The U.S. Constitution, enacted in 1787, guarantees freedom of religion for its citizens. Sweden’s Constitution Act, passed in 1974, grants the same freedom, but having been ratified in the electronic age, explicitly extends the right to express that freedom in “transmissions” and “recordings.” Now a Swedish group is trying to take advantage of the law by declaring file sharing a religion and seeking legal safe harbor by declaring copyright violation a sacrament.
I’m a frequent contributor to the C.S.T. program on Colombia’s news channel NTN24; and yesterday, my producer there asked me to contribute a comment on the subject of the Church of Kopimism. To be completely honest with everyone, I had not heard of it before she shared a link.
The Web site of the international headquarters for the church (kopimistsamfundet) explains the loophole it attempts to exploit this way: Since illicit file sharing may be, in at least one sense, a transgression, the transmission of the knowledge of that transgression may be, at one level, a confession. Thus if the operators of the services receiving such confessions treat them with absolute secrecy (I suppose not all information wants to be free), then those operators are entitled to special protection under Swedish law as priests.
If you’re thinking what I was thinking… well, first of all, shame on you. Second, someone did try to obtain priestly protection for, um, that too, to no avail.
my background on the blending of technology and religion, and asked me to take it one step further. So I wrote the following few paragraphs, in an essay I presented for C.S.T. host Mónica Fonseca this morning:I could stop here and say, “Well, isn’t that just ridiculous” and move on to the next thing to ridicule. But my NTN24 producer knew
First, briefly, allow me to speak as someone involved in the information technology field: There is nothing about copyright violation that can be cleansed and purified by declaring it a religion. I could go next door right now and saw down my neighbor’s trees. If I tell the police I did this in the act of spiritual revelation, that does not somehow make it legal or even right.
As someone who has learned a few things about the law as a journalist, I can say this: In the United States and Canada, and most other countries I can name, you can’t just declare yourself a religion for tax purposes.
Most important – and I hope your viewers will permit me to do this – I should like to speak as a Christian. I find it sad that any group of people should find it necessary to desecrate the beliefs of millions, including myself, simply to justify, in their own minds, a guilty obsession. The Church of Kopimism declares the act of copying and redistributing digital information to be sacrament. If indeed the distribution of digital information is holy, then I would make it my life’s mission to make certain that every act of transmission I made was infused with only the purest wisdom and the greatest knowledge. Somehow, I suspect that what the Kopimists spend their time copying is something less than revelation.
True religion, I believe, should be that which gives you strength and wisdom and power when all else fails. At this moment, there are thousands of Colombians who remain homeless after the waves of devastating floods took all their possessions and some of their family. I sincerely doubt that any of these people today are praying for the return of Megaupload to save them from their misery. Praying for them should not require electricity. God is the source of all power when every other source has failed. I would hate to have to depend for my personal strength upon any power source that a human being or an act of nature can turn off.
Cathedral image courtesy of Shutterstock.
You should write more what you feel, I’ve been told. Be more open about yourself, Scott. If you want to engage people, to build a community, to get people talking in comments, and bring more people into your social circle, you need to be more open, more accessible, more of a personality. Show people your soft side, your heart. What do you really believe, Scott M. Fulton, III, besides your insistence on using Roman numerals in your name? You talk about issues that have six or seven sides to them, but you don’t tell people where you stand. How do you expect people to engage with you if you don’t engage with them?
Well, okay, if you insist. I am a Christian.
The first chance you get, you go there?
This is the most personally identifiable information in our portfolio that we don’t often share with one another, the part that some people say defines who they are, the part that classifies what it is we believe. To be fair, religion is the most divisive issue of our time. So perhaps the reason we tend to withdraw that element of ourselves from the public discourse is for fear that we may alienate ourselves from the rest of the world. We do want to be mindful of others’ feelings.
Another reason is because religion unto itself is too often cast as something foreign to rational thinking, as something antiquated, outmoded, unrelated to a society geared more towards technology, science, and the realm of evident fact. In a world of cause and effect, some say, there should be an inviolable bond between what we observe and what we know. If we have not observed it, Carl Sagan once explained, we should not claim to know it.
