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Religious Experience

In: Religion Topics

Submitted By uncle
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Pages 66
Frederick Mark Gedicks†
Roger Hendrix††
(forthcoming in St. John’s Law Review (Fall 2004))
And the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and lo, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here am I." Then he said, "Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." And he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
—Exodus 3:2, 4-6
Now as Saul journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul,
Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am
Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
—Acts 9:3-6
The Passion of The Christ is the best movie I have ever seen. It was graphic and faithfully stayed with the Gospel texts. The neck of my shirt was soaked with tears during the scourging, and I felt like a softball was lodged in the back of my throat as the movie concluded. The nearest feeling that I can compare it to was an


Copyright © Frederick Mark Gedicks & Roger Hendrix. All rights reserved.

This essay is based on a lecture delivered by Professor Gedicks at the St. John’s University College of Law on March 29, 2004, as part of the St. John’s Law Review Hono rarium Lecture Series. W e are grateful for the com ments and criticisms of Travis And erson , Jack Balkan, Lo u Bilionis, David D ominguez, Jim Faulco ner, B ill
Marshall, John Orth, Doug Parker, and Jane Wise. We also benefitted from comments and criticisms at a workshop presentation of an earlier version of this paper to the Brigham Young University Law School faculty. Lee Andelin,
Kristen Kemmer, and (especially) Kim Pearson provided excellent research assistance. Finally, we owe special thanks to David G regory, who enco uraged Professo r Gedicks to write o n this topic, and was instrumental in generating the invitation to lecture on it.

Pro fessor o f Law, B righam Yo ung U niversity Law School, Provo, U tah. B.A., Brigham Yo ung U niversity;
J.D., University of Southern California Law School. Email:

President, Hendrix Consulting, Salt Lake City, Utah. B.A., California State University at Long Beach;
M.A., Brigham Y oung University; Ed.D., University of Southern California. Email: rhendrix@hendrixconsulting. com. altar call experience with God–a heart-pounding, barely breathing, intense moment with God.
—Rev. Steven Usry, Harvest Point United
Methodist Church, McDonough, GA‡

1. Introduction: Religious Experience in Mass Culture
Less than twenty years ago, it was common for believers to criticize the many ways in which mass culture in the United States misrepresented or ignored religious experience.1 The few portrayals of religious people as then existed on television or in the movies–and there weren’t many--were usually of caricatured fanatics or immoral predators. In the vast world of television and film, it seemed that the only normal people who actually went to church each Sunday were
Bill Cosby and the Huxtables.
Times change. Mass culture is now replete with portrayals of religious experience.
Spiritually-themed television, movies, and books have proliferated across the mass media. A growing number of network dramas have spiritual themes, suggesting that the positive portrayal of believers in popular culture has become, well, popular.2 Movies with Christian themes are

Qu oted in Mark M oring, “The Crucifixion was an R-rated Event” (posted Feb. 26, 2004) <http://www. -passion.html> (last visited Mar. 3, 2004).

Gre enwo od, 1 991 ); J AMES D A V IS O N H UNTER , C ULTURE W ARS 226-27, 244 (New Y ork: Basic, 1991).

Mark N ollinger, On shows like “Joan of Arcadia,” spiritual matters suddenly matter, TV G U ID E , Jan. 2430, 2004, at 41, 41. Prime time dramas with self-consciously spiritual themes include Joa n of A rcad ia, a ratings blockbuster which won a People’s Choice award in 2004 for best dramatic series, in which a sixteen-year-old girl receives a weekly “persona lized to -do list” fro m G od; Tru Calling, about a mo rgue worker who has the p ower to right wro ngs co mmitted aga inst the de ad; Seventh Heaven, about a Christian family’s and its minister father’s grappling with “thorny moral issues”; Still Life, a drama “narrated by a murd ered police officer who o bserv es his loved ones from beyond the grave”; and Wo nde rfalls, a comedy-drama about a shop clerk who does “good deeds at the behest of talking toy animals.” S tepha nie Kang, Pop Culture Gets Religion, W ALL S T . J., May 5, 2004, at B1 col.2, B2 col.3; W alter K irn, God’s Co untry, N.Y. T IMES M AG ., Ma y 2, 20 04, at 17, 17; Nollinger, supra, at 41-4 5;.
All of these follow the long and highly successful run of Touched by Angel, a weekly drama whose divine protago nists regularly intervened in human life to strengthen faith in God and his goodness.


steadily filling the shelves at video rental outlets,3 and novels and nonfiction books with spiritual themes now consistently appear on best seller lists.4 In the world of music, “worship albums” featuring praises to God are reaching large audiences, and so-called “Christian rock” is viewed as one of the few vibrant rock genres left.5 Scriptural and religiously oriented slogans have even taken off in the fashion industry.6 Christian booksellers, for their part, believe that the mass success of spiritual themes in popular culture reflects a “‘widespread spiritual yearning’” felt beyond the world of conservative Christianity.7 In much of America, “Christian pop culture” seems to be the only popular culture there is.8
Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ is yet another popular success,9 notwithstanding widespread negative reviews criticizing its relentless violence, anti-Semitic stereotypes, and


See Kirn, supra note #, at 18.


Bo b M inzesheimer, Sea rch for meanin g m otivates mainstre am read ers: Sp iritual self-help novels climb to top, USA T ODAY , Marc h 29, 20 04, at 1D col.2. M inzesheimer no tes that the apocalyptic eva ngelical series Left
Behind has sold an estimated 45 million copies, with 60% of new sales in mainstream outlets like Walmart and
Barnes & No ble. Id. Publishers anticipate the sale of approximately 2 million copies of the twelfth and final volum e. Id; Kirn, supra note # , at 18. O ther spiritually themed best-sellers inc lude R ick W arren, The P urpose
Driven Life, and M itch Alb om, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Minzesheimer, supra, at 1D col.2.

Kirn, supra note # , at 18; see also John Leland, Christian Cool and the New Generation Gap, N.Y. T IMES ,
May 16, §4, at 1 col.1, 14 col.1 (noting that albums by two Christian bands, Third Day, “which plays Southern rock with Christian lyrics, “ and Evanescence, “a hard-rock band that mixes Christian and secular songs,” entered the week at numbers 11 and 12 on Billboard’s top 200).

Kang, supra note #, at B1 col.2, B2 col.3.


Hinz esheim er, supra note #, at 1D col.2 (quoting president of Christian Booksellers Association).


Kirn, supra note # , at 18; see also Kang, supra note #, at B2 col.3 (“Christian themes, often marginalized in the past, now are increasingly present in pop culture.”).

As of May 4, 2004–little more than two months after it opened–The Passion had earne d a do mestic gross in excess of $3 65 m illion, and was ran ked seventh on the all-time list of high est grossing American films. See
Mo vieWeb , “Weekend B ox Office” < vies/box_office/> (last visited May 5, 2004).


controversial deviations from historical and Gospel records.10 But The Passion is more than popular; the film touched a deep, spiritual chord among its mass audience, particularly conservative Christians. One reviewer observed that the crowds who exited the movie on its opening night, Ash Wednesday, were marked by “ashes on their foreheads, eyelids swollen from crying, and a stunned silence.”11 Another remarked that audiences weep, cry out, and turn away at The Passion’s intense images of Jesus’s suffering, and concluded that for believers, the movie is not a “docu-drama, but a religious experience.”12
“Religious” or “sacred” experience refers to extraordinary events that occur against the backdrop of ordinary life. Believers define the meaning of their lives by these experiences, and thus the reality in they each live. Mircea Eliade famously argued that one discerns the sacred by its appearance as “wholly different from the profane.”13 Encounters with the sacred reveal “a reality that does not belong to our world,” but a reality that is nevertheless revealed through


For a sampling of these criticisms and a balanced response to them, see Kenneth L. W oodward, T he
Passion’s Passion ate De spisers, F IRST T HINGS , June/July 2004, at 13; see also Correspondence, “Agony and Art,”
F IRST T HINGS , June/July 2004, at 2 (letters to the editor reacting to First Thing’s highly favorable review of “The
Passion,” see Russe ll Hittinger & E lizabeth Lev, Gibso n’s Passion, F IRST T HINGS , March 2 004 , at *, togethe r with the review authors’ responses). Fo r a collection o f the uniformly favo rable reactio ns of Roma n Catholic prelates to the film, see What are Catholics saying about “The Passion of the Christ?”, <http://www.catholicleague,org/
Passion/passion.htm> (last visited June 10, 2004 ).

Agnieszka Tannant, Passions and Tears Abound: What moviegoers had to say after watching The
Passion of The Christ (posted Feb. 27, 2004, <
(last visited Mar. 3, 2004).

David G ates, Jesus Christ Movie Star, N EWSWEEK , Mar. 8, 2004, at 50, 52. Co mments by those who have seen The Passion suggest that many viewe rs understand it to com municate a powerful spiritual message. See,
e.g., Tannant, supra note # (“I feel grateful and humbled,” “I cried through the whole thing,” “[T]hey were nailing him to the cross and . . . he asked God to forgive them. I don’t know if I could have done that”).

