Friday, May 19, 2023

Monks with smartphones

Last night, someone emailed me a link to Paul Kingsnorth's article "The Universal." At around 1:00 a.m., I read it and the follow-up article "The Neon God." These are about the spiritual implications of computers, the Internet, and AI, and both are highly recommended.

"The Neon God" begins with an anecdote about seeing an Orthodox monk on Mount Athos use a smartphone:

Just thirty years ago there was very little electricity, and most travel was by foot or mule. But Athos has been modernising. Big money has flowed in from some governments and the EU, and the sound of car engines, which had never been heard at all until the 1990s, is now almost as common in some places as the sight of cranes. But it was the intrusion of the digital into the Holy Mountain which shocked me most. The first time I saw an Athonite monk pull a smartphone out from the pocket of his long black robes, I nearly fell over backwards.

There was something about this experience which really hit me. In practical terms it can, no doubt, be explained or justified; anything can if you try hard enough. But the pit that appeared in my stomach when I first saw a monk on the Holy Mountain with one of those black mirrors in his hand came from an instinct I’ve long had: that the sacred and the digital not only don’t mix, but are fatal to each other. That they are in metaphysical opposition. That what comes through these screens bleeds out any connection with the divine, with nature or with the fullness of humanity. Seeing smartphones in a place so dedicated to prayer and to God: I don’t mind admitting that it was a blow. Even here, I thought, even them. If even they can’t make a stand, who possibly could?

Approximately 12 hours later, just after lunch this afternoon, I took out one of the books I have been reading, The Uninscribed by Stephanie South, and read a few pages, starting on p. 168. On the very next page, 169, I read this:

My first trip out of town [after the death of my husband] was to Melbourne to see the Dalai Lama. Votan and I already had tickets and had paid for a hotel for two nights. I had seat 114, sitting next to Votan's empty seat, 113. I thought it curious to see all of the Dalai Lama's monks glued to their cell phones. There was a chaotic feeling in the air.

Kingsnorth's trip to Mount Athos was in 2022, and he was profoundly shocked to see that a monk even owned a smartphone. South, in 2011, saw all the monks glued to their phones but merely "thought it curious."


johnson said...

Its only "curious" with the Tibetans because the Dalai Lama himself owns a helicopter. Lol.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

He once made the news for riding in an Indian Air Force helicopter, creating tensions between India and China, but he doesn't have a chopper of his own.

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