Put another way, all faith is silly. During NPR’s eulogy last week for the outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens, the point was made that he could not be forced to believe in anything supernatural. The idea that everything can be made explicable, that it can be translated into something our minds can accept as rational, and that nothing supernatural exists, has become an ideal claimed by individuals who disclaim the existence of God – who say that fact denies faith.
This is the fundamental class division from which the whole discussion of reality tends to break down. It may be the entire reason so many of us refrain from wearing our religion on our sleeves. The thought of accepting something as real that we cannot explain, seems about as sane, sober, and rational as clapping to show you believe in fairies and making Tinker-bell glow.
And yet this is the fallacy about faith that I’m afraid Hitchens never came to realize as a fallacy: that faith is contrary to knowledge. Or, borrowing Douglas Adams’ beautiful treatise from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if proof denies faith, then soon God disappears in a puff of logic. I have absolute faith that everything Christ has demonstrated, including what that does not appear to lend itself to an absolute cause, can, and eventually will, be explained in a manner that renders it undeniably natural. I too do not believe in the supernatural. I do believe in the unknown, but not the unknowable.
Well then, say some of my friends, you’re not really a Christian. My response to that is a little roundabout, so I beg your indulgence.
Faith is the new proof
Earlier this month, researchers at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland announced their progress toward the discovery, and eventual confirmation, of the existence of a subatomic particle called the Higgs boson – and which Web headlines characterize as the “God Particle.” Folks have lost track of how it got that nickname in the first place. The boson is the category of subatomic matter to which the photon (light) also belongs; and the idea that a boson of some sort exists with the properties of the theoretical Higgs (H0) was theorized before anyone came up with a theory for why it might exist in the first place. This was because the characteristics of particles that have been observed (or, more accurately, whose side-effects validate that only certain particles with these expected characteristics could be the cause) could be arranged on a chart with certain perfect symmetries. H0 would fit on this chart in a way that completes the symmetry.
The demonstrations revealed figures that were generally consistent with what scientists were expecting – evidence of interactions that could be attributed to the presence of H0, though possibly to something else. I watched this feed from CERN while keeping one eye on a running feed of tweets from observers. Many of these folks were shocked, and a few even openly disgusted, with the idea that researchers could appear so excited about the evidence they uncovered, while being unable to conclusively announce that H0 had been observed. What were these people smoking, one tweeter asked? How could anyone be so excited by mere side-effects in the absence of facts?
The answer, for me, is simple. The evolution of science has come full circle. Only to a very limited extent is it possible to state with scientific certainty that something exists or does not exist. Ever since quantum theory, and especially the contribution of Werner Heisenberg, we are only capable of making certain statements in terms of probability. And with respect to the causes of those things which are only probable rather than factual, we can only render as speculation.
And that speculation seems fanciful, whimsical, often bizarre. The Higgs boson theory speaks of an exclusive level of interaction between things that are neither particles nor waves, but whose by-products are mass, which we then attribute to things through a process that was once considered absolute association, but which may in reality be coincidence. No single explanation of what might be going on appears, on the surface, to sound anything less than supernatural.
Yet we know this cannot be truth – that at some level, at some eventual state we may inevitably discover, everything we see now can and will be explained. Science has come around, absorbing as an active ingredient that which some still claim to be a foreign object: Science has embraced faith.
Faith is the understanding that we can know what we cannot yet explain. And since physics will always be vital to how we empower our future generations, we will need to incorporate faith for us to incorporate what we perceive, without the words to define it yet, as knowledge. Faith takes many paths. But all paths have a common symmetry, something that gives them variety and yet leads them to the same point. While faith may be the thing that appears to divide us, it may yet bridge the gaps between us. And while there may never be a common starting point toward faith, I believe Christ has taught us that any starting point one chooses may lead to that greater goal.
My starting point begins like this: I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. And in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord. And like every other train of thought I get lost on, it goes on forever and ever.
Painting: “Kingdom of Christ” by Maria DeLaJuen, approx. 1986