M IRCEA E L IA D E , T HE S ACRED AND TH E P R O FA N E 11 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Willard R.
Trask trans. 1959 ). The classic exp osition of this point is E MILE D U RKH EIM , T HE E L EM E N T AR Y F O R M S O F T H E
R ELIGIOUS L IFE 24-47, 409-14 (London: Geo rge Allen & Unwin, Joseph W ard Swain trans. 1915).


objects and experiences that are “an integral part” of our world.14 Religious experience, in other words, reveals the meaning of the world; it is the most compelling evidence that the world means something rather than nothing, that it is not “without purpose or significance.”15 Religious experience is an encounter outside of ordinary life that nevertheless infuses ordinary life with a meaning it would not otherwise have.
Religious experience arises out of one of the strongest motivational drives of human life, the need for meaning in existence.16 Many human activities speak to this need; religion does so by offering a “‘deep understanding’ of the place of human beings” in the world, together with
“guidance about the most worthwhile way to live” in it.17 Religion “points to that which is ultimate, infinite, unconditional in man’s spiritual life,” and thus defines for its adherents that


E L IA D E , supra note # , at 11; see also Max W eber, The S ocial Psychology of the W orld Re ligions (1915) in F R O M M AX W EBER : E S S AY S IN S OCIOLOGY 267, 281 (New York, Oxford University Press, Hans C. Gerth & C.
W right M ills ed. & trans. 19 46) (behind religious belief “always lies a stand towards something in the ac tual world which is experienced as sp ecifically ‘senseless.’ T hus, the d emand has been implied: that the world order in its totality is, could, and should somehow be a meaningful ‘cosmos.’”). In a speech to entering law students, one of
Professor Gedicks’s colleagues suggested that they could find the sacred even in something as secular and mundane as the study of law:
Our most sacred experiences are bound to us in quiet ways. W e enter the temple to make covenants and receive promises that God will reveal Himself to us in the sanctifying of our ordina ry lives: our obedience, our actions in day-to-day situations, our quiet contributions to His kingdom.
I want to emp hasize that it will be the same in your law scho ol education. In the sm all and simple things of your law school experience, great things will come to pass, and those things will be sacred.
Jane H. W ise, Sacred Experience, C LARK M E M O R A ND U M (Spring 2004), at 15, 19.

E L IA D E , supra note #, at 165.





M E A N IN G 154 (N ew York: Po cket, Ilse Lasch trans. 1963).

Press, 1988).



P OLITICAL C HOICE 30-3 1 (O xford : Oxfo rd U niversity

which is most important in their lives, their “ultimate concern.”18
What is one to make of the fact that mass culture now portrays and even triggers such a deep and significant human experience? On the one hand, it is not necessarily good news for believers that Hollywood has appropriated religious experience as a formula for commercial success. Can encounters with God really be evoked by something as mercenary and prosaic as a movie, a television show, or a rock CD? Many believers are put off by purported spiritual reactions to mass culture, thinking them vaguely vulgar, tainted by commercial and other spiritually dubious motivations.19 And with some reason. There is no doubt that the religious content of many pop vehicles designed to appeal to a mass audience is diluted, so as to avoid giving offense and enable broad viewer identification with actors and themes. The proliferating prime time portrayals of spirituality, for example, are “deliberately nonspecific about the spiritual forces animating their characters’ universe.”20 They portray the idea of a deity “unattached to religion,” who is variously described as “fate, God, higher power, the universe, [or] the collected energy source.”21 Likewise with spiritual bestsellers, which tend to be “‘extra-biblical’”–that is,


P AU L T ILLICH , T HEO LOGY O F C ULTURE 7 (New York: Oxford University Pres, Robert C. Kimball ed.


See, e.g., Frank Burch B rown, A Matter of Taste?, T HE C H R IS T IA N C ENTURY , Sept. 13-20, 2000, at 904
(arguing that the use of secular media to popularize religious experience risks converting the sacred into the ordinary); cf. Charles T rueheart, Welcome to the Next Church, T HE A TLANTIC O NLINE (Aug. 1996),
<>, at 1, 3 (observing that the secularized, nonthreatening evangelism of the evangelical megachurch m ovement suggests to traditional C hristians “an unseemly market-driven approach to building the Kingdom of Heaven”).

No llinger, supra note #, at 44.


No llinger, supra note #, at 44, 45.


“not what evangelicals consider the literal truth.”22 This pragmatic may have even become normative–that is, it may now be widely thought that a mass cultural product should be tailored to appeal to a wide audience. The Passion, for example, was widely criticized as a product of mass culture precisely because of its uncompromising and even sectarian account of the crucifixion.23 In short, many believers think that what mass culture portrays as sacred is merely an imitation sacrality that resembles more the ubiquitous feel-good self-affirmance of popular psychology than what has traditionally been considered authentic communion with the divine.24
To paraphrase the late Daniel Moynihan, mass culture defines spirituality down.25
On the other hand, one can think of the appropriation and portrayal of religious experience by mass culture as the inevitable and desirable effect of a postmodern digitized world.
The digital revolution has served up direct access to a virtually unlimited array of information and images in North America, western Europe, and the rest of the online world, stimulating


Hinz esheim er, supra note # , at 1D col.2 (quo ting president of Christian Booksellers Association); see also
A L AN W OLFE , T HE T RAN SFORM ATION O F A M E R IC A N R E LIG IO N 76 (N ew Y ork: Free P ress, 20 03) (“Po pularity has its obvious benefits, especially for an evangelical form of religion. But popularity means bowing to, rather than resisting, popu lar culture .”); Kari Haskell, Revelation Plus Makeup Advice, NY T IMES , May 16, 200 4, §4 , at 14 c ol.3
(By “marketing the Scriptures in much the same way as Seventeen sells itself to the average adolescent,” one risks the danger tha t the “‘Sacred S cripture loses its sense of greatne ss.’”) (quoting M artin M arty); Leland, supra note #, at 1 (“‘[I]n boiling [Christianity] down, trying to make it relevant, [the “alt-evangelical”] movement leave[s] out the hard edge s and the complicated p oints,” m aking the evangelical “faith less than it is.’”) (quo ting M ichael Novak).
The Left Behind novels are a notable exce ption to this tend ency.

See W ood ward , supra note #.


See W OLFE , supra note #, at 182.


Cf. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Defining Deviancy Down, 62 AM . S CH . 17, 19 (Winter 1993) (arguing that much o f the force of contem porary “culture wars” stems from A merican society’s tendency to redefine “deviancy” so as to exclude conduct that used to be stigmatized, and to include within the category of “normal” behavior that was widely considered to be abnormal under earlier standards).


individuals to an awareness of spiritual choices and possibilities that were unimaginable only a generation ago. At the same time, postmodernism has underlined the implausibility of achieving social consensus on reality and truth in the face of widespread and persistent religious difference.
The coincidence of epistemological indeterminacy with direct individual access to vast global fields of information empowers individuals to choose for themselves from among the innumerable versions of the real and the true now available to them. The appropriation and portrayal of the sacred by mass culture liberalizes and democratizes religious experience, blurring and erasing the boundaries placed on such experience by denominations and other religious institutions, and permitting believers to define for themselves the spiritual meaning of their lives.
From this standpoint, the popularity of the less-judgmental, less-demanding spirituality produced by mass culture is merely the effect of individual choice in a well-functioning market for religious experience.26
There is no decisive, reliable means of distinguishing Moses’s encounter with Jehovah in the burning bush, or St. Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, from the religious experiences of ordinary people triggered by The Passion and other vehicles of mass culture. The combination of vast information about diverse religious experiences made accessible by the digital revolution, and epistemological uncertainty brought on by contemporary postmodern


See, e.g., Kirn, supra note #, at 18:

American’s first two Great Awakenings, in the 18 th and 19th centuries, were not just religious movements, but democratic ones. They offered salvation at the retail level to the under represented, the overlooked and the previously uninterested, and they b roke dow n the old institutional autho rity of a sheltered, privileged priest class. Suddenly, anyone could go to heaven, and almost anyone could lead them there. That’s what’s happening now, I sense, if you think of entertainers as our new p riests and mov ies, books and songs as our new catechisms. This isn’t a fresh Awakening so much as a populist, media-savvy continuation of the fervor that first swept the seaboard colonies [and] then the frontier.”


sensibilities, has moved religious experience beyond the control of denominational and institutional religion, to the control of the masses, where marketplace democracy determines what is real and true.
2. Mechanical Reproduction and Mass Culture
Nearly 70 years ago, cultural critic Walter Benjamin published a now-famous essay entitled “The
Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in which he argued that the relatively new technologies of photography and film had transformed art from a product of elite culture into one of mass culture.27 In the absence of technology enabling the dissemination of cheap and accurate copies–what Benjamin called “mechanical reproduction”28–the experience of the original work of art was the only experience of the work possible. Artistic knowledge was thus necessarily limited to elites of the leisure class who could afford the time and expense of extensive travel abroad to study original works owned by public and private collectors. With the advent of photography, however, one could study any work to which a photographer had gained access.
Mechanical reproduction transformed the experience of art from elite and private to popular and public.29 27

W alter B enjam in, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936) in W ALTER B EN JA M IN ,
I L LU M IN A T IO N S 217 (N ew York: Schocken, H annah Arendt ed. Harry Zohn trans. 1968).

See Benjam in, supra note #, at 218-20.

