Today is the birthday of Saint Augustine, born in 354. You may be saying, "Save it for your theology blog." But he's important to remember, even if we're not religious people. I could make the argument that Augustine wrote the first memoir in our Western tradition. So many of us are working in genres shaped by the kind of memoir he pioneered. Would we have had bloggers without Augustine?
Augustine was my favorite when I took a class that covered medieval Philosophy. I loved his The Confessions. I admired his honesty. What a catalog of sins! He believed that we couldn't escape our sinful nature. He spent part of his life indulging in all sorts of sinful behavior and part of his life trying not to do that.
Later theologians turned these ideas into the oppressive philosophy about sin and worthiness that some of us grew up desperate to escape. But Augustine's ideas were not oppressive in that same way.
If you wanted, you could make a case for Augustine as one of the most important thinkers in the history of the Church. We can trace our ideas about original sin and grace back to him. His thinking about God and God's existence outside of time has been enormously influential. His views of just war continue to be debated. His confessional style continues in writing to this day.
But if you don't feel like remembering medieval philosophers, you could celebrate the birth of the World Wide Web. It's fascinating to read how it happened; The Writer's Almanac gives us a summary in this post.
It is true that there was an Internet before there was a World Wide Web. But it was the World Wide Web that made the Internet accessible to so many of us. What would life be without hyperlinks? The first incarnations of the WWW didn't have much video--who could afford such computing power? But now we carry that kind of computing power in our phones. We live in amazing times.
Some of us early adopters of the Web might feel sad at how much it's been commercialized. But I'm happy to be able to do so much of my shopping and bill paying without leaving the house. I remember the days of going to the library to do research. And when I didn't have access to a university or college library, I had to hope that the local public library would have what I need. Now I have more information than I can possibly use--and because of the World Wide Web, I can access it.
Will we some day celebrate the birthdays of electronic systems the way that we do earlier writers and artists? It's an intriguing possibility. As we create machines that are ever more intelligent and capable of making connections that we wouldn't have come up with on our own, it's not inconceivable to me.
What would the feast day of the World Wide Web look like? Would we have special foods? Would we have the blessing of the computers? We bless our pets in some churches, to commemorate the feast day of St. Francis. Why not bless our smart phones? They are every bit as much our companions as our pets. You could argue that the consciousness of a smart phone is far vaster than the consciousness of a pet.
If Augustine lived today, he'd likely wrestle with these issues. Are smart phones born with a sinful nature? Will they have a place in Heaven? Can a smart phone commit a sin?
Perhaps you have your own ideas--go ahead and write them down. Maybe in two thousand years we'll celebrate you as the theologian most important to the electronic age.
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