Category: Books


Carrying on the second part of Digital Commandments which were developed with a group of university students.  It is interesting to note how the pioneers of the internet, mainly American Computer Scientists, were very utopian about the new world they were creating.  There was a lot of talk of open-source sharing,  even Google started with its famous ‘Do no evil’ maxim.  The atmosphere has significantly changed, Google is now finding itself fighting legal cases all over the world.  Facebook has turned all its 2 billion users into products,  they have 15,000 employees but only 14 people/entities own more than 1% of its stock.  So in spite of all the cheerleader’s claims about Facebooks  ‘mission’  – as a company, its wealth is profoundly unequally shared and it seems non-meritocratic.

What can account for this mood-change when we think and talk about the internet? As the web became more commercialised those utopian voices are being drowned out by dystopian ones…. Which leads us nicely to the sixth digital commandment  :

6. Thou shall not gamble/spend online with money you do not have  (This led to the most heated debate of the night. Some of the students had heard horror stories of people blowing student loans etc.  Also  as one pointed out, ‘If you are looking at leaving uni with a 50k debt than you stop taking credit seriously until the bailiffs knock on your door’) 

7. Thou shall prioritise speaking to real friends ( We discussed the problems of social isolation, particularly acute withdrawal, which is growing problem on big campuses.  We agreed that is much more effective concentrating on sharing our problems with a few real friends – face to face – over a cup of tea.  The students were particularly interested in the MIT professor Sherry Turkle’s writing – such as ‘Alone Together – why we expect more from technology and less from each other‘ )

8 Thou shall avoid ‘false intimacies’  ( All seemed to agree that when you are lonely, which we all can be, trying to fill the void online led to all sorts of dark places and the risks of blackmail or manipulation seemed to be increasing.  This was something where the ability to digitally discern was important  )

9. Thou shall be true to thyself  ( Many friends are projecting false images and lifestyles into their digital lives …. which leads to jealousy, comparing yourself all the time. To be a digital missionary was about integrity, not using a false name, not doctoring images etc)

10. Thou shall be an online peacemaker  (There’s a lot of anger out there and we don’t need to add to it!) 




Pope Benedict memorably described the Internet as a new Digital Continent in 2009.  I had a very enjoyable evening the other night discussing with university students how to be ‘Digital Missionaries‘ in this new continent. We looked at various topic together such as digital discernment, digital navigation and how to avoid digital rocks (so as not to be shipwrecked).  In the end, we all agreed, as we are on a steep learning curve, we need to teach each other how to use these new technologies wisely.  Maybe even set up a ‘Digital Accountability Group’ to share ideas etc.

As a group we came up with ’10 Digital Commandments’ – here are the first five


  1. Thou Shall not Text / Message or Comment when you are drunk   (No huge explanation needed here, suffice to say that the internet has not learnt to forget or forgive )
  2. On the Sabbath day, thou shall take a rest from the digital life   (It was agreed that addiction was a real problem, Facebook and Snapchat seem particularly immersive environments where too much time is spent and wasted,  non-digital perspectives are increasingly valued)
  3. Honour thy friend and ask permission before you tag  (With the all-pervasive camera, people’s understanding of what is private and what is public varies wildly, just as we should never assume consent, similarly we should never assume permission. There was a good debate about how realistic this could be.)
  4. Thou shall cut down on multitasking  (This came from a very interesting discussion on Nicholas Carr’s book ‘The Shallows’  – and we all agreed at the end of it that multitasking is junk food for the brain – and the web needs more quality not quantity )
  5. Thou must slow down and pause (Practicing digital impulse control is very important, particularly when getting sucked into a flame-war, it is very disedifying to a be a self-righteous Catholic cyberbully (particularly if you are a priest) there’s enough hate out there let’s not be a counter-sign )    

I’ll put up the others tomorrow – any ideas? Please share them.


Linda Woodhead is a sociologist of religion based in Lancaster in N.W.England. She is particularly interested in examining how religions confirm or challenge power relations in wider society.  Recently she has focused on showing how new ‘post-confessional’ ways of being religious have eclipsed a traditional ‘Reformation style’ of religion in Britain. Her observations are always worth reading and I enjoyed recently finishing her ‘Christianity – A Very Short Introduction’.  It is actually not that short, about 120 pages, which in our attention-deficit age is reasonable. It is one of the excellent ‘VSI’ series (very short introductions) that Oxford Uni Press produce, which currently numbers over 510 titles. My main ‘takeaway’ from the book is her theory about the ‘two modernities’ and how Christianity has responded to them.

The first modernity – often referred to as ‘The Enlightenment’, dominated Europe in the Eighteenth Century.  Woodhead explains how this led to the rise of ‘Liberal Christianity’. Challenged with a development in historical sciences, driven by the concern that modern people would be alienated from Christianity, the Gospels underwent a process of demythologisation by influential liberal theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann.  This was controversial and lead to the ‘explaining away’ of miracles and an undermining of the supernatural. According to ‘form-criticism’, the events narrated in the gospels had their origin in preaching, so the actual narrated event is secondary, a mythological development. So for instance, many liberal Christians would question the need to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus.  I remember studying theology in Edinburgh and was in a minority in the undergraduate class who believed in the historicity of the resurrection, the others believe it only had a symbolic or even metaphorical value.  The emphasis of this liberal current in Christianity was rational & ethical.  This was the Christian response to the intellectual flourishing of the enlightenment and according to Woodhead was successful for a hundred years, but it seems now that this form of Christianity, particularly liberal Protestantism is in crisis, perhaps even dying.  Recently it has been Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict) who has offered a credible critique of this method.

The second or ‘late modernity’, started in the 1960’s was a rejection of all authority and a turn to the individual and subjective. Church-going started to fall precipitously, as a result of this, as religious and moral duty and social conformity no longer had any ‘pull’.  Liberal theology found itself on the defensive, and conservative Bible-based churches started to grow, with the emphasis being on personal-experience.  A Christian ‘sub-culture’ started to emerge and grow, fundamentalism started to thrive, with radio and network channels and held its own against the corrosive influences of popular culture and became more and more politically influential.  Evangelicals started to grow in this climate too – reinforcing family values, dissolving confessional differences, focusing on the ‘born-again’ experience.  Charismatic Christianity started also to emerge in this climate.  Christianity – once part of the establishment has become a conservative counter-culture.

I find Woodheads account much more nuanced and convincing that the blanket ‘narrative of decline’ that I often come across in the UK and even more sharply in Ireland.  If you have time to read this accessible and fairly cheap book I would recommend it.