ExPostModern, Philosophy, Spotlight

A Bad Philosopher Answers a Bad Question Badly

Photo by Giampaolo Macorig.

Philosophers fill an important role in our society, and not only in academic circles. As specialists who use logical deduction to answer tough questions, philosophers have dominated the worlds of business leadership and law; many of us instead choose to work as authors, teachers and public intellectuals. Philosophy by its nature can come up with answers even when there is no hard empirical data to swear by—that’s both why it’s less rigorous than science, and also why it can sometimes answer questions that science can’t, such as ethical questions. Having a mind that’s trained to think calmly through great uncertainty is an asset in figuring out right from wrong in real-world situations.

That’s why it astonishes me that one academic philosopher, Oxford’s Rebecca Roache, chose not only to give an interview on what is essentially a fantasy question (should we use technology that doesn’t exist and isn’t on the horizon to create an artificial hell for criminals?) but managed to give all her answers without one whit of critical thinking. You can read the entire interview here.

Faced with this question, one might expect a philosopher to start by digging at its premise. Before addressing, “Should we use to make life hellish for prisoners,” they could ask: why are we using anything to make life hellish? It may be a natural impulse, but is it right to make criminals suffer?

That kind of questioning is the essence of what philosophers do. Most of society treats its beliefs as sacrosanct, but philosophers are that professional class trained to pick at scabs that most of us would rather keep covered. Philosophy as a discipline is perhaps most famous for asking questions like, “How do we know the world is real?” and “Do we truly know anything?” Taking that same healthy skepticism and applying it to ethics, philosophers have successfully tackled big questions like is it right to kill one person to save many and does morality mean anything if there is no God?

Dr. Roache apparently missed those classes at Leeds. She begins:

I had wondered whether the best way to achieve justice [in certain cases] was to prolong death as long as possible. Some crimes are so bad they require a really long period of punishment, and a lot of people seem to get out of that punishment by dying. And so I thought, why not make prison sentences for particularly odious criminals worse by extending their lives?

Now, as a thought exercise, this is fine; because of our question-everything attitude, philosophers often touch on repulsive ideas as hypotheticals. But if you’re wondering whether this is merely Roache’s setup for a refreshingly ethical solution, the answer is no. The same reasoning runs throughout everything she says on the topic of life-extending punishments.

Discussing potential future technology, she suggests we may someday live for centuries or millennia (which is plausible, if you really emphasize the “someday”). And it seems to her that we should seize upon this tech to artificially extend a prisoner’s lifespan to, say, 1000 years. That way they could really, really suffer in the slammer.

Does she have any moral qualms about creating all this extra suffering? Only one:

…I soon realised it’s not that simple. [Among death row inmates] death is seen as a worse fate than a long prison sentence. And so, if you extend the life of a prisoner to give them a longer sentence, you might end up giving them a more lenient punishment.

So her concern about using sci-fi to create extra suffering is that she doesn’t want to overlook ways to create even WORSE suffering.

Dr. Rebecca Roache, Philosopher.

Dr. Rebecca Roache. Photo from Oxford University.

(To be fair to Dr. Roache, she also raises an existential question about whether the individual in the cell at age 1000 is even the same person who went in at age 30, but she never explores this point—which would incidentally serve as an excellent objection to life sentences in general, even with our current 70-year lifespan.)

Now, like all the best villains, Roache has a great moral justification for the suffering she believes we should create: these are criminals. Criminals, after all, need to suffer to make up for their crimes. Everybody knows that. But few people can answer why: why exactly do criminals have to suffer? How does that help anything? That’s a question that Roache neither asks nor answers. She just assumes that they do need to suffer, and that it’s our job to make that happen.

I want to point out some reasons why we might question that assumption of hers, and these are reasons that are actually raised in the real world by legislators, criminal justice experts, human rights activists, prisoners and even the families of murder victims.

First, creating suffering seems inhumane.

