“How do you reconcile the idea of faith being really important to you and you caring a lot about taking faith seriously with the fact that, at least in our democracy and our civic discourse, it seems as if folks who take religion the most seriously sometimes are also those who are suspicious of those not like them?
Throughout the course of human history governance and religion have competed for the hearts and minds of humans. These competitions have been peaceful and violent, perpetrating some of humanities worst atrocities. In a previous research paper on the nature of technology and governance, I concluded that governance is a human technology by using Brian Arthur’s framework for understanding the nature of technology. The specific aim of this research post is to address the nature of technology and religion with respect to their impacts on U.S. governance. The discussion will start by evaluating the analytical framework provided by Brian Arthur in his work that explores what the nature of technology is. Next we will explore religion through the prism of this analytical framework to see if religion meets the conditions to be considered a technology.
The discussion will then explore the common purposes of governance and religion in their pursuit in serving humanity. The purpose of this exercise is to address two paradoxical questions through the prism where both governance and religion are considered technologies. To address the first paradoxical question I will leverage the Gallup organization’s data set on religion and religious sentiment in the U.S. To address the second paradoxical question I will explore U.S. Governance through the Gallup data set on the degree to which U.S. citizens are devoted to the form of U.S. governance where they are required to place some of their hope and faith in its ability to solve problems. This will lead to a discussion on state power and how technology has changed politics in the modern digital context. As previously argued, our digital lives and real lives are effectively one in the same, however treated as separate and unequal under the eyes of the law.
The discussion will then focus on the level of tolerance U.S. governance has of religions. In closing, my final analysis will be done by discussing how both the technologies of religion and governance seek progress and their impacts on our real and digital lives.
- The nature of technology & religion need to be more completely understood
- What is technology and how does it change over time?
- What is religion and how do religions work?
- Can religion be considered a technology in of itself?
- Common purposes of religion and governance need examination
- Can a person believe in god and not be religious?
- Can a person who does not believe in god be religious?
- How much hope & faith do U.S. citizens have in U.S. governance?
- The tolerance of religion by U.S. Governance needs analyzed
- How tolerant of religion is the religion of state power?
- How do the technologies of religion and governance progress?
- What is the nature of their progress in the modern digital age?
What is The Nature of Technology?
“Technology provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes.“
In Brian Arthur’s seminal work, “The Nature of Technology: What it is and how it evolves”, he states the essence of technology is a phenomenon or set of phenomena captured and put to a meaningful use, a programming of one or more truisms of nature to serve our human purposes.(1) Technology provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes.(2) Technology is self- creating; it creates new opportunity niches and new problems, which call forth still more new technology.(3) Economies are in a constant state of perpetual novelty, unsatisfied, and roiling constantly in what is generally known as “creative destruction.”(4) Technologies often group into domains based on the natural effects they exploit.(5) Arthur believes a change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses.(6) (Example: A shift from analogue to digital electronics)
All technologies according to Arthur can be defined simply as:(7)
- Entailing a means to fulfill a human purpose
- Involve an assemblage of practices and components (both devices and methods)
- A collection of devices and engineering practices available to a particular culture (A system of ideological beliefs).(8)
Arthur proposes the history of technology is one of capturing finer and finer phenomena, enabled by earlier technologies.(9) Arthur also posits that just because we have a theory for how technology evolves, it does not mean that we can accurately predict the future of technology.(10) The reason for this according to Arthur is due to too much indeterminacy.(11) His theory recognizes that the investment and publicity environments, for example, matter in determining what gets developed and adopted and at what speed.(12)
So if technology has logic of its own, why does it proceed at a different pace on different courses in different places?
The answer to this question is that culture matters too.(13) Culture can manifest itself in many ways but in general they are our economic systems, governance systems, religious beliefs, etc.(14) Arthur’s framework deliberately focuses on the process for technological development and not the people or institutions who create new technologies.(15) In fact, his theory treats societal institutions, like governance, as technologies in of themselves.(16) So can religion be considered a technology in of itself through the prism of Arthur’s framework? Let’s first look at some definitions of religion to get a sense of their nature.
A Definition: What is Religion?
Below are definitions of religion I am presenting to give the reader a reasonable and meaningful understanding of what constitutes religion. I am purposefully leaving out the provider of the definition but if interested you can find the locations of each definition in the references.
Religion Definition #1: (17)
- The belief in a god or in a group of gods
- An organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
- An interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
Religion Definition #2: (18)
- The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
- A particular system of faith and worship
- A pursuit of interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance
Religion Definition #3: (19)
- A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.
For context and concision, I am only going to provide three definitions for this exercise. This is not intended to narrow the scope of definitions, quite the opposite in fact. It is my hope readers will seek out many definitions for religion because religion, in my personal opinion, is an important human activity that can be difficult to define. I believe it is important for humans to find a meaningful definition of religion that works for them because religion is a unique human activity. However, for the purpose of analyzing whether religion can be considered a technology, the exercise is not in how definitions are different, but in how they are similar that is important. Lets examine deeper.
How Can Religion Be Considered a Technology?
