Christianity And The Future Of The Book: The effects of technology on religious belief, and of religious belief on technology
The effects of technology on religious belief, and of religious belief on technology, are great but insufficiently explored. Often religious communities have been the inventors, the popularizers, or the preservers of technologies. One important example, which Lewis Mumford called to our attention long ago in his Technics and Civilization (1934), is the intimate relationship between medieval monastic life and the invention of reliable clocks. It was the need to be faithful in keeping the horæ canonicæ, the canonical hours of prayer, that stimulated the creation of accurate timepieces. But of course, this invention spread to the rest of society, and over the centuries has come to shape our experience of time in ways that affect our religious lives as much as anything else.
It is scarcely possible to overstress the importance of this development; and yet perhaps even more important are the connections between religious life and technologies of knowledge, especially those pertaining to reading and writing. This point could be illustrated in any number of ways, but with particular force in tracing the long entanglement of Christianity and the distinctive form of the book called the codex. In this history one can discern many ways in which forms of religious life shape, and in turn are shaped by, their key technologies. And as technologies change, those forms of life change too, whether their participants wish to or not. These changes can have massive social consequences, some of which we will wish to consider at the end of this brief history. Christians are, as the Koran says, “People of the Book”; in which case we might want to ask what will become of Christianity if “the book” is radically transformed or abandoned altogether.