As a society we have decided that some types of persons—typically those who have engaged in violence—need to be separated from the population and kept confined for our safety. As long as they are securely confined, that objective is met without piling on any extra suffering; the main point is just to keep them away from the rest of us.

Second, confinement itself is a form of suffering.

There is almost nothing as debilitating to the human psyche as loss of agency. In prison this confinement is combined with tight day-to-day control and constant observation by guards. So if we have some moral imperative to make prisoners suffer (and it’s unclear that we do), we’re already doing a darn good job of it.

Third, the law in most developed countries forbids creating extra suffering for prisoners.

If needed, we can discipline a particular prisoner for bad behavior; but it’s against laws and regulations to actually torment prisoners. They’re typically allowed beds, toilets, washing facilities, meals, health care, entertainment, religious meetings, educational opportunities, and other amenities because they are human beings and torturing human beings is wrong. If someone were to suggest, “Should we cut off three toes from every prisoner’s right foot?” or “Should we burn the eyes out of prisoner’s heads?” we would not take them seriously—or we might even wish that they themselves were locked in prison. Finding more existential ways to torture prisoners might seem cleaner, but it violates the same basic prohibition on cruel punishment.

Fourth, and most importantly: isn’t justice about something more than revenge?

If an individual commits a violent crime and is confined, wouldn’t we much rather see that individual eventually become peaceful, and thoughtful, and mentally stable, and productive? Wouldn’t that rehabilitation be a better outcome than simply flogging them, one way or another, for a few hundred years?

That last question is a point of contention—maybe the biggest point of contention—in the field of criminal justice today. Roache mentions this debate, framing it as a “long-standing philosophical question” between retributivists (punish the bastard!) and consequentialists (fix them!). She jumps away from actually engaging this important issue by claiming, perhaps wrongly, that even consequentialists want to see punishment, “because consequentialists are very concerned about deterrence.”

I understand that one can only cover so much ground in an interview for an online magazine, and Roache may have wanted to avoid directly engaging the reform-versus-revenge debate so that she could spend more time imagining make-believe ways that a make-believe society could torture its criminals. But there are ways to do that that would keep her hypotheticals tethered to the context of the most important debate in criminal justice theory. If, for example, she had framed each of her answers as, “If you wanted to maximize punishment…” or “If you believe criminals need to suffer for their crimes…” she would have constantly reminded us that this is not given. (She only does this once, when explaining why Hitler needs a really really long sentence but not a literally infinite one. Infinite prison sentences she reserves for physicists who create black holes near Earth, and other such hoodlums.)

Another way to very eloquently anchor these ideas to real-world issues would have been to directly disclose her own opinion on retribution. Imagine reading a passage something like this:

“I like to pose these futuristic scenarios to people because, generally, it makes them uncomfortable. It pokes at their fear of mankind’s ability to play God with human lives. And it might scare them a little about future technology, but we have to remember that we’ve already built some truly horrific methods of abusing prisoners, and we use them everyday. So why is that okay?”

That would have really given her imaginings a sense of connection to the real world, and it would have indicated that she has a conscience. Roache does try to ask some big questions like this, but she sort of hurriedly tacks them on at the end. Tying the future into our current debates is clearly not her first priority.

Instead, she seems to take these imaginary technologies as very realistic, very practical issues that are right on the horizon. We could be rocking thousand-year lifespans any day now. Certainly by 2015.

“The life-extension scenario may sound futuristic,” Roache tells us, “But if you look closely you can already see it in action, as people begin to live longer lives than before.” Her proof: pacemakers. Some prisoners have pacemakers, a device which primarily allows a person with certain heart conditions to live a normal lifespan instead of dying young. We may be pushing out our longevity a year or two here and there, but even just 100-year average lifespans are a long way off.

(Not all of Roache’s torture dreams involve longer lives. She’s also suggested artificially adjusting prisoners’ sense of time so they experience thousands of years of punishment in one normal lifespan—explicitly referencing torture tactics to make it sound plausible—as well as simply giving them brain implants to cure their behavior. This last option, the only one that might actually reform a criminal into a good person, is the one she warns us against: it “makes some people uneasy” and, she points out, the person whose brain is fixed so they feel remorse over their past crimes might not suffer enough from remorse alone so it’s probably a bad idea.)