Although we use the term “mechanical reproduction” throughout this essay to suggest analog reproduction, in German “mechanical” overlaps with and includes meanings that are associated in English with “technical,” which potentially includ es digital repro duction. See Robert H ullot-Kentor, What is Mechanical Reproduction? in
M APPING B EN JA M IN : T HE W ORK OF A RT IN THE D IGITAL A GE 158, 159 (S tanford, CA : Stanford U niversity Press,
Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht & Michael Marrinan eds. 2003)

See Miriam H ansen, Benjamin, Cinema and Experience: “The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology”,
40 N E W G E R M A N C R IT IQ U E 179 , 183 (1987); Geo ffrey Ha rtman, Transparency Reconsidered: On Postmodernism,
Fun dam entalism, and O ther Da rk Ma tters, 24 CA R D O ZO L. R EV . 156 9, 15 77 (200 3); see also M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 127 (suggesting that Benjamin may have been one of the first to attempt to “democratize” the


Several years ago, for example, Professor Gedicks helped one of his children with a paper she was writing in an art history course. They spent several hours one night wandering the stacks of the undergraduate library, looking for books containing photographs of paintings that supported her thesis. The experience was not unlike wandering through a museum, except that they did not have to fly all over the world surveying paintings displayed in multiple locations to find what she needed; everything they needed was accurately reproduced and collected in books.
As recently as 150 years ago,30 a project as simple as an undergraduate art history paper could have been properly completed only after extensive and expensive travel throughout the world. Copies of original works have always existed, of course,31 but being hand drawn they were costly, and even the best contained inaccuracies and imperfections that seemed to distort the originals they purported to replicate. When a scholar identified the works relevant to her projects, she needed to travel to the disparate locations where the works were on public or private display, there to spend hours and even days sketching and noting the characteristics of each work so as to preserve them in memory for future use. It may well have taken months, if not years, for a disciplined and dedicated scholar working in a pre-photographic world to have viewed as much art as Professor Gedicks and his daughter did in a single evening at a university library.
3. Reproduction and the Dilution of Authenticity
Benjamin’s observation about the connection between mechanical reproduction and mass culture

experience of the original work of art).

A commercially viable photographic process was not invented until 1839, and photographs were not com mon until the 18 50s. See “Photography” in 9 E NCYCLOPÆDIA B RITANNICA 403 (Chicago: U niversity of Chicago
Press, 15th ed. 1987).

See Benjam in, supra note #, at 218.


implied consequences for art that ran deeper than its popularization. The heart of Benjamin’s essay is an argument that mechanical reproduction displaces the priority of the original work as against its mechanically reproduced copies, by undermining the authority of the original, and by weakening the control that physical possession of the original enables one to exert on the reception of the work.32 As we have noted, mechanical reproduction permits the widespread and inexpensive copying and dissemination of the work, enabling those of modest means to see and to study the work without the investment of time and money that would be necessary in the absence of reproduction. Mechanical reproduction eliminates the need to visit the location where the original work is physically displayed in order to experience the work. Ironically, mechanical reproduction can enable a more profound experience of the work than is possible from observation of the original. For example, photographic processes like enlargement, magnification, and color and light filtration bring to the surface aspects of the original that
“escape natural vision” and thus would otherwise go unseen or unnoticed.33 As a consequence, the work as it appears in its original form is not necessarily to be preferred over a mechanically reproduced copy.
Once the original artwork has been mechanically reproduced, the times, places, and conditions under which the work is experienced cannot be wholly regulated by the person in physical possession of the original. Mechanical reproduction enables consideration of the work in a far wider variety of circumstances and contexts. In Benjamin’s words, mechanical


See Roger Chartier, From Mechanical Representation to Electronic Representation in M A P PIN G
B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 109, 109.

Benjam in, supra note #, at 220.


reproduction enables the original to meet the beholder halfway, be it in the form of a photograph or a phonograph record. The cathedral leaves its locality to be received in the studio of a lover of art; the choral reproduction, performed in an auditorium or in the open air, resounds in the drawing room.34
These two effects, the dilution of original authority and the weakening of control over the original’s display and reception, are dramatically enhanced by technologies of digital reproduction and communication.35 These technologies permit far more accurate, cheaper, and widespread dissemination of images than Benjamin could possibly have imagined from the analog world in which he lived and wrote. Digital technology enables instantaneous and inexpensive distribution of flawless copies of any digital image throughout the world, with just a few mouse clicks.36 Indeed, if Professor Gedicks and his daughter had been a little more technologically adept, they could have simply browsed the web, downloading (for free!) and printing beautiful, full-color, perfectly detailed reproductions of the paintings his daughter needed, saving themselves the trouble of even leaving home. The implications of such accessibility are breathtaking. 37

Benjam in, supra note #, at 220-21. Mechanical production has even created a new kind of work, the authen ticated print, “multiple originals” or “authenticated co pies” of num bered and signed etchings or prints “in which reproduction-based multiplicity and authenticity converge.” M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 126.

At least with respect to certain kinds of works, such as, obviously, those produced originally in digital med ia formats, such as digital recordings of live musical perform ances, or digitally animated films. See M ARK J.P.
University Press of America, 2000). Similarly, digitization generates far more realistic copies of works that are largely two dimensional, such as paintings (especially watercolors), than it does of three-dimensional works, such as sculptures. 36

N ICHOLAS N EGROPONTE , B EING D IGITAL 4, 59 (New York: K nopf 199 5); A N D RE W M URPHIE & J O H N
P OTTS , C U LT U R E A N D T ECHNOLOGY 66 (N ew Y ork: M acmillan, 2003); W OLF , supra note #, at 66.

Joshua Feinstein, If Only It Were Real in M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 274, 278; see also
N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 4 (observing that in when converted to digital form, “information can become universally accessible,” so that “20 m illion people might ac cess a d igital library e lectronically and withd raw its


Not only are digital copies of works of art often indistinguishable from the originals they reproduce, they are always indistinguishable from each other. The nature of digital technology enables limitless copying without any degradation in quality or fidelity to the original.38
Digitization also permits limitless manipulation of the work of art, permitting one to display it in multiple contexts, seamlessly improving or otherwise altering its appearance or combining it with other works.39 As a consequence, digital technology has obliterated the authority and control of a

contents at no cost”); W OLF , supra note #, at 72 (suggesting that “high resolution” digital reproductions of original painting s” could be used by galleries, for ‘virtual’ shows”); Feinstein, supra, at 278:
The Internet has already had a tremendous impact on the circulation of art. Users can p articipa te in bulletin boards where original compositions in music, literature, and computer-generated visual art are posted and critiqued. In the near future, it is likely that the Internet will be a prime means of distributing films, music, and other fo rms of entertainment.

W OLF , supra note #, at 63.


L AW S OF C YBERSPACE 46, 125 (N ew York: Ba sic, 1999);


See M URPHIE & P OTTS , supra note # , at 76-7 8; e.g., N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 17, 58 (explaining that digitized works can be “cleaned up” and “enhanced ” to eliminate reception or recording errors such as “telephone static, radio hiss, or television snow ”); Douglas Davis, The Work of Art in the Age of Digital Reproduction: An
Evolving Thesis/1991-1995, < avis_Essay.html> (last visited June 11, 2 004 ), at 1, 4
(“The mo ment a painting can be scanned, the ‘original’ land scape, portrait, or color field can be altered, o r clone d, in the manner of a vintage film. Already Ethan Allan, the furniture chain, markets paintings reproduced on canvas by laser-transfer technology through a printer, acting on d utifully scanned bits.”); Jack M . Balkin, Digital Speech and
Demo cratic C ulture: A Theo ry of F reedom of Ex pression fo r the In form ation Society, 79 NYU L. R EV . 1, 9 (2004):
Consumers of digital products are not simply empowered to copy digital content; they are also empowered to alter it, annotate it, combine it, mix it with other content and produce something new. Software allows peop le to innovate with and comm ent on other d igital media prod ucts, including not only text, but also sounds, photographs and movies. Th e stand ard example is the well-kno wn story of the P han tom Edit, in which an individual reedited G eorge Lucas’s Star Wars movie The Phantom M enace to eliminate as much as possible o f the screen time devoted to a p articularly obnoxio us character, Jar Jar Binks.
One of the more controversial exploitations of the manipulability of digitized works is so-called “masking” technology, which enables a viewer to remove offensive words or images from a digital video recording and substitute more innocuous words or images. See Vince Horiuchi, New DV D p layer filters the “bad ” stuff, S ALT
L AKE T RIB ., Apr. 1 0, 20 04, available at <> (last visited
Apr. 10, 2004 ).


work that once naturally followed from mere physical possession of the original.40 (Hence the fixation with intellectual property rights in the digitized world.41)
Consider, as an example, the cinema, which Benjamin considered the quintessential modern art form because it is wholly dependent upon techniques of mechanical reproduction.42
Early cinematic works were essentially reproductions of stage plays shot with a single, fixed camera.43 As such, they were comparable to photographs of paintings; in both cases, there was an original performance or work whose mass duplication and dissemination were made possible by a technique of mechanical reproduction. Film producers eventually realized, however, that they could film actors’ performances simultaneously from multiple camera angles, creating remarkable effects by cutting back and forth between the perspectives recorded by the different cameras.44 They also learned that there is no need to manufacture a film by recording the performances in a coherent narrative sequence.45 In fact, contemporary film-making involves no unified original performance, captured as it existed at a particular time in a particular place. To the contrary, a contemporary film is a collection of brief and fragmented human performances,


See, e.g., Chartier, supra note # , at 111 (observing how simple it is to alter a digitized text, as op posed to a physically pub lished o ne, witho ut betraying that suc h alterations depart from the original text); D avis, supra note #, at 4 (“[T]he tiniest turn of the mouse on the software in the Macintosh can indelibly transform–that is, change–the masterpiece’s cod ed imagery fo rever.”); cf. Richa rd Sh iff, Digitized Analogies in M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 63, 69 (“Digitization shows little respect for the integrity of objects.”).