Since religion is a unique human activity and no other species, to the best of my knowledge, practices what constitutes religion by any definition; I am confident that religion sufficiently clears the first threshold of Arthur’s framework. Religion by its many definitions can broadly be seen as a method & apparatus for giving humans, which are emotion machines, a method for having hope and faith to navigate a constantly changing world. Human life is difficult to understand. Religion helps us all find meaning in what we never fully understand. Religion is designed to serve a human purpose, because it was designed by humans to aid us in both good and challenging times throughout life.
Each definition of religion delves into rules, laws, behaviors, and/or systems that address the unique nature of the multitude of religions. All religions have their books, scriptures, manifestos, and or canons by which humans are expected to consider adhering to in some meaningful fashion. It can be argued these rules and practices representing religion were/are implemented with the idea that they serve a holy purpose. That is the nature of religion; they are doctrines in which humans are inspired or sometimes required to follow in order to gain more meaning from their lives. So are humans required to follow religious rules?
There are two methods a majority of humans approach religion. The first approach is based on grace and the acceptance of god’s grace. This approach is less about rules, but their texts provide laws or examples of righteous living in an effort to say that this will produce the most fruitful and rewarding life. The first approach is about god seeking man to help. The second approach to religion is humans seeking god by doing “works” to obtain entry into heaven. A religious life under this second approach is considered fruitful if one puts in the time to follow the religious rules to obtain what may look like rewards/status. The more devoted you are to the religion, the more you obtain gods favor.
The nature of these facts means religion easily meets the second and third thresholds for Arthur’s framework because each religion has an assemblage of practices and devices that give them their unique cultures. In its basic sense, religion only needs a human as a device for it to function. So is religion a technology according to the framework provided by Brian Arthur? In my humble opinion the answer is clearly and reasonably, yes. I have previously argued that Governance is a technology too. So if Governance and Religion can both reasonably be considered technologies, what similar purposes do they aspire to solve in their service to humanity? Lets examine further.
What Common Purposes Do Governance & Religion Serve?
If governance and religion can both be considered technologies designed to serve human purposes that entail an assemblage of practices and devices that give them their unique character; what common human purposes do governance and religion aspire to serve? While this is a debatable topic, in general, they both provide humans a sense emotional security in the form of hope and faith in a constant and rapidly changing world. Not every human believes in a God or is particularly religious, but almost every human being participates within some semblance of a governance system as part of a larger group. Religion is largely considered to be voluntary to participate in, but according to Gallup 86% of people in the U.S. believe in god or a universal spirit.(20)
Governance systems are, or thought to be, secular in nature. Very simply, this means that God is not involved in governance. The U.S. government is considered secular, meaning it adheres to no specific religious doctrine because the U.S. Constitution is grounded in what are considered the natural rights doctrine. The natural rights doctrine supporting the U.S. Constitution originated from the Magna Carta in 1215. This juxtaposition of competing technologies, religion & governance, to oversee human activity has been a challenge since humans have existed. Both technologies have been competing for our hearts and minds for a longtime. This brings up two paradoxical questions that I will attempt to thoughtfully unravel through a rich set of data.
Paradox Question #1: Can a Person Who Believes in God(s) Not Be Religious?
Given that religion is a technology designed to serve a human purpose. The purpose religion plays in each human’s individual life is a matter of personal choice and to what degree they operate within its doctrines & practices; if they do at all, is a personal choice too. Because nobody is quite like you in your real life and digital life, every human has a different threshold for needing hope and faith in a rapidly changing world. This suggests a person can believe in god or many gods, but does not necessarily mean they are particularly religious. It also suggests they believe in something bigger than themselves, but unsure of whether religious doctrine as a technology is meaningful to their human existence. There may be something else in their life that gives them hope and faith when facing a rapidly changing world.
Another person can believe in god or gods, be religious and follow many but not all of the religion’s doctrines & practices that make it unique, but not be fanatical about it. An intellectually honest person will rarely say they agree and follow everything a particular mainstream religion prescribes for human conduct. According to Gallup, the polling organization, approximately 56% of U.S. citizens say religion is “very important” to their own life.
For approximately 56% of the people to say religion is “Very Important” in their lives is significant. However looking deeper in the data we find that 22% of people believe religion is “Fairly Important” and another 22% of people think religion is “Not Very important”.
A fair interpretation of “not very important” may be that category of people who have other tools and technologies in their life that help them keep faith and hope alive. Many people talk about their relationship with religion and how in different periods of time people have needed religion and not in others. The data strongly suggests religious devotion falls into a spectrum. The data also suggests the overwhelming majority of humans feel religion, as a technology designed to provide faith and hope in a rapidly changing world, is important. So what about those people who are at the extremes of the spectrum?
What About Religious and Atheist Fanatics?
Capturing data on these groups is difficult because they operate at the extreme ends of the spectrum of belief. But they do have some unique properties that can help us understand their nature a little clearer. Example, religious fanatics seem to narrowly care whether people agree with their point of view or not. Nuance is not really there forte for obvious reasons. However, if you want to understand the detailed nuances and differences between religions, I recommend asking the fanatical atheists because they seem uniquely devoted to understanding what they don’t bother believing in; god or religion. Fanatical atheists appear to strictly adhere to a unique level of faith in their knowledge in these areas, nor are they generally shy about their knowledge either. Nevertheless, both sets of fanatics demonstrate closed mindedness, just in different but important and meaningful ways to understand.