But perhaps the most disappointing part of the interview is the hypotheticals that Roache doesn’t raise. For example: currently, life in prison is seen as a less severe, more lenient punishment than execution. But if we all had 1,000 year lifespans, and judges could still hand out life sentences, would that change? Instead of death row inmates begging to commute their sentence to life in jail, would we see 200 year old prisoners begging to be executed? Would suicide rates among prisoners rise, and would this affect public opinion about the use of life sentences?

That, of course, is a question Roache never raises, and seems to actively dodge when she’s asked about a world where everyone lives centuries or more. It’s not the kind of question she’s interested in, because, after all, it’s the kind of question that hints at some compassion or concern for prisoners—some need to view them as dignified human beings with feelings and rights. Roache carefully excludes any such mamsy-pamsy sentiments from her vision of the future.

Clearly I’m not voting for Rebecca Roache for Space Emperor, but fortunately we don’t have much to fear. That’s because the other practical consideration that she ignores is cost, and its perennial primacy in any discussion of prisons. Conservatives already grind their teeth at the cost of keeping a prisoner incarcerated per-year, and one of the toughest expenses to get approved is bolstering prisoner health care. That means that if life-extending technologies become available as a commodity, they certainly won’t be purchased for prisoners; and if they become ubiquitous as a basic health care product, prisoners will be among the last to receive them. In the world of future longevity, the most likely fate for prisoners is either to be denied long lives altogether, or to face a higher execution rate because of the cost of keeping them for centuries.

A better solution would be, of course, to simply reduce incarceration rates, improve rehabilitation practices, and teach our children that ideas like Roache’s are wrong and dangerous; but the thirst for revenge, I suspect, is a human failing we will still have to deal with even long after we’ve banged out longevity.

On a final note, I’ve picked a lot on Dr. Roache in this commentary, and for good reason; but I don’t think her interviewer is without blame. Ross Andersen, the Aeon Magazine editor who conducted the interview, began with an eloquent opening in which he decries the barbarism of the past. He sets the stage for a piece on the dangers of misuse of emerging technology, but that’s not what his subject gives him at all. When she focuses over and over on how to create more suffering, I would expect him to ask point-blank: why should we create more suffering at all?

An experienced philosophy journalist, Andersen should be eager to question her assumptions, twice over: not only as anyone discussing philosophy should, but also because an interview is far more interesting when the journalist asks hard questions. Instead, Andersen seems to play along with the basic presumption that prisoners deserve pain, and that they might not be getting enough of it just yet.

(Anderson also “condensed and edited” the interview for the public; while I can’t exclude the possibility that he spun it significantly, as of Sunday Roache hasn’t given any defense or correction in the comments section, which is almost entirely critical. [Edit: see update below.])

Of course, I don’t study ethics, human rights or prisons for a living. So in closing, I’ll leave you with a commentary from someone who does. And while most blog posts end with a question and a call for comments, this one ends with a more personal request: the next time someone does you wrong, think about whether it would really help the world one bit if they went to a place called Hell—whether that place was made by angels or by politicians.

Update: Dr. Roache has now come forward to say that the interview does not accurately capture her views. She replied in the comments below and has also posted a clarification on her own website. These responses partially address the points made in this essay, and she has agreed to answer follow up questions. Her answers will be posted here on Rogue Priest.

My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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ExPostModern, Spotlight

Review: Does the Ananda “Brain Wave” App Really Work?

Ananada app by Manu Loigeret

Notice: This is not an affiliate review. I do not receive any pay or profit for sales of this app nor was I compensated for reviewing it. I was offered a free download of the app, but I paid for it anyway. 

You know when you’re hard at work at your breakfast table, but instead of doing paid client work you’re writing unpaid fiction, but you’re not making much progress at it because you keep pausing to refresh gaming forums?