See L ES SIG , supra note #, at 124-25.


See Benjam in, supra note #, at 220.


Cf. N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 64 (“It took many years for people to think of moving a movie camera, versus just letting the actors move in front of it.”).

See Benjam in, supra note #, at 228.


See Benjam in, supra note #, at 228.


recorded out of sequence from multiple perspectives and assembled into a narrative sequence after the fact.46 Techniques of mechanical reproduction can place these performances at locations and in contexts vastly different than those in which the actual physical performances were filmed. An apparent shot of New York City is actually Toronto; a dramatic portrayal of monsters or machines is really miniature clay models; an apparently populated and thriving town is a cardboard village filled with actors on the back lot of a studio.
Unlike a stage play, which is performed at a distinct time in a distinct place, the film is merely the impersonation of time and place. In film, reality is reproduced with equipment; in
Benjamin’s evocative description, the reality presented by film is “an orchid in a sea of technology.”47 The original work of film has no authority even in the analog world, because there is no original work; the film originates as a copy. And if this copy is digitized, it is indistinguishable from any other copy. There exists no original against which the authenticity of these copies can be measured; it’s just “copies all the way down.”48
The contemporary film is an assembly of disparate human portrayals placed in contrived or wholly imagined locations to create a unified story that has never been performed as a


See Benjam in, supra note #, at 230, 234.


Benjam in, supra note #, at 233.


In an academic analog to the so-called “urban legend,” a widely circulated anecdote tells of a lecture on the solar system by a well-known intellectual (most often identified as William James or Bertrand Russell), after which the speaker is challenged by a feisty and skeptical elderly woman. “W e don't live on a ball rotating around the sun,” she said. “We live on a crust of earth on the back of a giant turtle.” The speaker decides to be gentle. “If your theory is correct, madam, what does this turtle stand on?” “The first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger turtle, of course.” “But what does this second turtle stand on?” The woman then shouts triumphantly, “It's no use, sir– it's turtles all the way down!” See, e.g., S T E PH E N H A W K IN G , A B RIEF H ISTORY O F T IM E 1 (New York: Bantam,
198 8). T he ane cdo te, alas, is ap ocryp hal.


narrative whole.49 There is no sense in which the film can be said to communicate a performance that existed prior to the manipulative effects of digital reproduction. The original performance recorded by a film has no authority, because it does not exist; the digital master of the film can be called the “original,” but as a digital recording it can be duplicated and transmitted ad infinitum without degradation in fidelity. 50 Which particular copy ends up being labeled the “original” is essentially random.51 The result is a plethora of copies lacking any way to determine which of them is the authentic original work.
4. Salience and the Irrelevance of Authenticity
Though mechanical reproduction displaces the centrality and authority of the original analog work, Benjamin suggests that it does not eliminate these altogether. The priority of the original rests on its “aura” or “authenticity,” “its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”52
The authentic work has a history, “the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership.”53 The authentic work is also embedded in a tradition which frames its potential meanings and defines its significance. “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from


See Benjam in, supra note #, at 233.


N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 58.


Shiff, supra note # , at 70; e.g., W OLF , supra note # , at 79 (observing that the co ncep t of an “original” film is inapp licable to anim ated films created with digital animation techniques); Davis, supra note #, at 1 (observing that there “is no distinction now b etween ‘original’ and ‘rep roduction’ in virtually any medium based in film, electronics, or telecommunications”).

Benjam in, supra note #, at 220.


Benjam in, supra note #, at 220.


its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.”54 None of this can be mechanically reproduced, no matter how sophisticated the technology.55 There are aspects of a work, in other words, that can be experienced only in the presence of the original. No matter how flawlessly the original is mechanically reproduced, the reproduction remains in some sense less than the original.56
How does this matter in the digital world, if it matters at all? That is, does digital reproduction, like mechanical reproduction, preserve some vestige of the aura of the original, albeit dramatically diminished? The question is not whether the original retains authority, albeit diluted, but whether the authority that remains is salient–that is, whether and to what extent this authority matters in the postmodern digitized world.57 An immaterial thing or concept has salience if it is prominent or conspicuous in the context in which it is understood or considered.58
To paraphrase Jack Balkin, the proper inquiry is not what is new about digital reproduction, but


Benjam in, supra note #, at 221.


Benjam in, supra note #, at 220. Travis Anderson suggested to us that what is not reproducible may be more the product of em otional attachment than aesthetic value. M any art collecto rs, for examp le, are attracted to origina l works because o f the con nection of the work to the artist, and not necessarily beca use of the aesthetic experience one has in the presence o f the original. Com pare Davis, supra note #, at 6 (arguing that Benjamin and others ignore the tendency of many people to ignore the logical implications of technology, observing that collectors continue to b id “wildly in auctions and emp loy arm ies of scholars to find the ‘original,’ the ‘au thentic’ masterpiece,” and that even “in an age when co pying is high art, whe n the simple physical availability of vintage m asterpieces is dwindling, when post-modern theories of assemblage and collage inform a sensibility that seems our resident state of being, the concept of ‘aura’” persists).

Benjam in, supra note #, at 220.


Balkin, supra note #, at 2-3 (“Instead of focusing on novelty [in evaluating the effect of a new technology], we should focus on salience. What elements of the social world does a new technology make particularly salient that wen relatively unnoticed before? What features of human activity or of the human condition does a technological change foreground, emphasize or problematize?”).

See OED Online < 163? single=1&query_type=word& query word=salient&edition=2e&first=1&max_to_show=10>. -17-

rather how such reproduction alters our perception of what matters about the original.59
Before mechanical reproduction, the proper experience of a work of art seemed necessarily to be the experience of the original. The original thus exercised complete and preeminent authority over the experience of itself. With reproduction, we see that experience of the original is not a condition precedent to any experience of the work, but merely to a certain kind of experience. This possibility was latent in the original work even before mechanical reproduction–and occasionally realized, as when, for example, artists fashioned engravings of master works, or students accurately copied their master’s work and style in their master’s name.60 Nevertheless, the possibility of an experience of a work other than the experience of the original was not evident because of the general impossibility of any such experience outside of the physical presence of the original.
The possibility of an experience of a work through mechanical reproduction that is different from an experience of the original raised the further possibility of an experience of a copy of the work that is somehow better than an experience of the original. Art critics have observed, for example, that many museum visitors spend far more time examining the reproductions of paintings sold in museum shops than they do the originals actually hanging in the museum.61 There is also the immense popularity of reality theme-parks like Disney’s Epcot

Cf. Balkin, supra note #, at 1 (“[T]he Internet and digital technologies help us look at freedom of speech from a different perspective. That is not because digital technologies fundamentally change what freedom of speech is. Rather, it is because digital technologies change the social conditions in which people speak. And by changing the social conditions of speech, they bring to light features of freedom of speech that have always existed in the background but now b ecome foregrounded .”).

See V ICTORIA C HARLES , R EMBRAND T T HE E NGRAVER 35 (B ournemo uth, England: Parkstone, 199 7); L ISA
P O N , R APHAEL , D ÜRER , A N D M A R C AN T O N IO R A IM O N D I, C OPYING AND THE I T A LIA N R ENAISSANCE P R IN T 5-28 passim, 84-85 (New H aven, CN: Yale U niversity Press, 2004).

See, e.g., Beatriz Sarlo, Post-Benjaminian in M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note #, at 301, 307.


Center, which enables one to “[d]iscover a cultural celebration of eleven great nations and enjoy an exotic medley of entertainment from around the world,”62 without ever leaving the United
States. Because Epcot eliminates the inconvenience and expense of actual travel to foreign countries–no pricey over-the-water flights, no passports or visas, no adjusting to local languages and customs, no unfamiliar foods or contaminated water–most Americans can experience far more countries at Epcot than they could reasonably afford (and stand) actually to visit.63
There are less fanciful examples of contemporary preference for copies over the original.
On Temple Square in Salt Lake City, next to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon church), the church has placed on display a large statue of Jesus entitled the “Christus.” The statue is over eight feet tall, and depicts the resurrected Lord with his hands and arms outstretched towards the viewer. The statue is displayed against a large mural on which planets, stars, and galaxies have been painted on a deep-blue sky, suggesting the cosmic consequences of Jesus’s life and death. The room is lushly carpeted, with scriptural sayings of Jesus playing against a background of sacred choral music.
The statue in this setting conveys all of the glory and grace that Christians believe reside in the risen Christ.
Not surprisingly, Latter-day Saints and other Christians who view the Christus on Temple
Square often report feelings of awe, love, and wonder–that is, religious experiences. Most do not know–and few care–that the statute is a copy. The original resides in Copenhagen in a museum

See <> (last visited
March 2 3, 2004).