A positive data point this suggests is people who are not fanatical are for the most part reasonably tolerant of other religions. People seem content in finding the religion that best serves their interests and probably assume everyone else is doing the same. Religious tolerance in my opinion significantly contributes to the durability and importance to religion as a meaningful technology serving humanity.
Religious fanatics though cannot be reasonably interpreted as those people who only take a literal interpretation of religion. For that matter people who choose not to believe in a god or religion at all cannot be considered fanatics. These groups operate in black & white as it relates to their relationship with religion as a technology, while obviously the majority of people operate in shades of gray when it comes to religion. The following Gallup data on people’s interpretation of the bible reinforces these points. The overwhelming majority of people believe the bible is God’s inspired words or consists of fables & legends intended to be instructive and help people better understand their own life.
The people who believe religious scripture, as God’s actual word are 28%; but that doesn’t necessarily make them religious fanatics. It just means for them, religion as a technology intended to give them hope and faith in a life with constant change is most meaningfully interpreted as his actual word.
So what makes someone a religious fanatic or fanatical about not believing in god or religion?
In my opinion, what makes someone fanatical about religion or atheism is when he or she transitions their beliefs to action by attempting to force others to adhere to their worldview/religion. By way of force I mean they utilize the power of governance (rule of law) to dictate (Implicitly or Explicitly) beliefs and/or use military/physical violence or coercion to accomplish the same objective. It is forced without consent. My opinion is the same when it comes to governance, because they are both technologies designed to serve a human purpose and steer human behavior. Reminder, I have previously argued the U.S. is an Authoritarian National Surveillance state with respect to our natural and human rights. This story gets more interesting though; lets now unravel the second paradoxical question.
Paradox Question #2: Can a Person Who Doesn’t Believe in God(s) Be Religious?
To unravel the mysteries of this question we first need a meaningfully useful definition of what religion is in the context of a person who doesn’t believe in God. Humans can be very devoted to activities whereby someone could consider them religious about the activity. Ex. people devoted to health & fitness, the environment, science, sports, etc. etc. While I am pleased people devote themselves to these and many other activities, an overwhelming majority of people do not participate in them like they do religion in the traditional sense; thus these definitions don’t work for a very simple reason. None of them sufficiently meet the conditions for being a religion as articulated in the sample definitions earlier in this paper. But there is a definition that does sufficiently work.
The requirement of believing in a god is negated in this question, so what is a secular technology almost all people are required to have hope and faith in to help them get through life? A meaningful working definition of religion in the context of this question, which sufficiently meets the definitions of a religion as a technology to give people hope and faith, is governance. Remember, governance is generally thought of as secular (No god involved). Thus we are going to explore this question with what I am going to call “The Religion of State Power”.
To a degree, every human has to place hope and faith in governance to solve humanities problems. Nobody is quite like you, but everyone has to believe in something. Remember, since humans have existed there has been a technological competition for what gives humans hope and faith to persevere. However in the 15th Century there was a material technological development for nation state governance after the 30 years war. That development was an international agreement that produced “Westphallian Sovereignty”. Today, humans very much live in a Westphallian nation state international system.
Very simply, Westphallian Sovereignty is a principle that states each nation state has sovereignty over its territory and domestic affairs to the exclusion of non-interference in the affairs of another country, and that each state regardless of their size is equal under in the eyes of international law.
Thus it is in this context, I will be defining religion as governance to unravel this paradoxical question. A quick reminder about Brian Arthur’s framework for understanding the nature of technology; Arthur proposes the history of technology is one of capturing finer and finer phenomena, enabled by earlier technologies. Arthur also states that technologies often group into domains based on the natural effects they exploit.(21) Arthur also believes a change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses.(22) Lets now explore the Gallup data to see how much hope and faith U.S. Citizens have in the religion of state power known as U.S. Governance.
How Much Hope and Faith Do U.S. Citizens have in U.S. Governance?
The U.S. Government is comprised of three equal branches of government; they are the executive, judicial, and legislative branches. For context and concision I am going to assume the reader is minimally aware of each branch and won’t spend time explaining the details of each but focus on the data about what people think about each branch.
According the Gallup data, U.S. citizens have a very low opinion of the ethical and honesty of our elected Senators & Members of Congress. And the data suggests U.S. citizens have thought this for a very long time.
When U.S. citizens are asked whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed, the majority of the time the data suggests we are very dissatisfied. Moreover, that dissatisfaction has been at an all time high since 2008, with the data going all the way back to 1971.
So we (U.S. Citizens) have very low opinions of the honesty and ethical standards of our elected members of the legislative branch and consistently appear dissatisfied with the way our government is operated. In short, dissatisfaction has never been higher over the last few years and the ratings of honesty and ethical standards of our elected officials in the legislative branch have never been lower. Given the dichotomy of our high dissatisfaction and low opinions of the people operating the government, what are our (U.S. Citizens) opinions on how much or little the government should be doing to solve our problems?
The data suggests the majority of the time U.S. Citizens think the government is trying to do too much and should leave some problems to be solved by businesses and/or individuals. However, the data also suggests U.S. citizens think government should be doing more.
