Of the news items of note so far this year, and interesting one came across my RSS reader speaking of a group in Sweden being recognized as an official religious organization (re: church). The Church of Kopimism describes their creed as such:
…information is holy and copying is a sacrament. Information holds a value, in itself and in what it contains, and the value multiplies through copying. Therefore, copying is central for the organisation and its members…
Essentially, its a religious group organized around file sharing as the prominent activity. Much of the commentary in the tech space has been interesting, not the least of which because when tech and faith do come together, the sparks and hacks fly all over the place. But, instead of simply repeating those points (seriously, its not the point of how we work here; you can search that easily), I’d like to offer an opinion/stance that there are two states in which a church/gathering can function in – one is its recognized state, and the other is its behavior. The Church of Kopimism says its a religion, but I’m of the opinion that its more a headless (goal-less?) religious activity.
Context of the Religious
Some days ago, I attended a small gathering of believers in the Charlotte area called Unplugged. During the time after the sharing of the lesson when there were questions/comments, a young woman asked a question framed around people calling her “religious.” She was in between confused and offended as she couldn’t understand why she was being described as such when the intention of her life-choices clearly (to her) was anything but “something traditional and dead.”
Both the leader of Unplugged and myself encouraged her that to continue to follow the faith as she has, and continue to grow in the understanding of how her choices will appear to those who may or may not share the same dedication to the faith. Specifically on my end, I pointed her to 2 Cor 1-3 (correction: this should have been 1 Cor 1-3) where Paul enters the discussion about the distinction between those whom are in Christ who therefore understand natural and spirtual matters, and those who are not whose lives only allow them to perceive what is natural. I encouraged her to understand this distinction and not be offended by those who call her religious in misunderstanding her behaviors, but to put on the wisdom that some people simply won’t be able to understand it until they get into the same perspective.
Considering File Sharing As A Religion
As I contemplated The Church of Kopimism, it was this interaction which brokered in me this: file sharing may very well seem like a religion to those who observe it.
Those who gain esteem, who observe what they are sharing, as well as the action itself of sharing, as something which adds to their personal value systems, Kopimism is indeed falling under this construct of religious activity.
Now, they are calling “information” holy – that’s interesting, and one part scary. Is information in all of its forms “sacred and set apart?” Can information be unholy? Does information being holy begin to transform items which hold it into icons? These questions take me back to my undergraduate studies and the discussions of semiotics. This is what’s being asked though. Is the term “information” base enough to be a contianer for a set of beliefs? If it can, against what is information not sufficient enough to be an agent for religious activity?
Copying is called a sacrament. This feels like a stretch – at least until I start reflecting on another part of my past – the eight (8) years I spent in the Roman Catholic tradition (school and parish altar boy) – could I look at a sacrament and draw similarities to what The Church of Kopimism is aiming for?
Sacrament is defined as ”a religious sign or act regarded as an outward and visible sign of divine grace.” The first thought I had was of one of the seven sacraments regarded by the Roman Cathoic Church – reconcilation (penance). Reconciliation is an activity that we do in regards to recognition that our activities (thoughts, behaviors, or intents) have gone opposite to the prescription of what’s considered holy and in right-standing with God, and are therefore resetting thoughts, behaviors, and intents back to God’s standards through verbal confession and life resetting. I’m not sure that “copying” invokes the same kind of… for lack of better word, “impact.”
And I think this lack of my understanding comes in part because when I look at The Church of Kopimism, I’m looking at a religion that has no defined end. It has activity, but that activity has only been described to the point of validating an action which only truly gives value to the transaction, not to those conducting that transaction. Now, it seems to be a truth of our economies these days that its not data that has value, but the transactional information that can be measured and rewrapped between that information. The value is the transaction, not the information.
Information is being described as holy, not the people. The transfer of information from one machine to another (am guessing that telepathy doesn’t count here) is the activity that’s valued, not the content of the information as it relates to the person sending or receiving it. File sharing – at least as I’m finding my way through this discussion – might be a religious activity more than a religion itself. And as a religious activity, its got to point to something more than the simplicity of a behavior that The Church of Kopimism has set forth.
Where the Religion Could Come In
Now, if you have broached the topic of faith and technology, you have most likely come across the term singularity coined and evangelized by Ray Kyrzweil. Mr Kyrzweil has steadly offered the opinion/prediction that at some point in the near future computing will be advanced enough to literally supplant organic life as we know it. At that point, we will have to make a decision to “become one with the machine” or be “evolved” out of existence. Mr. Kyrzweil has been very spot on with information technology trends for a number of decades, and so his thought have to be taken with a few grains of salt. That said, what he proposes is literally an age of machines which attains a similar level of signifiance to our lives as does religion. Its a viewpoint that I bicker internally with often, because at times it seems that we are moving directly into that frame. But, I’ve also chosen to ask if that’s the only result of the course we’ve taken with computer technologies, and if we’ve not, what else is there to consider?
If I were looking at The Singularity as a religion, I could see The Church of Kopimism’s aims functioning more like a sacramental activity within it. Where information, at some semantic level, is able to be used during the activity of copying for the purpose of… (advancing the machine, raising levels of artifical intelligence, etc.). And if folded under that guise, then The Church of Kopimism should arise on everyone’s radar a number of legal and theological questions:
- Is having (owning, accessing, and/or brokering) information of any kind a right
- Who creates/maintains the structures used to organize and dissemenate information
- Is there any information that should be kept from the eyes of a class/caste
- Where do national/cultural boundaries come into play towards understanding and repurposing information
- Who are the high priests/scribes by which information
And several other question. And really, these are no different than questions had in groups similar to Unplugged (cited earlier) where people want to know what it is that the accepted (authorized, declared holy) text has to say about what they do versus what others observe. Where there is misunderstanding, who governs the understanding?
If the singularity is the model of religion that computer technology leads to, then file sharing (and pretty much any behavior instigated by programable machines) is religious. However, without some kind of goal, or transformation in regards to the participants, its merely a headless activity who’s value is too releative to the transaction to be of any redeeming value.
That’s where my thoughts are so far on this. I’m up to hearing yours (and any pointing to those who’ve written/talked on icons, religious behaviors, sociology and religion, etc. would be great for this discussion). In light of understanding the implications of mobile not just towards ministry efforts, discussions such as these are needed more in public (academic and non-academic) spaces.