Closely related to Epco t are the geo-culturally themed Las Vegas casinos--Epcot plus sex and gambling
(or, as the locals are reputed to characterize the Strip, “Disneyland on steroids”). Certainly the Sphinx and pyramids of the Luxor are more fun and less troub le than the real on es in Egypt.


dedicated to exhibits of works of the original sculptor. Dr. Hendrix has seen the original; it is displayed in a conventional museum setting, where the comments of chattering tourists echo off the walls and ceilings of the marble and tile interior. The original in Copenhagen evokes little of the worship and majesty that attaches to the copy in Salt Lake City.
Digital reproduction promises to carry the effects of mechanical reproduction so far that nothing of the aura of the original will remain. The very idea of the original is already meaningless in digitized media. Digitization enables increasingly accurate replications of physical reality, so-called “virtual reality” or “VR,” at a fraction of the cost and with far fewer flaws than was possible by means of mechanical reproduction in an analog world.64 Moreover, the manipulability of the experience of physical reality facilitated by digitization enables more than an experience that is the same as physical reality; digital reproduction enables an experience that is different from and even preferable to physical reality. 65 Digital technology is rapidly advancing towards the development of applications to generate fully realistic virtual realities–applications, in other words, that enable user interaction with digitized images that

See N EGROPONTE , supra note # , at 116 -19 (o bserv ing that interactive d igital technology has de velop ed to the point where it can generate digital images that appear to be as “real” as the physical reality they depict); e.g.,
D A V ID B ELL , A N I N T R O DU C T IO N T O C YBERCULTURES 14-16 (New York: Routledge, 2001 ) (describing the successful development of 3-D simulators in medicine, architecture, and arcade games in the 1990s, and the more recent develop ment of “desktop” virtual reality program s that extend “text-based M UD s [i.e., “Multi-User Dungeons” or
“Domains”], producing 3-D graphical virtual worlds accessible for synchronous interaction over the Internet”);
N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 65-67 (describing the successful development of digital multi-media replications of physical locations for military use in tactical anti-terrorist training).

See N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 116 (Virtual reality “can make the artificial as realistic as, and even more realistic than, the re al.”); e.g., id. at 117 (observing that pilots learn more from flight simulators than they
“could have learned in the actual plane, because the simulator permits them to be “subjected to all sorts of rare situations that, in the real world, could be impossible, could require more than a near miss, or could rip apart an actual plane”); id. at 118-19 (suggesting that “Jurassic Park” would make a “fabulous” virtual reality experience: “no crowds, no queues, no popcorn smells (just dinosaur dung). It is like being in a prehistoric jungle and can be made to seem more dan gerous than any real jungle.”); Davis, supra note #, at 1 (arguing that “virtual reality” is a misnomer, that a better label would be “realer reality,” in recognition that digital technologies enable an experience of physical reality that enhances rather than betrays its essential characteristics).


perfectly track physical reality.66 The development of increasingly realistic VR applications underwrites the hugely popular and profitable products of the interactive games and pornography industries.67 Chat-rooms, bulletins boards, and other cyber-locations enable users to interact with others in realistic settings under names and with personalities wholly different from those they possess in physical reality.68 Indeed, many people apparently prefer to interact with virtual characters in cyber-space than with natural persons in physical reality. 69
The proliferation of digital reproductions of reality threatens to eliminate the very reality that digitization reproduces.70 Digitization thus marks a decisive shift in the history of reproduction: Even the most advanced forms of mechanical reproduction left some aura, some vestige of authenticity and authority in the original, whereas digitization leaves no aura, no


See, e.g., N EGROPONTE , supra note #, at 7 (“Twenty years from now, when you look out a window, what you see may be five thousand miles and six time zones away. [] Reading about Patagonia can include the sensory experience of going there. A book b y William Buckley can be a conversation with him.”).

See Do n Clark, Videogames Get Real, W ALL S T . J., Apr, 14, at B1 col.2; Frontline, “Am erican Porn,”
(PB S, February 2002), video available at <http://www.pbs.o rg/wgbh/ pag es/frontline/shows/porn/view/> (last visited M ay 27, 200 4), text available at <http://www.pbs.o rg/wgbh/pages/ frontline/shows/porn/special/politics. html> (last visited May 27, 200 4); see also N EGROPONTE , supra note # , at 82-8 3 (no ting that the games industry is now the driving force behind the development of VR technology).

See B ELL , supra note # , at 15, 1 17-3 5; L ES SIG , supra note #, at 11-13, 16, 64-65.


See L ES SIG , supra note #, at 74 (observing that many participants in virtual reality cyber-spaces “spend upwards o f eighty hours a we ek” interacting with others in the spaces); see also B ELL , supra note #, at 143-45
(describing research into “extended embodied awareness” that entails integrating the body with electronic and virtual prostheses that enab le enhanced or altered ex periences o f physical reality); Feinstein, supra note #, at 228 (“An electronic universe displaces the prosaic world of direct sensation. Digital technology allows the imagination and spirit to run riot. T he constraints o f physical existence lose a ll relevance.”); id. at 277 (“If Benjamin’s major source of anxiety was the power of Fascist myth to obscure the harsh truth of industrial society, today’s media pundits and
Internet boosters seem to be concerned with the opposite–namely, the intrusion of modern life into a heretofore pristine realm of illusion.”).

Cf. G IAN N I V A TT IM O , A FTER C HRISTIANITY 79 (N ew Y ork: C olumbia U niversity P ress, Luca D ’Isanto trans. 2002) [hereinafter V A TT IM O , A FTER C HRISTIANITY ] (arguing that the sheer volume of information made available by digital technology creates “pro liferating interpretations without a center” that tend to “weaken the sense of the terms being and reality” ).


authenticity, no original–nothing but copies.
5. Religious Experience in a Postmodern World of Digitized Communication
Mechanical and digital reproduction have altered religious experience in much the same way and for many of the same reasons that it has altered the experience of the work of art. Art has traditionally been distinguished by its “distance from everyday reality,” just as religious experience is marked by its contrast with the profane.71 The transcendent quality of art is accordingly dissolved “by the familiarization of art, by its integration into society, and by its inclusion in the commercial cycle of standardized products.”72 Benjamin himself refers to the
“cult value” that art possessed as the symbolic (and sometimes the literal) object of veneration, and which was displaced by mechanical reproduction.73
Religious experience was formerly the domain of clergy and other theological elites.74
The clergy were recognized as having authority to adjudicate the authenticity and legitimacy of religious experience. History is replete with the sad fates of those whose experience of the sacred was judged unauthorized, unorthodox, or impossible.
Mechanical reproduction loosened the hold of clergy on religious experience. During the
Reformation, for example, the printing press decisively undermined the clergy’s control of the


See Aleida Assm ann & Jan A ssman n, Air from Other Planets Blowing: The Logic of Authenticity and the
Prop het of the A ura in M APPING B EN JA M IN , supra note # , at 147 , 155 . See also text accomp anying notes **-**
[Eliade] supra.

See Assmann & Assmann, supra note #, at 155.


See Benjam in, supra note #, at 223-24.


See W eber, supra note # , at 282 -83 (arguing that religious hierarchies always and eve rywhere seek to
“monop olize the adm inistration of religious value s,” and view ind ividual efforts to achieve salvation “highly suspect” and necessarily subject to ritual regulation and priestly control).


church and the scriptures.75 The Bible, one of the principal vehicles of religious experience in the West, began its long passage from elite to mass product with the Reformation doctrine that
Christians might properly and profitably read the scriptures directly, without priestly interpretation or guidance.76 The Reformation itself may not have occurred without the mass reproduction and distribution of scriptures and tracts made possible by the printing press.77
But even the Reformation religions retained boundaries on religious experience. It was
Protestant Congregationalists, after all, who conducted the Salem witch trials and executed those accused of heterodox encounters with “familiar spirits.” It was likewise Protestants who rigorously enforced the various strictures of the de facto American religious establishment into the twentieth century,78 including relentless persecutions of Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses.79
Although mechanical reproduction loosened the grip of theological elites on religious experience, it was left to digital reproduction to break that grip entirely, by altering the salience of the

Cam bridge U niversity P ress, 19 79) (arguing that Protestantism wa s the first religious mo vement “fully to exploit” the press “as a ma ss medium ,” that the Reforma tion was “the first moveme nt of any kind, religious or secular, to use the new presses for overt propaganda and agitation against an established institution,” and that the press “ended forever a priestly monopoly of learning, overcame ignorance and superstition, pushed back the evil forces command ed by Italian popes, and, in general, brought Western Europe out of the dark ages.”).

J ACQUES B A R ZU N , F R O M D A W N T O D ECADENCE 10 (N ew Y ork: H arperCollins, 200 0); see also id at 6
(“No longer always in Latin for clerics only, but in one of the common tongues, the 16C literature of biblical argumen t and foul invective began what we now call the po pularization of idea s through the first of the mass media.”); I E ISE N ST EIN , supra note #, at 301 (“‘For the first time in human history a great reading public judged the validity of revolutionary ideas through a mass medium which used the vernacular languages together with the arts of the journalist and the cartoonist.’”) (quoting D IC K EN S , R EFORMATION AND SOCIETY 51).

See B A R ZU N , supra note #, at 6-7; I E ISE N ST EIN , supra note #, at 307-12.