Thinking in terms of the religion of state power, whereby governance is something we are all required to place our hope and faith in to solve problems. The data is showing we have low opinions of the people we elect and dissatisfied with how our country is being governed. The majority of the time we also think the government is consistently doing too much to try to govern our lives, but we also think the government should be doing more too. Since we are all required to live under a governance system, it is natural for us all to think the government should be doing more but doing more in ways that are consistent with our values. So what are our values?
Approximately half the time we think the government should be promoting traditional values and the other half of the time the government shouldn’t be favoring any specific set of values at all. The data consistently suggests U.S. Citizens don’t really know what they want, but if we incorporate the data from the previous graphs; it appears we really value dishonest and unethical leaders and appear content being consistently dissatisfied with our government. All the while we think the government is trying to do too much in our lives but at the same token think it isn’t doing enough of.
The rule of law & regulations are core components to governance. So if we feel the government is doing too much in our lives while also not doing enough, what do we think it should be doing as it specifically relates to regulating businesses and industries?
The long-term trend in the data suggests U.S. Citizens approximately 30% of the time think the government regulating businesses and industry too much. The data also shows 30% of time we think it isn’t regulating enough and 30% it is doing just the right amount. But that is the long-term trend.
From 2008 to 2015, approximately 50% of U.S. Citizens think the government is regulating our businesses and industries too much and climbing. For the same time period, approximately 23% of people think the government isn’t doing enough and approximately 25% of people think the government is doing just the right amount. So what does the data across all the graphs to this point, tell us about the nature of the religion of state power?
The data tends to be suggesting the religion of state power could truly care less what we think about it. Even though we think the people we elect are mostly dishonest and unethical, those we elect seem to think we need more of what they are doing because U.S. citizens are apparently not dissatisfied enough yet to do anything meaningful about it. This suggests there is a severe lack of true civic virtue in America.
U.S. citizens will complain but we don’t seem to meaningfully do anything about our complaints but elect new people to office, who we generally, over the long term, widely believe are unethical and dishonest and continue to be dissatisfied with how things are going. The nature of our hope and faith looks like we are hoping and praying the people we elect will at best do a modestly poor job at representing our interests in foreign and domestic affairs. At worst we are hoping and praying when we elect people, their mistakes, won’t impact us too badly. The government over the long term seems to be incrementally increasing its power to exert its will over us. There is only one way to find out if this picture gets darker or rosier. Lets look at more data.
From here lets look at U.S. citizen opinions of whether the U.S. Federal Government today has too much power, has about the right amount of power, or has too little power.
The data set on this question is thought provoking because it doesn’t start until September 2002, 1 year after the terrorist events of 9/11. In 2002, right at the beginning of the U.S. wars in Iraq & Afghanistan and post the creation of the very controversial U.S.A Patriot Act, approximately 39% of people thought the U.S. federal government had too much power, while 52% of people thought it had about the right amount. The people who believe the federal government has too little power (7%) or have no opinion (1%) are essentially unchanged from 2002 to 2015.
In September 2015, the data says that 60% of people believe the federal government has too much power and the people who believe it has the right amount of power is 32%. This material reversal in the sentiment may have a number of contributing factors. Thanks to terrific investigative journalism and brave whistleblowers, we have learned a lot about what our federal government has been doing under the cloak of secrecy in fighting wars and managing domestic affairs in our name. Most of which has been done in secrecy. From blanket domestic spying on the phone calls and emails of American citizens, dubious FBI terrorist investigations, probable war crimes (torture, extra judicial killings), the excessive use of drone strikes in non-combat areas of the world, rendition, etc. The U.S. is a war weary nation today that also experienced a major financial meltdown in 2008 where major banks and auto companies were bailed out with taxpayer funds. President Obama was elected to change the direction and pull us out of wars, yet despite rhetoric that we are no longer at war, we are dropping more bombs in foreign countries than ever before. Perhaps we should call our bombs, freedom munitions. Another method for understanding how bureaucratic inertia dictates U.S. foreign Policy, regardless of who is elected, can be explored by reading Michael Glennon’s seminal work on “National Security and Double Government”.
Other contributing factors that may help explain this data set is the expansion of the regulatory state under the Obama administration and the enactment of landmark and unpopular healthcare legislation. The healthcare legislation has had the effect of changing the nature of one of the single largest industries in the U.S. that is chartered with managing and caring for our biology. There is more I am sure that I am leaving out but the main thrust is the nature of our government has changed drastically in a relatively short amount of time in real terms. These changes have encouraged serious legal scholars to ask, is administrative law unlawful by exploring the history and danger of administrative law. So given all of these changes, do Americans think the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens or not?
Again, the data set is thought provoking because it doesn’t start until 2003, after 9/11 but right as the country was entering two wars in the fight against terrorism. In 2003 the people who said yes, the federal government was an immediate threat was approximately 30% and those that said no, it was not an immediate threat stood at approximately 68%. The people who expressed no opinion (2%) have not changed throughout the existence of the data set.
In September 2015, 49% of people said yes, the federal government posed an immediate threat to their rights and freedoms. The people who said no, it did not pose an immediate threat were 49%, but the again this metric is on “immediate threats”. Many people in the no group may believe the government poses more of a long-term threat to our freedoms, but we don’t have that data. So if more people are viewing the government as an immediate threat to their rights and freedoms, what specific rights and freedoms are people concerned about?
