It was 3 a.m. on a typical Saturday in Geneseo. UHots was closing and there was nothing to do—my alumni friend was visiting, so we trudged through the rain back to my place for an early morning catch-up. His life is a lot more exciting than mine, so I listened intently as he told me of his post-grad misadventures.
“Did I ever tell you about the time I was almost recruited into a cult?” he said casually. No, he had not. I listened intently as he told me of a private subreddit he had been added to and the pseudo-intellectual who ran the page, inviting people who had like-minded views to join.
This got me thinking—this subreddit can’t be the only page like this on the internet. Since then, I have uncovered similar communities and ideas (i.e. places where spiritual thought meets modern politics and personal musings) grasping for meaning in the digital age. I believe the new frontier for religious thought lies not in the worship spaces of yesteryear, but in online forums and other digital spaces where one can make their beliefs heard and gain a following.
Spiritual groups born and bred online occupy a space somewhere between absurdism and grave sincerity. There is a whole spectrum of those who believe, don’t believe or are simply curious about a given sect of online spiritual thought.
In conducting research, I came across the website for The Church of Google, a parody religion founded in 2009 with the goal of creating commentary about the sophistication and increasing symbiotic relationship that technologies like Google play in our lives. I also came across online forums such as MySpiritualgroup, which is self-described as an “online spiritual group … which seeks to gather all genuine truth seekers from around the world” and focuses on metaphysics and esoteric thought.
Additionally, there are countless Reddit forums, like the one my friend joined, focused on the interplay between religion and psychedelics, anarchy and the alt-right—to name a few topics that have been brought into the conversation via dedicated subreddits.
One of the most intriguing online spiritual movements is one called H+, or Transhumanism. According to H+pedia, an online Wikipedia-esque transhumanist encyclopedia, transhumanism can be defined as a “belief or movement in favour of human enhancement, especially beyond current human limitations and with advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, life extension and nanotechnology.”
While prescribers to the philosophy might describe themselves as post-religious, there is something fundamentally spiritual about their way of thinking, which combines the concept of human transcendence with modern technological advancement. I may add that transhumanists are the same people in favor of gene modifying and strong AI technology, as well as proponents of the concept of technological singularity.
The internet is chaos, and so it only makes sense that spiritual communities that have formed from the internet are chaotic as well. The wide range of content, from intellectual to idiotic, underscores the wide range of beliefs being vocalized. Not only have we been ushered into a new age with technology providing platforms to express opinions, but the very opinions themselves have also been altered and shifted due to the emergence of the internet and what that means for human development.
As spiritual discussion online continues to mold the worldviews of many internet users, it is important that we attempt to broaden our understanding of this emerging intellectual discourse in order to better understand its real-world implications.
You can call Hayley Jones a metamorphosis rock because they do well under pressure!