Press, 1995).


S TATE 14-1 8 (D urham , NC : Duke University

See generally S A R A H B ARRINGER G O R D O N , T HE M O R M O N Q U E ST IO N : P O LO Y G A M Y AN D
C ON STITU TION AL C O N F LIC T IN N IN E TE E NT H C E N TU R Y A MERICA (Chap el Hill : University of North Carolina P ress,
(New Y ork: Simon & Schuster, 1978).


characteristics of religious experience.
When religious experience becomes the ubiquitous product of mass culture, it is correspondingly difficult for denominations and other religious groups to impose on their members orthodox definitions of authentic religious experience. Like all organizations, religions each have their unique doctrines and judgments of authenticity. 80 As with the cinema, however, there is no original available against which one might measure such authenticity.81 Within a religious community, it is plausible to imagine the formation of consensus about the kinds of religious experiences that are authentic, and the kinds that are not. Outside the community, however, the authenticity of religious experience (or, for that matter, its inauthenticity) cannot be decisively demonstrated to those who disagree with the community’s understanding of authenticity. From the outside, so to speak, all religious experience is a copy of an original to which no one has unmediated and uncontroversial access.
This has always been the case with religious experience. Such experience is


See generally J EAN -F RANÇOIS L YOTARD , T HE P O S T M O D ER N C O N D IT IO N 17 (M inneap olis, M N: U niversity of Minnesota Press, Geoff Bennington & B rian Massumi trans. 1984):
[Discourse within] an institution differs from a conversation in that it always requires supplementary constraints for statements to be declared admissible within its bounds. The constraints serve to filter discursive potentials, interrupting possible connections in the communications networks: there are things that should not be said. They also privilege certain classes of statements (sometimes o nly one) whose predominance characterizes the discourse of the particular institution: there are things that should be said, and there are ways of saying them.

Compa re W ILLIAM J AMES , T HE V ARIETIES OF R ELIGIOUS E XPERIENCE 5 (London: Langmans, Green, 1929)
(arguing that because the “ordinary religious believer, who follows the conventional observances of his country,” has a religion that “has been mad e for him by othe rs,” there is little point in stud ying such “second-hand religious life.
W e must make search rather for the original experiences which were the pattern-setters to all this mass of suggested feeling and imitated conduct”).


fundamentally hermeneutic, its meaning and significance filtered through culture and history.82
Human experience of the sacred has never been and cannot be divorced from the time and place in which it occurs.83 This was not evident when the boundaries of authentic religious experience were policed by clergy, who purported to provide access to an objective divine reality. Nor was it evident when the Christian narrative of the West was “disenchanted,” shouldered aside by the optimism and hubris of the Enlightenment, which likewise purported to uncover an objective reality, only one that was scientific and physical rather than religious and transcendent.84
The impossibility of unmediated access to the divine only becomes evident when all the grand narratives are disqualified as complete accounts of the world.85 This is the corrosive and


See Ben Ve dde r, The Question into Meaning and the Question of God: A Hermeneutic Approach in
T R A N SC E N D EN C E IN P H IL OS O P HY A N D R E LIG IO N 35 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, James E. Faulconer ed.
2003); see also G IAN N I V A TT IM O , B ELIEF 59 (Cambridge: Polity, Luca D’Isanto & David Webb trans. 1999)
[hereinafter V A TT IM O , B ELIEF ] (“[A]s Jesus taught, the sole truth of Christianity is the one produced again and again through the ‘au thentication’ that occurs in dialogue with history, assisted by the Holy Sp irit.”); cf. J O H N L UKACS , A T
THE E N D O F AN A GE 74, 75 (New Haven, CN: Yale U niversity Press, 2002) (“The pursuit of truth . . . is also historica l–meaning that it chang es through the ages. [W ]e are ineluctably invo lved with history in any attempt to tell the truth.”).

See, e.g., V A TT IM O , B ELIEF , supra note #, at 60 (“[W]e can no longer conceive salvation to be hearing and applying of a message that does not stand in need of interpretation. Salvation takes place through interpretation.”);
C HARLES T A Y LO R , S OURCES OF THE S ELF 289 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989) (“We are made what we are by events; and as self-narrators, we live these through a meaning which the events come to manifest or illustrate.”). 84

Herder, John Cum ming trans., 1972) (describing “Enlightenment” as the “disenchantment of the world,” the
“substitutio n of kno wledge for fancy”); see also Max W eber, Science as a Vocation in F R O M M AX W EBER , supra note #, at 129, 155(“The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’”).
For an account of the implications for religion of the successive displacements of belief by modernity and mod ernity by p ostmo dernity, see Frederick M ark G edick s, Spirituality, Fundamentalism, Liberty: Religion at the
End of M ode rnity, D E P AU L L. R EV . (forthcoming Decem ber 2004 ).

G IAN N I V A TT IM O , T HE T RANSPARENT S OCIETY 93 (B altimore, M D: Joh ns Hopkins Un iversity Press,
David W ebb trans. 1992) [hereinafter VA TT IM O , T RANSPARENT S OCIETY ] (“[N]ot only is the world not populated by gods . . . but nor can it be apprehended as an ob jective given order.”).


liberating effect of postmodernism–“incredulity toward metanarratives”86–which undermines the plausibility of all but the thinnest accounts of the real and the true. To live in a postmodern world is not–at least, not necessarily–to live without foundational or ultimate beliefs, but it is to live with beliefs whose foundational or ultimate character can be demonstrated only to those who already share them. In the absence of access to an “original” experience of the sacred common to all, which could serve as the measure of the (in)authenticity of religious experience, there is no way uncontroversially to demonstrate to persons outside one’s own community the truth of one’s own concept of religious experience against all others.87
The displacement of “original” religious experience has been accelerated and confirmed by the radical religious pluralism that now exists in American and global society, along with the sheer volume of information and images of that pluralism made accessible by the digital revolution.88 Digitization makes possible a dynamic and interactive demonstration of the viability of religious experiences other than one’s own. In the digital age, one is not restricted merely to receiving information and images of religious difference (though this is powerful enough, given the infinity of information and images whose easy communication digitization


L YOTARD , supra note #, at xxiv.


V A TT IM O , T RANSPARENT S OCIETY , supra note # , at 95 (“In the world without foundations, everyone is equal and the imp osition of any system of m eaning on others is violence and o ppression, for it can never legitimate itself by referring to an objective order.”); Ja mes E . Faulconer, Introduction: Thinking Transcendence in
T RANSCENDENCE , supra note #, at 1, 9 (“[T]here is no pure revelation of what is outside to we who stand inside: no revelation of the Other can be disassociated from the horizon into which that revelation projects itself.”).

V A TT IM O , A FTER C HRISTIANITY , supra note #, at 7 (“In actual fact, the increase in possible information on the myriad forms of reality makes it increasingly difficult to conceive of a single reality.”); cf. L UKACS , supra note #, at 64-65 (“T he quality of every document, of every record, indeed of every kind of hum an exp ression , depends on its authenticity. With the oceanic tide of documents–the combined results of spreading democracy, spreading techno logy, spreading bureauc racy–the authenticity of ‘sources’ with which the historian must deal d ecrea ses; in some cases it even disappears.”);


makes possible); in the digital world, one can communicate directly with the practitioners of religious difference, and the time is not far off when one might even sample religious practices in virtual reality. The result is that Americans have interactive access to a vast array of credible choices of religious experience, at the same time that the ability of any single religion decisively to demonstrate its epistemological superiority has disappeared. In the face of such diversity and indeterminacy, no single religion can plausibly claim that it alone can access authentic religious experience.89 In fact, Americans may be moving away from belief in “original” religious experience, though not in the manner sociologists had long predicted. For many years, it was argued that
Americans would inevitably abandon religious belief in the face of epistemological challenges by history, philosophy, science, and other secular disciplines.90 Though secular forces have indeed undermined many claims of the traditional theistic religions,91 the “secularization hypothesis”


See V A TT IM O , B ELIEF , supra note # , at 52; see also V A TT IM O , A FTER C HRISTIANITY , supra note # , at 9
(“If, in a world of d ialects, I speak m y own d ialect, I shall be co nscious that it is not the only ‘language’, but that it is precisely one amongst many. If, in this multicultural world, I set out my system of religious, aesthetic, political and ethnic values, I shall be acutely co nscious of the historicity, co ntingency and finiteness o f these system s, starting with my ow n.”); id. at 56 (“The simultaneity in which the wo rld of genera lized comm unicatio n mak es available, at least in principle, ‘all’ that human culture has produced or p roduces, as in a sort of imaginary museum, orients us toward weakening” of metaphysical claim s); Peter L. B erger, Reflections on the Sociology of Religion Today, 62
S OCIOLOGY OF R EL IG . 443 , 449 (2001) (“M ode rnity pluralizes the lifeworlds of individuals and co nsequently undermines all taken-for-granted certainties.”).

See, e.g., W illiam H . Swato s, Jr. & Kevin J. Christiano, Secularization Theory: The Course of a Concept,
60 S OCIOLOGY OF R EL IG . 209, 214 (1999) (defining “secularization theory,” as the claim that, “in the face of scientific rationality, religio n’s influence on all aspects of life–fro m persona l habits to social institutions–is in dramatic decline”).

