Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Will The Internet Affect Orthodoxy?

I'm not really sure.

I imagine that a large part of people's ability to cling onto strange or untenable beliefs is due to lack of information. Back in the day it was far more unlikely for an average Orthodox person to even hear about the Documentary Hypothesis or Babylonian myths etc. unless s/he was one avid reader or had a particular interest in potentially controversial fields.

Nowadays with the information explosion of the twenty first century things are a lot more accessible. An unwitting internet surfer can get caught in a chain of links easily leading to "heretical" material. (Many people stumble upon this blog by googling such innocuous things as "Ktiva V'Chatima Tova" or "Rambam" as well as some really strange irrelevant things like "narcissistic personality disorder")   As I overheard a Kollel guy once say "You watch youtube! But how? You could click on link which leads to another link which might make you watch something assur chas v'shalom!" Chareidim aren't just afraid of the prostkeit on the internet, they're afraid of the information.

But let's be honest how much of a difference will availability make. Firstly I imagine most people Jewish and not are spending most of their internet time Facebooking and Twittering not on Wikipedia. Most people couldn't be bothered by the intricacies of theology, science, history or even current events. So I think it's very possible that the availability of information will hardly be utilized except by the handful of inquisitive souls out there. I'm sure some people might stumble upon heresy, but I doubt most would be interested enough to even read a page without tweets or status updates (or Youtube videos of sneezing pandas)

Secondly many Orthodox Jews still have the religious gag reflex - where they instinctively flee from heretical ideas or alternatively automatically dismiss anything not written by a Rabbi. "Oh an article about the Bible looks interesting. Oh wait! It's written by a guy with a goyishe name and uses the word Pentateuch must be rubbish!" *click exit*  Many Orthodox Jews learn that there are two types of information out there correct ideas (things which are in harmony with Orthodoxy) and incorrect ideas (things which are not in harmony with Orthodoxy)  and will soon gain an instinct to determine the difference between the two and learn to throw the former into the mental dust bin. The religious gag reflex if properly functioning can make people impervious to any perceived assualts on their faith. (My "downfall" I assume was an under-developed religious gag reflex)

The above is of course pure speculation as I hardly can expect to fully understand the psychology of the Jew on the street but that's my tentative thoughts on the matter.

Although I don't think one can deny that the internet is corrupting more people with "outside" ideas than libraries ever did, I have to wonder if it will ever be able to effect a revolution in Orthodox Jewish thought.


S. said...

It depends, of course. In high density Orthodox areas it may seem as if it's no matter to lose a few, but not in other communities. Also Modern Orthodoxy seems to be pulling in two directions, not just one.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Well we all know that large elements of Modern Orthodoxy are"slipping to the right" and also I think a large part of how (American) Modern Orthodoxy defines itself nowadays is in contrast to the laxity (in doctrine and practice) of the Conservative and Reform movements. So I'm hedging my bets on "better keep the faith than the numbers" (or possible realignments) but we'll just have to wait and see.

S. said...

You never know. It depends what the calculus is. Modern Orthodoxy always tended to the view that it is better to accept laxity of various kinds to keep the community more inclusive, while Chareidim generally do not accept it (at least not in a publicly visible way). Thus if the calculation is "better keep them than lose them," then you might be right about change. If the calculation is "better keep the faith than the numbers," then I don't know if we'll see those changes. We may see other changes though, because there's probably a tipping point where even those inclined to cut out those who deviate may see the numbers as dictating a new definition of what deviance is.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Good point. I just meant will Orthodoxy be forced to change some of its most basic hashkafic stances on various issues due to a wider dissemination of "dangerous" material. The tile should've been "How Will the Internet Affect Orthodoxy?"

S. said...

It already has affected Orthodoxy. Unless, if by "affected" you mean "demolish"?

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