The most recent data for this graph was collected in September 2015. The top areas where people believe the government poses the most immediate threat to their lives garnered 56% of the sentiment. Those areas can be generally understood as too much expansion and exercise of state power. Violations of constitutional freedoms and civil liberties and a general sense that government was becoming too involved in our private lives were significant contributors too. So if a majority of U.S. citizens believe the government possesses too much power and is a threat to their freedom in some meaningful way, what purpose do we think the government should be focused on?
Gallup asked people to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means you think the government should do only those things necessary to provide the most basic government functions, and 5 means you think the government should take active steps in every area it can to try and improve the lives of its citizens? Gallup started collecting this data in 2010 and every year since, 2/3 of all respondents consistently respond somewhere between the extreme ends of the spectrum. What does this mean? It could mean the majority of people believe that government, in some way touches all facets of our lives, however in some important instances it oversteps.
Taking into account the prior data sets regarding sentiment on state power and threats to our freedoms, it appears the sentiment of U.S. citizens is the U.S. government is overstepping its powers in a wider spectrum of areas in our life that abridge our freedoms. Fear is a powerful motivator. Politicians know this and use it to their advantage when discussing public policy. The religion of state power wants us to believe everything they do is to mitigate risk to ensure our security, however reality tends to be the opposite. The religion of state power does everything to mitigate risk its power will diminish regardless of whether a policy increases of decreases the risk to its citizens. This situation is the same in foreign and domestic affairs. The trends on confidence in U.S. government institutions also support these assertions for confidences in all three branches of government are at multi-decade lows according to Gallup.
These numbers should not be very surprising given our very low level of confidence in the ethical nature and trustworthiness of the people we elect to administrate our system of governance. When Gallup began asking respondents in 2011 how much they personally worried about the size and power of the federal government. The combined groups of people who responded they were worried about the size and power of the government a “great deal” and “fair amount” average 70%.
So the question now becomes, how satisfied are U.S. citizens with the structure of their government and how well it works? The 15-year trend demonstrates that we are increasingly dissatisfied with how well our government works, with it currently being at one of its lowest points on record. The complaints about our structure of government however may be more emblematic of the quality of the people we elect to office and how they have perverted the nature of how each branch of government operates.
The U.S. Constitution is designed to restrict the power of government so that our natural rights are protected. So why are we so upset with the system? This is because the U.S. system of government has changed over time despite on the surface looking like its traditional self. As I have previously argued about the nature of technology and governance, governance itself is a technology that derives its power from the rule of law. Our laws are so vague and complex this enables them to be interpreted by those in power to suit the policies and reputations of those we elect. I have previously argued how our traditional principles of governance have been tortured. How our laws are interpreted has also materially changed to not resemble generally accepted methods throughout U.S. history. So how dissatisfied are U.S. Citizens about the size and power of the federal government?
The data suggests we have never been more dissatisfied. It also looks like that trend will continue well into the future unless something changes within ourselves to seek changes in our government besides electing more people we think are dishonest and unethical. The question to address now is one of tolerance. As previously discussed, when it comes to religious tolerance, U.S. citizens overwhelmingly believe there is a god and are pretty tolerant of religions except in their extreme forms. There are exceptions of course and those exceptions tend to get most of the news headlines about fanatic elements of religious groups. But how tolerant are U.S. citizens of the religion of state power when that religion, and those we elect to administrate it, appear to be fanatical about exercising and expanding its power despite our Constitutional structure?
U.S. Citizens seem to be very tolerant of our Government’s disrespect for our rights, our constitutional structure, and general ambivalence to risks that threaten our security. If the purpose of governance is to provide hope, faith, and general emotional security, the U.S. government appears to be failing at all three and proud of it.
The U.S. government just extended the war in Afghanistan to an undetermined time in the future.(24) The major factors in U.S. foreign and domestic policy for over a decade have been addressing terrorist threats. The U.S. has been fighting against what our government calls radical believers in the Islamic faith, but it’s not exactly clear what the government’s interpretation of radical/fanatical Islam is. In fact, it appears the U.S. government is fanatical in its exercise of its power in both domestic and foreign affairs. Noam Chomsky at MIT wrote an article outlaying how since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has done more to increase risks/threats to the U.S. population than decreased it.(25)
U.S. government officials and proxies suggest the reason other religions and cultures engage in terrorism against the U.S. and its allies is because of our way of life. I am not certain this is true. It appears to be more of a response to an intolerant U.S. government with an overly aggressive foreign policy that hasn’t truly defined what a radical Islamist is. The technology of religion is designed to give people hope and faith in a rapidly changing world and does so through one of the two methods discussed prior. The religion of Islam, as a technology, serves this purpose but lets look at the data available from Pew research on the levels of devotion to it by the followers of Islam and try to discern more about how the religion works.
How Tolerant of Religion is The Religion of State Power?
The U.S. government is generally tolerant of religion, however that tolerance has limits and caveats. Religions that operate within the spectrum of non-fanaticism are accepted but Since September 11th, 2001 one particular religion has received extra attention by the U.S. government. That religion is Islam. From profiling, surveillance, to no-fly lists, rendition, Guantanamo, etc.