See, e.g., Gregory P . Magarian, How to Apply the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to Federal Law
Without Violating the Constitution, 99 M ICH . L. R EV . 1903, 1985 (2001) (“The last two centuries have brought developments in philosophy and the natural sciences that have scattered Americans’ spiritual and conscientious commitments far beyond the range of traditional, theistic beliefs.”).


itself has been abandoned,92 swept away along with the Enlightenment pretension of explaining the world in wholly secular terms.93 This has led to a resurgence and rehabilitation of religion in mass culture and other aspects of public life, but not in its former mode of arbiter of transcendent reality.94 The last half of the twentieth century saw an explosion of diversity in American religious beliefs and practices, fueled by growth among a diverse range of denominations, sects, and religious communities.95 Corresponding to this vast increase in religious difference has been an erosion in the membership of many traditional denominations, and a shift in the religious sensibilities of those who remain within such denominations.96 Many Americans now “shop” for churches like they do for consumer goods, choosing one because of the individual needs and


Reb ecca French, Shopping for Religion: The Change in Everyday Religious Practice and Its Importance to the Law, 51 B UFF . L. R EV . 127 , 160 -61, 1 92; D avid N . Gellner, Stud ying secularism , prac tising secularism.
Anthropological perspectives in Secularism, Personal Values and Professional Evaluations 337, 337.

See, e.g., Berger, supra note #, at 444; French, supra note #, at 160.


See Gedicks, End of M ode rnity, supra note #, at [Draft #4, at 9-10 & nn.33-37 ].


These include new and break-off fundamentalist and evangelical denominations; so-called “Christian alternative” churches like Christian Science and the Jehovah’s Witnesses; traditional African American churches and nonindigenous African religions like the Santeria, Rastafarianism, and Voudou; eastern immigrant religions like
Islam, Buddhism, the Bahai, the Sikhs, and Hinduism; new religions like Scientology and Eckankar; and so-called
“New Age” spirituality. See French, supra note #, at 142-43.

See, e.g., Berger, sup ra note #, at 44 6, 447 (noting the “declining num ber of people who profess traditional religious beliefs, and define and practice “their religiosity in nontraditional, individualized and institutionally loose ways”); see also Trueheart, supra note #, at 1:
No spires. No crosses. No robes. No clerical collars. No hard pews. No kneelers. No biblical gobbledygook. N o prayerly rote. No fire, no brimstone. No pipe organs. No dreary eighteenth-century hymns. No forced solemnity. No Sunday finery. No collection plates.
This list has asterisks and exceptions, but its meaning is clear. Centuries of European tradition and
Christian habit are deliberately being aban doned, clearing the way for new, co ntemp orary forms of worship and belonging.


preferences that it satisfies, rather than the truth-claims that it makes.97 A related and growing phenomenon is so-called “grocery-cart religion,” in which an individual assembles her own personal collection of spiritual beliefs and practices, picking and choosing from among diverse and even incompatible denominations and traditions.98
Contemporary religious practice in the United States is evolving away from its traditional


French, supra note #, at 164:

Shopping for a new church, temple, or religious affiliation is now commonplace. In the United
States, a family that moves to a new town commo nly shops around for the church or other religious institution that suits them best. A person might be raised Catholic, not participate in any organized religion for several years, spend a few months in a Zen monastery, and then join the local Baptist church when she settles down and marries. After ten years, when her family is relocated to another part of the country, it is by no means unusual for the family to join a different religious group once they have visited various institutions in the new town.
See also id. at 165 (relating the experience o f a couple who rep orted that they “‘sho ppe d for a church like they would shop for a car, looking for so mething com fortable and practical’”); B ARBARA H ARGROVE , T HE S O C IO LO G Y O F
R E LIG IO N 127 -28 (A rlington Heights, IL: A HM , 197 9) (“T he chu rch, for many m ode rns who are invo lved in it at all, is rather more like a service station than an institution. It provides celebrations for special events--christenings, marriages, funerals, and the like. It provides a brief and cheap education in moral values for the children. It is a good place to get together with people who share similar interests and points of view. And through short-term study groups or the like it can be a useful too l in the mo dern religious quest.”); Trueheart, supra note #, at 7 (observing that baby boomers “are a needy and motivated bunch–with lots of experience in shopping for spiritual comfort”).

French, sup ra note #, at 165-6 6; accord Swatos & Christiano, supra note #, at 222, 225:

Religious (or, more broadly, ideological) pluralism clearly creates a marketplace of ideas wherein absolute claims for ultimacy are always at some degree of risk. This gives rise to a model of religious competition or marketplace, and in a double sense. Not only is there competition among religions themselves, but there is also the freedom on the part of buyers (people) to pick and choo se among the ideo logical wares that different religions proffer. This has be en referred to as “religion à la carte” and the result as bricolage.
Pluralism is not only competition am ong multiple historic religious traditions, but it is also competition between historical religious approaches to doing better and other systems of doing better. See also Berger, supra note #, at 448 (Many religious people today “assert that they are not ‘religious’ at all, but are pursuing a quest for ‘spirituality.’ [] Hervieu-Léger uses Claude Levi-Strauss’ term ‘bricolage’ to describe this form of religiosity–people putting together a religion of their own like children tinkering with a lego-set, picking and choosing fro m ava ilable religious ‘material.’”); L upu & Tuttle, supra note #, at 67 (“[R]eligion is but one of many comparab le experiences.”).


focus on the means of salvation and how the world is, was, and will be, towards a means of coping with the challenges of ordinary life.99 As Alan Wolfe has observed, “[t]alk of hell, damnation, and even sin has been replaced by a nonjudgmental language of understanding and empathy.”100 The result is a bewildering proliferation of idiosyncratic personal theologies intermediating between the conventional poles of unbelief and orthodoxy.101
The traditional denominational church “held and dispensed the ‘means of grace’ through which the individual might attain salvation, and without which that salvation was in jeopardy.”102
One of the principal tasks of the denominational church was to police the conformity of parishioners to the behavioral and creedal requirements of membership, and to certify the good standing before God of members who comply with these requirements.103 In the contemporary church, however, “the individual is the focus and exerciser of power”; individuals judge their religion on the basis of whether it helps them to understand and discover themselves in the midst of the demands of their everyday life, rather than whether its teachings and doctrines conform to


Ira C. Lupu & R obe rt Tuttle, The Distinctive Place of Religion in Our Constitutional Order, 47 V ILL. L.
R EV . 37, 67 (2002 ).

W OLFE , supra note #, at 3.


See, e.g., C HARLES T A Y LO R , V ARIETIES OF R E LIG IO N T ODAY 106-07 (Ca mbridge, MA : Harvard
University Press, 2002):
[M]any people drop out of active practice while still declaring themselves as belonging to some confession or believing in God . On another dimension, . . . a wider range of people express religious beliefs that move outside Christian orthodoxy. Fo llowing in this line is the growth o f non-C hristian religions, particularly those originating in the Orient, and the proliferation of New Age mod es of practice, of views that bridge the humanist/spiritual boundary, of practices that link spirituality and therapy. On top of this, more and mo re people adopt what would earlier have been seen as untenable positions, for example, they consider themselves C atholic while no t accepting m any crucial do gmas, or they comb ine Ch ristianity with
Buddhism, or they pray while not being certain they believe.

H ARGROVE , supra note #, at 128.


H ARGROVE , supra note #, at 128.


an external and ultimate divine reality. 104
When the marketplace of religious experience is filled with vast and varied choices, however, it becomes difficult for any single religion plausibly to claim that it alone has access to the ultimate divine reality. 105 Thus it is that contemporary mass culture is simultaneously religious and extra-denominational. Mass culture’s emphasis on a “God apart from religion” when it portrays religious experience is not–or not only–a tactic to avoid offending mass audiences, but a recognition that the salience of religious experience has shifted: Religious experience is increasingly about revelation of the immanent, rather than the transcendent.
Whereas the principal focus of religious experience was formerly its revelation of a deeper reality beyond the temporal self, contemporary religious experience now seems to be more about uncovering the deeper reality of that very self.106 Religion is becoming less a demand that believers fit themselves into God’s plan, than it is about finding a God and a plan that fits them.107 As in so many other areas, the digital revolution has cut out the “middleman” for


See H ARGROVE , supra note # , at 128 ; see also W OLFE , supra note #, at 89-90 (reporting that younger
Catholics tend to reject theological formulations which suggest “that non-Catholics have the wrong doctrinal ideas”);
Swatos & Christiano, supra no te #, at 224 (“[T]he historical religions are less likely to carry the level of isomorph ism between ind ividual experience and larger cultural co ntext that has been the case in the past. . . .”). T aylor suggests that the self-regarding character of contemporary belief is the residue of a long series of developments in western history. See T A Y LO R , supra note, at 8-13.

Swatos & Christiano, supra note #, at 221.


See W OLFE , supra note # , at 182 -84; see also Lupu & T uttle, supra note #, at 67 (“At the time of the
Framing, religion, for many Americans, was a source of comprehensive understanding about Divine Providence and the order of the universe. The rise of science, technology, psychoanalysis, and other profoundly secularizing influences, however, has altered perceptions about the role of religion. For many Americans, religion is now affective, psychological, and interior.”).