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly like most peoples’ workdays. But I think most of us have times when we’re supposed to be focused and concentrating, and instead we’re scattered and unmotivated. That’s why I love Ananada.

Ananda is officially a “meditation app.” Designed by my friend Manu Loigeret, at a glance it looks like a relaxation noise machine: listen to some ambient sounds and get your bliss on. But it’s really much more than that. Hidden in Ananda’s peaceful broadcasts are binaural tones designed to alter your brain waves. These tones purport to help influence you toward concentration, relaxation, or other mood changes—take your pick.

Here’s how Ananda explains it:

“Binaural tones are produced by the frequency offset between two sounds, one aired in one ear, the other in the other ear.

“For example, if a 200Hz sine wave is produced in the left ear and a 210Hz sine wave is produced in the right ear, the resulting binaural tone is 10Hz… a 10Hz beat will induce 10Hz brainwaves.”

Those particular brainwaves are associated with mood elevation.

Does the app work? Well, I’m always a little hesitant with claims like these. I have no doubt that Manu paid good attention to the science behind it, but without testing I can’t say whether he successfully creates binaural tones that help induce specific brain activity. What I can report on is my own anecdotal experience, and it is positive.

I almost always listen to relaxing music while I work. In rare cases the right trip hop track will put me in a trance-like state of focus, even seemingly alter my mood, and then Pandora goes on to the next song and the spell is broken.

For me, Ananda produces that trance-like concentration with much greater reliability.

When you activate Ananda you have a simple menu that lets you choose what kind of brain waves you’re looking for (with options like deep meditationfocus & concentration, and restorative sleep). You can set how long the sounds will go for, and each setting has a recommended minimum (power nap is a lot shorter than restorative sleep).

Once you press play you hear an ever-changing soundscape of chanting, nature sounds, droning and even snippets of distant street life or electronic music. The result is a basic ambient track that would be pretty relaxing on its own, with or without the brain hacking. Every few minutes the sound elements change, and you can manually choose how often this happens if you want.

So how well does it work?

I’ve used the focus & concentration setting several times while working, and I plan to use it regularly from now on. I work better with Ananda. I get lost in the sound and my work and sometimes I get an actual chill down my back. It’s uncanny.

I’ve also tried the power nap mode. In my case, I’m not used to having sound while I sleep—even relaxing sound—so I had a hard time drifting off. I turned the volume way down (something the Ananda instructions says has no effect on the binaural tones) and ended up having a good, if brief, nap. I’d like to play with this more.

Positives:

Ananda stands out from most apps with its beautiful design and easy interface, but where it really shines is in the options. There’s a trend in apps to make all settings minimal, which basically caters to stupid people and/or insults the rest of us. Ananda rises above that. Instead of just “meditate—work—sleep” Ananda offers 14 different binaural settings, all of which have clear utility. There’s also a simple settings menu with fine-grain volume control and an elegant, helpful Information section.

Negatives:

It would be nice if there was an option to block/silence alerts and calls while Ananda is in play. (As it is, to prevent interruptions I have to either activate Airplane Mode (less than ideal) or manually turn off alerts.) I also think it would be nice if the different sounds would transition in and out more gradually—currently they create the effect of changing out tracks, which draws my attention to the sound instead of relaxing/working.

If nothing else, Ananda provides endless non-repeating ambience to help you with your work day, stress relief or getting to sleep (without commercials *cough Pandora cough* or DJ’s *hack cough Stillstream*). I can’t say whether it physically affects my brain waves, but I like the mental state it gives me.

You can purchase Ananda for $2.99. Check the App Store or get Ananda here.