Even the FBI is engaging in dubious terrorism investigations that use sources to help encourage people, who probably never had the means or ability, to commit a terrorist act to transition to fanatics. Of course the FBI always stops these situations before anything happens by making very public arrests, but it’s the FBI that manufactured the situation in the first place. The targets are typically young, Islamic, have mental health issues, and of lower socioeconomic status. This makes them ripe targets for manipulation to serve political ends. This is due to the overreaction by the U.S. national security apparatus post 9/11 attacks, but is there more to it than that?
Lets explore the Islamic religion through the April 2015 future of world religions demographic study on Islam completed by the Pew Research Forum. I will also leverage Pew Research Forum’s report on Religion, Policy, and Society as it relates to Islamic sentiment to Sharia law as well. This exploration into the nature of Islam as a religion may help us answer this tolerance question when we discuss how the technologies of governance and religion progress.
What is The Nature of The Religion of Islam and Sharia Law?
According to the 2015 Pew Research Forum’s report, by 2050 the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.(26) In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population by this same time frame according to Pew Research.(27) Below are the Pew Research graphs as it pertains to changes in global population with respect to religious affiliation. With the exception of Buddhists, all of the major religious groups are expected to increase in number by 2050, however Islam is growing the fastest.(28)
Outside of the events of 9/11 and the increased attention the U.S. national security apparatus has given Islamic terrorists in response; Is there another reason the U.S. government is particularly interested in Islam as one of the worlds fastest growing religions? Looking at governance and religion as technologies that compete for the hearts and minds of humans, the answer may be in the nature of how followers of Islam practice their faith. Lets now explore the Pew Research Data regarding Muslim beliefs of sharia.
According to the Pew Research findings, most Muslims believe sharia is the revealed word of god rather than a body of law developed by men based on the word of god.(29) Muslims also tend to believe sharia has only one, true understanding, but this opinion is far from universal; in some countries, substantial minorities of Muslims believe sharia should be open to multiple interpretations.(30) Religious commitment is closely linked to views about sharia: Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely to say sharia is the revealed word of god, to say that it has only one interpretation and to support the implementation of Islamic law in their country.(31)
Although many Muslims around the world say sharia should be the law of the land in their country, the survey reveals divergent opinions about the precise application of Islamic law.(32) Generally, supporters of sharia are most comfortable with its application in cases of family or property disputes.(33) In most regions, fewer favor other specific aspects of sharia, such as cutting off the hands of thieves and executing people who convert from Islam to another faith.(33)
Sharia as Divine Revelation
In 17 of the 23 countries where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say sharia is the revealed word of god.(34) In no country are Muslims significantly more likely to say sharia was developed by men than to say it is the revealed word of god.(35)
Acceptance of sharia as the revealed word of god is high across South Asia and most of the Middle East and North Africa.(36) For example, roughly eight-in-ten Muslims (81%) in Pakistan and Jordan say sharia is the revealed word of god, as do clear majorities in most other countries surveyed by Pew in these two regions.(37) Only in Lebanon is opinion more closely divided: 49% of Muslims say sharia is the divine word of god, while 38% say men have developed sharia from god’s word.(38)
Muslims in Southeast Asia and Central Asia are somewhat less likely to say sharia comes directly from god.(39) Only in Kyrgyzstan (69%) do more than two-thirds say Islamic law is the revealed word of God.(40) Elsewhere in these regions, the percentage of Muslims who say it is the revealed word of god ranges from roughly four-in-ten in Malaysia (41%) to six-in-ten in Tajikistan.(41)
Views about the origins of sharia are more mixed in Southern and Eastern Europe.(42) At least half of Mulsims describe sharia as the divine word of god in Russia (56%) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (52%).(43) By contrast, three-in-ten or fewer hold this view in Kosovo (30%) and Albania (24%).(44)
Overall, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely to believe that sharia is the revealed word of god than are those who pray less frequently.(45) This is the case in many countries where the question was asked, with especially large differences observed in Russia (+33 percentage points), Uzbekistan (+21), Kyrgyzstan (+20) and Egypt (+15).(46) Views on the origins of sharia according to Pew Research do not vary consistently with other measures, such as age or gender.(47)
How is Sharia Interpreted?
