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Making the Internet Moral

stateofformation.orgby Chris Stedman

from the Washington Post

Is the Internet destroying our morals?

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued a warning that the Internet was “numbing” young people and creating an “educational emergency – a challenge that we can and must respond to with creative intelligence.”

Speaking at a Vatican conference on culture, Benedict also expressed concern that “a large number of young people” are “establish[ing] forms of communication that do not increase humaneness but instead risk increasing a sense of solitude and disorientation.”

Benedict’s comments created an uproar, but he has a point. Studies show that Internet addiction is linked to depression; in 2007, the comedy website Cracked offered a surprisingly moving take on this phenomenon titled “7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making You Miserable.”

It’s tempting, knowing this, to suggest that we all take a step away from our keyboards, turn off our computers, and go find a field to frolic in.

As much as I love the instant gratification of being able to download the latest Kanye West album the moment it is released and being able to stay connected to my family back in Minnesota through Facebook, I also know that the Internet has created a new kind of culture in which the rules of engagement have shifted dramatically. The rise of cyberbullying in recent years demonstrates that our more-connected world comes with new moral and ethical questions that we must respond to with creativity and acumen.

As we saw with “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day,” culture wars are born online. But I also believe that the Internet has created opportunities to open channels of dialogue that were, previous to now, next to impossible. Where culture wars are born, so too can we build bridges.

With this conviction, I am excited by the launch of State of Formation, a new online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders from around the world, founded by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and run in partnership with Hebrew College, Andover Newton and collaboration with Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions.

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