 

Fellowship of the Wheel bicycle adventure

I’m launching a group bicycle ride across Mexico with some of the most fascinating adventurers in the world—including beginners and experts, 20 year olds and 60 year olds, women and men. You can help out & join us from home every step of the way: The Fellowship of the Wheel

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Andre Sólo, ExPostModern, Social Skills

Why a Facebook Advocate is Leaving Facebook

I write this from a patio in the Dominican Republic. The street here is an obstacle course. You walk out to buy coffee, but you’re attacked by one, five, eight people offering you things. What they offer is not what you want, and they don’t know that because they don’t ask. If you tell them what you want, they say they have it—even if they don’t.

It’s a lot like Facebook in 2013.

Confessions

How I Started

A lot of people don’t like Facebook. Some always hated it, some never even tried it out. I’m not one of those people.

I was a latecomer, but when Facebook was explained to me I took to it quickly. It was especially valuable when I started to travel, connecting me to faraway friends and family. Some people complain when their mom joins Facebook; I convinced mine to.

Now I’m leaving it behind.

Facebook no longer serves my needs, neither as an individual looking to keep in touch socially nor as an author seeking to promote my work. I’m phasing out Facebook completely, and shifting my focus to other, better designed social media networks.

This will reduce the amount of traffic I get to Rogue Priest, and it may adversely affect my work. I’m doing it anyway. In this post I hope to explain why: what’s wrong with Facebook, why it doesn’t work for me and what that means for me as a writer.

[Privacy Disclaimer]

This decision has nothing to do with “privacy.” There’s a lot of fear about how Facebook uses personal data, and I don’t share that fear. I knowingly consent to let Facebook use my anonymous metadata. That metadata lets them give me better friend recommendations, return better search results and generally improve my user experience.

As far as their privacy policy goes, I’d give Facebook an “A.”

I also have no qualms with social media as a technology. It doesn’t scare me that people are online a lot. Go ahead and check your phone at dinner—you’ll catch me doing it. Today, digital space is more like an extension of geographic space; there is no competition between engaging the digital and engaging the “real world.” At least, there doesn’t have to be.

You might feel differently than me. Maybe it’s deeply disturbing that children are learning cool things from an intuitive touch screen instead of rickety film strips. I’m not trying to talk anyone out of their opinions. Even if I find those opinions reactionary.

But I personally am very comfortable with the expostmodern world we’re creating.

What’s Wrong With Facebook?

If I’m so pro-social media, why am I pulling Rogue Priest off of Facebook?

Because it’s not the best tool for the job, and I’m using other tools instead.

Facebook has, quite simply, become a terribly unhelpful social site, one that’s no longer fun or functional. For example:

1. Cluttered layout.

I just opened Facebook in another tab and counted. It has 12 different toolbars, streams, widgets and panels spread across five different screen areas. That is ridiculous, especially since eye tracking studies show that we only look at the faces and words of our friends and ignore all the other content.

The layout of Facebook reveals two problems with the site: it’s trying to do too much, and it’s organizing it poorly.

Compare this with the smooth, streamlined layout of Twitter. Twitter has 6 panels spread across only three screen areas. They strike you as a single stream with one sidebar. I feel more relaxed just looking at it.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

Clean, easy Twitter stream.

 

2. Emphasis on ads.

Ads belong on social media sites. We-the-users are the product, not the customer—ad sales are how our networks stay afloat. That’s better than charging me for it.

But I resent advertising that conflicts with functionality. As a kid National Geographic outraged me because I could never find the table of contents amidst all the ads. It was intentional, because that’s prime real estate. And Facebook’s grabby ad-fingers are intentional as well. But now the real estate isn’t paper, it’s my eyeballs. Hands off my eyeballs, Facebook.

Facebook uses three main methods to advertise. First, the ad bar on the right side of the screen. Okay. Second, “sponsored” posts that appear in my main news feed and masquerade as shares from friends. It’s like sending a salesman in disguise to my birthday party. (This is icky.)

Third and most backwards, Facebook artificially adjusts the sharing ecosystem so that non-paid content reaches fewer people. While this seems fair, it artificially overrides supply-and-demand. That makes any system inefficient (and alienates people). Facebook doesn’t just add sponsored posts to my news feed, it down-regulates how many posts I see out of the ones I want to see.