Muslims differ widely as to whether sharia should be open to multiple understandings.(48) While many say there is only one true interpretation, substantial percentages in most countries either say there are multiple interpretations or say they do not know.(49)
A majority of Muslims in three Central Asian countries – Tajiksitan (70%), Azerbaijan (65%) and Kyrgyszstan (55%) – say there is only one way to understand sharia.(50) But elsewhere in the region there is less consensus, including in Turkey, where identical proportions (36% each) stand on either side of the equation.(51)
Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe tend to lean in favor of a single interpretation of sharia.(52) However, only in Bosnia-Herzegovina (56%) and Russia (56%), do majorities take this position.(53)
Across the countries surveyed in South Asia, majorities consistently say there is only one possible way to understand sharia.(54) The proportion holding this view ranges from 67% in Afghanistan to 57% in Bangladesh.(55) But more than a quarter of Muslims in Afghanistan (29%) and Bangladesh (38%) say sharia should be open to multiple interpretations.(56)
In the Middle East-North Africa region, belief in a single interpretation of sharia prevails in Lebanon (59%) and the Palestinian territories (51%).(57) But opinion in Iraq is mixed: 46% say there is only one possible way to understand sharia, while 48% disagree.(58) And in Tunisia and Morocco, large majorities (72% and 60% respectively) believe sharia should be open to multiple interpretations.(59)
In Southeast Asia, opinion leans modestly in favor of a single interpretation of sharia.(60) The biggest divide is found in Thailand, where 51% of Muslims say there is only one possible understanding of Islamic law, while 29% say it should be open to multiple interpretations.(61)
In a number of countries, significant percentages say they are unsure whether sharia should be subject to one or multiple understandings, including at least one-in-five Muslims in Albania (46%), Kosovo (42%), Uzbekistan (35%), Turkey (23%), Russia (21%), Malaysia (20%) and Pakistan (20%).(62)
An individual’s degree of religious commitment appears to influence views on interpreting sharia.(63) In many countries where the question was asked, Muslims who pray several times a day are more likely than those who pray less often to say that there is a single interpretation.(64) The largest differences are found in Russia (+33 percentage points) and Uzbekistan (+27), but substantial gaps are also observed in Lebanon (+18%), Malaysia (+16%) and Thailand (+15%).(65)
In the spectrum of religious belief, Islam, as a technology designed to provide humans hope and faith in an ever-changing world, appears to have its highest meaningful use to its followers when its texts are taken as the literal interpretation of god’s word. The level of devotion to the literal interpretation of texts is so high one could misinterpret that level of devotion as fanaticism, but do the majority of Muslims believe sharia should be the law of the land to govern our lives? Let’s explore more Pew Research data to find out.
Sharia As The law of The Land
According to Pew Research, among Muslims who support making sharia the law of the land, most do not believe that it should be applied to non-muslims. (66) Only in 5 of 21 countries where this follow-up question was asked do at least half say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law.(67)
The belief that sharia should extend to non-muslims is most widespread in the Middle East and North Africa, where at least four-in-ten Muslims in all countries except Iraq (38%) and Morocco (29%) hold this opinion.(68) Egyptian Muslims (74%) are the most likely to say it should apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, while 58% in Jordan hold this view.(69)
By contrast, Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe who favor making sharia the official law of the land are among the least likely to say it should apply to all citizens in their country.(70) Across the nations surveyed in the region less than a third take this view.(71) This includes 22% of Russian Muslims.(72)
In other regions, opinion varies widely by country.(73) For example, in Southeast Asia, half of Indonesian Muslims who favor sharia as the official law say it should apply to all citizens, compared with about a quarter (24%) of those in Thailand.(74) Similarly, in Central Asia, a majority of Muslims in Kyrgyzstan (62%) who support making sharia the official law say it should apply to non-Muslims in their country, but far fewer in Kazakhstan (19%) agree.(75) Meanwhile, in South Asia, Muslims who are in favor of making sharia the law of the land in Afghanistan are 27 percentage points more likely to say all citizens should be subject to Islamic law than are those in Pakistan (61% in Afghanistan vs. 34% in Pakistan).(76)
Muslim Views On Current Laws and Their Relation to Sharia
Many Muslims say their country’s laws do not follow sharia, or Islamic law. At least half take this view in 11 of 20 countries where the question was asked.(77) Meanwhile, in six countries, at least half of Muslims believe their national laws closely adhere to sharia.(78)
Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia are among the most likely to say their laws do not adhere closely to Islamic law.(79) A majority of Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina (68%), Russia (61%) and Kosovo (59%) take this view.(80) Roughly four-in-ten Muslims in Albania (43%) also say their country’s laws do not follow sharia closely, and about half (48%) are unsure.(81)
In Central Asia, at least half of Muslims in Kazakhstan (72%), Azerbaijan (69%) and Kyrgyzstan (54%) say their laws do not follow sharia closely.(82) In Tajikistan, by contrast, 51% say the laws of their country follow sharia.(83)
In the Middle East-North Africa region, Muslims differ considerably in their assessments on this question.(84) Lebanese Muslims (79%) are the most likely to say their country’s laws do not follow Islamic law closely.(85) At least half of Muslims in the Palestinian territories (59%), Jordan (57%), Egypt (56%) and Tunisia (56%) say the same.(86) Fewer Muslims agree in Iraq (37%) and Morocco (26%).(87)
In the two countries in Southeast Asia where the question was asked, at least half of Muslims say their country’s laws adhere to sharia.(88) By a 58%-to-29% margin, most Malaysian Muslims say their laws follow sharia; in Indonesia, the margin is 54% to 42%.(88)
Muslims in Afghanistan stand out for the high percentage (88%) that says their laws follow sharia closely.(89) Fewer Muslims in the other countries surveyed in South Asia believe their laws closely follow sharia (48% in Bangladesh and 41% in Pakistan).(90)
