Hallo again to all.
We try each week to write about some aspect of Anglicanism, but never to preach or behave like clergy. All of us here at AO are lovers of history, especially church history. When one writes about the history of the church, or the history of religion, it is easy to drift perilously close to nostalgia. When writing about the way things were, we try hard not to get stuck in the past, to report on it without wallowing in it.
This past week we have, like much of the rest of the world, been following the events centered on Tahrir Square in Egypt. Everyone seems to know as much as they want to know about what it is that has been happening. The discussion and speculation is over why it happened and what it signifies and what it portends.
We admit it; we're nostalgic for the way not-very-violent forced regime changes used to happen. People with guns (usually members of that country's army) would shut down government-owned radio and television stations, surround the presidential palace, and issue demands. The deposed dictator would flee to a country we had never visited, and (after an appropriate interregnum) a new dictator would take power. Religious leaders would take time out from talking about God to talk about politics or the immorality of the government, but most of the country's population would be largely uninvolved and perhaps even unaffected. And we would read about it in the newspaper, usually a day or two later.
That model for revolution is as old-fashioned as gaiters or the language of the King James Bible. These days the governments try to shut down internet and cell-phone access, religious leaders actively take sides, and we read about it or see it while it is happening. It is the nature of the internet that it cannot be completely shut off. Its very existence has created a longing for instant global information that will not go away just because one of the usual means of satisfying that longing has stopped working.
Historically, there have been massive social changes triggered by the return of soldiers who brought back knowledge, tales, and artifacts that changed the soldiers' home culture every bit as much as a war would have. Crusaders returning to Europe, telling tales of what they had seen and showing what they had plundered, are often credited with having sparked the Renaissance. Soldiers returning from Europe to the relatively isolated United States after World War I caused huge changes in US culture and society.
It is fairly common for church leaders to confuse morality with culture. If nothing else, it plays well from the pulpit. Two groups with different cultural norms will, when suddenly exposed to one another, initially perceive each other as having different morals. The same internet that the Egyptian government tried to shut down is enabling church leaders and church members to experience, more or less as it happens, cultures that are as far outside their experience as was Constantinople to the German peasant footsoldier returning home. We've all seen this happening in the Anglican world in recent years. What makes it different from recent events in Egypt is that the government of Egypt thought that it had the authority and the power to shut off the internet, whereas the Archbishop of Emerald City knows that he has neither.
Over the next decade a goodly number of the world's dictatorships may well fall from internet-enabled corrosion and unrest. This is enough of a given that the government of the US is openly funding research to make it more difficult for other governments to shut down their internet access. What springs up in the place of these fallen governments remains to be seen. It will not necessarily be better than the current dictatorships. But it will be different. It will take longer than a decade for the world's church leaders to be toppled by the same force — corrosive global information — but it will happen. Since the culture that our forebears created is, of course, always the best, we'll have a ringside seat as these other, lesser cultures experience revolution and become more like us.
As you can see on the internet, though, those other cultures are saying the same thing about us. Fie on them!
See you next week.
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