This is frankly a strategic failure. Aside from haughtily disregarding user preference (and potentially losing eyeballs to sell), it also alienates advertisers and content producers, the people that Facebook makes money off of. The cost of reaching Facebook users is ever escalating, while the value of reaching them declines—because they won’t keep seeing your regular unpaid content after they “like” you.

3. It’s buggy.

There are numerous glitches and poor functionality choices involved in Facebook, especially for a Page that wants to use it as a promotional tool. I don’t mean the aesthetic choices like switching to Timeline, I mean things like no longer being able to edit a post (you can edit comments, not posts); complicated notification settings; and the fact that unfriending someone doesn’t unsubscribe them from your feed, so under most privacy settings they can still see what you say.

(I had a lot more examples but they made this article too long. Please leave a comment and tell me what features you don’t like about Facebook!)

My impression is that Facebook began as a well designed site. It declined due to function sprawl, poor design choices, too much emphasis on ads, no unified vision for the site, and trying to cater to too many users.

It really is Facebook’s success that crippled it. Facebook wants to be everyone‘s social media site. It’s so padded, so crude, so addictive that even people who can barely turn on a computer decide to make a profile and check it every day. It should be obvious that more fluent internet users are going to want something more (or something less) from their go-to online channel.

Facebook hoped to be the village bicycle and it has succeeded, with all the pros and cons that that sweaty seat entails.

The Users Don’t Help

While the site itself is the source of many frustrations, the way people use Facebook has changed too—and not for the better.

Sometime in early 2012, almost overnight, there was a huge uptick in sharing images as status updates. Not photos from your phone, but motivational or “funny” images cribbed from the web. I don’t know if this corresponded to some change Facebook rolled out (easier image sharing?) but it forever changed what I get from my friends’ feeds.

I like my status updates pithy and amusing, but at the very least personal—which they are if you write them yourself. When you use a meme, joke image, or poster as your status I feel less like I’m talking to you (social media) and more like I’m looking at a bulletin board you assembled (your waiting room).

Facebook meme

During some peak times, the majority of the statuses I see are memes. Many are poorly worded, fall flat on their jokes or are purposefully inflammatory. I guess that’s what happens when a site becomes less about social contact, and more like a place to collect bumper stickers.

[Friends and family: I love all you guys. I just like hearing what you have to say more than I like looking at posters together.]

I also see more fake names—officially forbidden by Facebook rules, but hard to enforce—which makes the site harder to use and exacerbates the use of inflammatory content.

What’s Best as a Writer

My main purpose in using social media is to share my work. My hope is that more people will find it, read it, and enjoy it, ultimately resulting in a larger audience. As a philosopher, a larger audience means more dialogue which helps me refine my ideas. And it bolsters my ability to make a living through my chosen art.

Facebook complicates this. The complication is more than the difficulty in sharing nonpaid content, or the buggy, poorly designed structure. It comes down to integrity.

Facebook feels like a crowded, cheap, tourist trap of a bar. If I don’t want to be there, why do I want my content there? And more important, why would I direct my readers to go there?

No part of my writing career has to be enmeshed in a large time-wasting machine. And neither does your life.

It hurts to know that I’ll lose web traffic. My blogging is unpaid, and the only return I get is in the form of engagement with readers. When a lot of people read and engage my work I feel good; when few people do, I feel sad.

But I still choose to live and create on my own terms. I’ll change to other, better social media and hope to build my traffic back long-term. And maybe then it won’t be so dependent on a single, unhealthy source.

Perhaps we are more than fuel in someone else’s ad machine.

Follow me @Rogue_Priest for more updates.

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My book Lúnasa Days is available on Kindle and in paperback. Get your copy here.

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ExPostModern, Religion

Expostmodern Religion

I sometimes refer to myself as an expostmodern priest. Many of you asked what that means.

