and could not meet, were it not for the technology. This function brings us back to the original meaning of the Latin word for religion, "religio," that is "again" and "bind." Considering the situation, IT must be the essential tool for our activities.