Across the countries surveyed, many Muslims who say their laws do not follow sharia believe this is a bad thing.(91) Muslims in South Asia are especially likely to express this sentiment, including at least eight-in-ten Muslims in Pakistan (91%), Afghanistan (84%) and Bangladesh (83%).(92) In Southeast Asia and the Middle East-North Africa region, too, Muslims who believe their country’s laws depart from sharia tend to say this is a bad thing.(93) At least six-in-ten in the Palestinian territories (83%), Morocco (76%), Iraq (71%), Jordan (69%), Egypt (67%), Malaysia (65%) and Indonesia (65%) hold this view.(94) Somewhat fewer Muslims in Tunisia (54%) say the same.(95)
In the Middle East-North Africa region, Lebanon is the only country where opinion on the matter is closely divided.(96) Among Lebanese Muslims who say their laws do not follow sharia closely, 41% say this is a good thing, while 38% say it is a bad thing, and 21% have no definite opinion.(97)
Muslims in Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia are less likely to say it is a bad thing that their country’s laws do not follow sharia.(98) Among Muslims who believe their country’s laws do not follow sharia, fewer than a third in most countries surveyed in these regions say this is a bad thing, while many say it is neither good nor bad, or express no opinion.(99) The two exceptions are Russia and Kyrgyzstan, where almost half (47% each) say it is a bad thing that their country’s laws do not adhere closely to Islamic law.(100)
To quickly summarize, the Pew Research data tells a compelling story about the nature of Islam that is meaningful in the discussion of religion as a technology. The Islamic faith is the fastest growing religion in the world and is predicted to be equal to Christianity by 2050. The majority of followers of the Islamic favor a literal interpretation of its texts as being god’s word. Moreover, while many Muslims believe only Muslims should be subject to sharia, when it comes to the influence sharia has over the laws of the governance systems where survey participants lived, the sentiment of how much sharia influenced those laws was mixed. What was very clear though is that Muslims overwhelmingly feel it is bad when laws do not follow the sharia closely. A caveat to this analysis is that political sentiment can change based on geopolitical events; the data provided here was a snapshot in time. So what does the future hold for U.S. governance and the religion of Islam as they progress?
How Do The Technologies of Religion & Governance Progress?
To quickly revisit what Brian Arthur said about the nature of technology. Technologies often group into domains based on the natural effects they exploit.(101) An example of this is how governance and religion, as technologies, serve similar human purposes. Arthur believes a change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses.(102) An example of this from our data analysis is how a governance technology (U.S. Government) begins to operate more like a fanatical religion, and a Religion (Islam) appears to have aspirations to be a global governance system. So we have a very powerful state, competing with a fast growing, ambitious, and potent religion that seeks to govern in a church vs. state battle for human hearts and minds.
Remember, according to Arthur technology provides a vocabulary of elements that can be put together in endlessly new ways for novel purposes.(103) Just because the U.S. is a democracy doesn’t necessarily mean it cannot morph into an authoritarian/fanatical government. In fact, it can be argued it is already an authoritarian national surveillance state. Just because Muslims may live in Democratic countries, doesn’t mean the nature of those democracies won’t be secular.
Technology is self- creating; it creates new opportunity niches and new problems, which call forth still more new technology. Since the fall of the Soviet Union that ended the cold war, the U.S. has been a global hegemon with no real competitor in the geopolitical sphere. Today, modern Russia has seen a resurgence in its economic and geopolitical power, however its ambitions are different and its influence is not as great as it once was.
Russia is a crafty geopolitical foe, however the ambitions of the religion of Islam to compete against the U.S are far greater. In fact it could be argued Russia is encouraging Islam to challenge the U.S. based on recent Russian involvement in the Syrian Civil war.(104) On October 21st, 2015 Robert Gates the previous U.S. Secretary of Defense testified before congress and said the U.S. government needs a cold war containment strategy as it relates to Islamic terrorism.(105)
So how tolerant is the religion of state power with religion of Islam? With an overly aggressive foreign and military policy the U.S. runs the risk of pushing a sufficient number of devoted followers of Islam to join the ranks of the fanatical Islamists (ISIL/DAESH). The majority of Islam’s followers take a literal interpretation of religious texts, with a big enough push by a geopolitical foe those people may consider themselves freedom fighters in the near future and take up jihad. With the nuclear Iran deal now approved and signed, there will be a flood of monetary assets to the Iranians who is largest supporter of regional terrorist groups.(106) I concur with Robert Gates, the U.S. needs a containment strategy for Islamic terrorists that does not further radicalize the majority of Muslims who may not need a lot of encouragement to join the fight.
I would also argue U.S. citizens need a containment strategy for the Religion of State power, known as U.S. Governance. In the absence of public virtue, the U.S. government will continue to expand its power over us by treating everyone, foreigners alike, as less than humans. Every human has to believe in something because nobody is quite like you. It is readily apparent to even the most casual of observers that Government & Islam seek power above all else. No doubt in response to the terrorist attacks in France on November 13th by Islamic terrorists, western governments will look to exploit the fear these events cause to enact more legislation which further expands the power of the state. Last month the top Intelligence Lawyer in the U.S. testified to congress that another terrorist attack would help push for the government’s push for anti-encryption legislation, which furthers the assault on our digital lives by our own governments.
Its time to start believing we can change the direction the world is going by upgrading our technologies of religion and governance to be more tolerant of differences. The answer is public virtue because nobody will listen, let alone change their heart or mind, until they know how much you care. A more direct form of democracy would be prudent because representative approach is working against our common interests.