Here is the answer: How to Be ExPoMod

I wrote this thanks to Colin Wright as a feature post for Most Interesting People in the Room and it’s spreading like wildfire on Twitter. More and more people are talking about ExPoMod because it sums up the changes that are happening across our lives right now. Popular attitudes, technology, business trends, the way artists work, even the narrative that resonates most with people in literature (or ad copy) are all changing.

The core of expostmodernism is a culture shift in a direction that is pro-individual. As travel and communication become easier, people don’t have to feel alienated from their work or the people around them. Technology helps people connect with similar thinkers anywhere in the world, instead of feeling like an outcast in their own community.

Postmodern cynicism is giving way, and a lot of factors are making the world a slightly more optimistic place: the uptake in creativity-focused industries, growth of niche markets, ease of travel and communication, and access to high quality information without formal institutions of higher education.

In some ways this shift in culture is a drastic one. A lot of older institutions are having a really tough time adjusting, and some are not going to make it to see the year 2100.

So What About Religion?

One of the points I make in Announcing ExPoMod is this: by understanding expostmodernism we can predict what strategies and ideas will be successful in the next 50 years.

Based on the trend of ExPoMod, strategies that will see the most success include:

  • Less required use of physical spaces (use technology to get people out of offices and let them work from anywhere, people in different cities collaborating, etc.)
  • Emphasis on individuals managing and marketing their own work (consultants, independent artists, self-employment, etc.)
  • Collaborative arrangements where all parties have input, instead of top-down structures
  • Anything that helps people to depart from old “modern” structures without endangering their finances or security.

If we take these four basic strategies and apply them to religion, we see something like this:

  • Sermons or other routine scheduled meetings will not be effective. Less people will want to commit to a physical meeting on a regular basis. Religious activities will need to be available through other media. Religions that make their services inclusive of digital participation will see a surge of new recruits while those who don’t will lose ground.
  • Members will expect more face time with the priest/pastor and expect personal contact. Clergy will be on social media and make themselves available for personal discussion (in person or by Skype). Those who don’t will fail.
  • The presentation of multiple voices and viewpoints will be valued. Clergy will be more successful if they ensure access to other teachers and leaders in their tradition (or even from other religions). This can be done with guest blog posts and podcasts rather than with in-person visits.
  • Narratives that focus on self-empowerment, personal transformation, and experimentation will inspire people and speak directly to their concerns. Support structures for members who move or travel (maintaining an ongoing relationship with them while they are away) will become a valuable cornerstone of any effective religious organization.

One of the great things about expostmodernism is that, unlike postmodernism, it is not inherently cynical. It hasn’t forgotten that truth is relative and that authority figures are often hypocritical, but that’s beside the point. The individual is capable of acting on their own and forming collectives with like-minded people around the world. Thus, there is no need to rely on so many authority figures or a universal definition of truth, and their value is irrelevant.

This pro-individual spirit, in a world where individualists no longer have to fight against society as lone outcasts, means a new optimism for spiritual growth. People are open to religious ideas and practices. However, they have to adapt to a new form:

Religion has to consist of a personal journey in order to speak to the 21st century.

(You can bet that Walk Like a God will do this in spades.)

Some religions are already geared to encourage a “personal journey” spirituality. Buddhism can expect to continue to grow, and Orthodox Christianity will hold its own. Neopaganism will stumble unless it can more consistently offer support structures and guidance for this kind of “personal journey” approach.

Religions that are highly ritualistic, such as Catholicism, will continue to decline. In fact, any tradition that focuses around a single static practice (Pentecostal Christianity, for example) will decline. Likewise, religions that hold together because of strong community-centric structure will shrink unless they can find a way to empower individuals (and are willing to do so).

These are a few of my predictions for the next 50 years of religion. They’re based on the values of expostmodernism which are becoming dominant. People have new options and unlimited access to other ideas, groups, and practices. They don’t need church to give them ideas anymore. Churches and temples that offer an experience that speaks to the individual will thrive. Personal transformation is the new Jesus.

If this post made you think, please tweet or Facebook share it. I like it when you do that. Thank you.

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