See, e.g., T A Y LO R , supra note # , at 101 (“For many people today, to set aside their own path in order to conform to some external authority just doesn’t seem comprehensible as a form of spiritual life.”).


religious experience. The shift of religious experience from the control of theological elites to the uncontrolled product of mass culture has ended in the commodification of religion and the consumerization of its practitioners.
6. Consequences and Possibilities
The effect of digital reproduction on religious experience is similar to the effect of mechanical reproduction on art, imposing the same dislocations on the former as on the later. These same effects permit religious experience to become a product of mass culture. With digital reproduction, the effort required to participate in an experience of the sacred is reduced to nearly nothing, and the experience itself is subject to easy alteration to fit the requirements of each religious practitioner. The ultra-realistic images that can be generated by digital technology enable the virtual reproduction of religious experience, rather than its mere imagination.108
Indeed, digitally reproduced religious experience may be more real for mass audiences than the original experience it depicts.109 The actual scourging and crucifixion of Jesus were horrible beyond doubt, but might it not be possible that The Passion portrays those events as even more horrible–and thus more powerful and meaningful–than they were experienced by those observers who were actually present?110


Cf. Michael Novak, Brothe r Gibson’s Passion, N AT ’L R EV . O N LIN E (Feb. 25, 2004), <http://www. 22509 08.asp (last visited June 10, 2004) (“[N]o form of art can compare with the cinema for its power to make one live through real human stories in so total and imme diate a way.”) (e mph asis in original)..

Cf. M URPHIE & P OTTS , supra note #, at 16 (“In societies more mediated than ever before, bombarded with images of themselves, reality is reproduced so many times that it produces a ‘hyperreal’ condition: more real that the real.”).

Cf. W alter B enjam in, The C oncept of Criticism in G erma n Ro manticism in 1 W ALTER B EN JA M IN ,
S E LE C TE D W RITINGS 1913-19 26, at 116, 182 (C ambridge, MA : Harvard University Press, Marcus B ullock &
Michael W . Jennings ed. 1996) (“A classical literature arises for us only through diligent and spirited study of the ancients–a classical literature such as the ancients themselves did not possess.”).


Digitization and postmodernism have undermined the control that denominations and other religious groups formerly exercised over the authentication and reception of original religious experience. Digitization has removed the need to access religious experience through the worship, symbols, and doctrines of a denomination. Postmodernism has shorn denominations of the ability to demonstrate what does and does not count as “real” or “authentic” religious experience. Instead, Americans are increasingly choosing religious experience from a rich and varied marketplace of religious ideas, not unlike their choice of a home or a car or, less prosaically, whom to marry or what kind of work to pursue.
These consequences of digital reproduction present particular challenges for religions with fundamentalist tendencies. The term “fundamentalism” originated in the American reaction to the secularization and permissiveness of the 1920s.111 A “fundamentalist” in those times signified one who was ready to fight secularism, permissiveness, and modernism by returning to the “fundamentals” of evangelical Protestantism.112 Fundamentalism was chiefly characterized by “militancy toward modernist theology and cultural change,”113 and belief in the “absolute infallibility of the Bible.”114 Contemporary American fundamentalism remains focused on similar concerns. Assailed on all sides by the decadent values of American popular culture,


G ILLES K EPEL, T HE R EVEN GE OF G O D 105 (University Park, P a.: Th e Pennsylvania State University
50-56 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 199 1).

M ARSDEN , supra note #, at 57.


M ARSDEN , supra note # , at 66-6 7; see also id. at 1 (“[A]n American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in oppo sition to liberal theology in the churches or to changes in cultural value s or mores.”); id. at 185
(describing early twentieth century fundamentalist theologian J. Gresham Machen as believing that “[t]olerance of modernism” is “incompatible with a true church”).

K EPEL, supra note #, at 106 (emphasis in original).


fundamentalists seek protection in the safety and stability of Biblical commands against the threats to traditional belief represented by secularism, extra-marital sex, abortion, gay rights, and feminism.115 By now, of course, fundamentalism has come to signify an approach to religion much broader than the periodic retrenchments of American evangelicals. In the latter part of the twentieth century, “re-Christianization” movements arose in Europe, and “re-Islamization” swept both Europe and the Middle East, undermining sociological predictions of the inevitable secularization of politics and society, and reinvigorating Roman Catholic, evangelical Protestant, and Muslim interventions in public life.116 Contemporary American fundamentalism is merely one manifestation of a worldwide movement that seeks to overturn secular society and to refill the ensuing vacuum with an aggressive and revitalized religion.117
Adaptation does not come easy to fundamentalist religions. Fundamentalist truth is hard, literal, and exclusive,118 what God has plainly revealed in his scriptures or to his servants. The fundamentalist God is a jealous one, having placed the world under his judgment–literally,


See K EPEL, supra note # , at 135 ; W OLFE , supra note #, at 251.


See, e.g., K EPEL, supra note #, at 2 (arguing that in the 1970s, a “new religious approach took shape, aimed no longer at adapting to secular values but at recovering a sacred foundation for the organization of society–by changing society if necessary”).

See, e.g., K A R EN A R M S T RO N G , T HE B ATTLE FOR G O D ix (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000) (“One of the most startling developments of the late twentieth century has been the emergence within every major religious tradition of a m ilitant piety popularly known as ‘fundam entalism.’”); see also J O N K RAKAUER , U NDER THE B ANNER
OF H EAVEN 137 (N ew York: Do ubleday, 2003) (“The impe tus for most fundamentalist movements . . . is a yearning to return to the mythical order and perfection of the original church.”).

See V A TT IM O , B ELIEF , supra note #, at 88 (Theologically conservative Christians “always complain that in the secularized or weak conception of Christianity, the harshness, severity and rigour characteristic of divine justice are lost, and with them the very meaning o f sin, the actuality of evil, and as a consequence even the necessity of redemption.”).


“under God”–to suffer his wrath unless it repents and returns to the one, true path.
Fundamentalism presupposes a single, transcendent reality which does not change, and to which believers must consequently accommodate themselves, rather than vice versa.119
It seems unlikely, therefore, that fundamentalist religion will retain mass appeal in the digital age. It is trapped in a conundrum: To preserve its mass appeal, it must accommodate itself to the personalized, even idiosyncratic demands of believers,120 yet to change in this way is to depart from its fundamentalist core. For fundamentalists, popular culture is a threat to timeless values; it is fear of the divine consequences of departing from those values that prevents fundamentalism from altering its commitment to those values.121
This is not to say that fundamentalists do not make use of digital technologies; to the contrary, fundamentalist religions are some of the most enthusiastic users of such technologies, seeing them as ways to more broadly and efficiently spread their message. But its very use of digital technologies threatens to undermine the theological control that is essential to fundamentalism’s maintaining the purity of its commitments against the pressures of change.
The control that digital technology apparently offers is illusive; the digital world has repeatedly


See K RAKAUER , supra note #, at 166 (“In the fundamentalist world view, a sharp dividing line runs through all of creation, demarcating good from evil, and everybody falls on one side of that line or the other.”);
M ARSDEN , supra note #, at 178 (“The fundamentalist mind . . . is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an area for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who can com promise with Satan?)”) (quo ting Richard Ho fstadter); see also W OLFE , supra note #, at 67 (“Claiming to read the
Bible as the literal word of God, fundamentalists are people who care very much what their faith is, whatever the co st in upward mobility, neighborly popularity, or alienation from public opinion, just as they care what your faith is, and mine.”). 120

Cf. Roger H endrix, The Fear Factor, A CROSS THE B OARD (Mar./Apr. 2004), at 11, 12 (observing that comp anies that refuse to adap t to changing business environme nts circumstances are generally acquired and lose their independence o r otherwise go out of business).

Cf. Hendrix, supra note #, at 12 (“[R]esistance to change implies a state of fear.”).


proven itself inherently anarchic, unamenable to control.122 Nor is this to deny that many people are attracted to the resoluteness of fundamentalist theology in the midst of the bewildering chaos of the postmodern digitized world.
Nevertheless , the consumerization of religion and religious experience by digitization and postmodernism suggests that most Americans are unlikely to see fundamentalist religion as a plausible guide to living their lives. Fundamentalism will no doubt survive, but as a niche product appealing to a narrow segment of the market for religious experience–perhaps dominant in its category, but lacking mass appeal.
Digital reproduction also may present special challenges for hierarchical religions, in the same way and for the same reasons that it challenges fundamentalism. Religious hierarchy is often oblivious or consciously resistant to grass-roots pressure for theological change. The insulation of the hierarchy from member needs and demands for more responsive religious
“product lines” may prevent hierarchical leadership from reacting or adjusting to the call of its members, even if it is inclined to do so. In a digital age, no hierarchical structure–religious, governmental, or corporate–will be able to react with sufficient speed to stay ahead of member preferences and demands.123 The result for hierarchical religion is likely to be the same as that for fundamentalist religion–occupation of a religious niche market.


See S IVA V AIDHYANATHAN , T HE ANARCHIST IN THE L IBRARY (New York, B asic, 20 04) (arguing that fully distributed systems like those created by peer-to-peer and open-source software persistently evade centralized regulation and control); see also Davis, supra note # , at 3 (observ ing that predictions of “techno cratic contro l” enabled by digitization overlooked both “the capacity of an educated elite–indoctrinated by an anarchic find and popular culture in behalf of individuality and irrationality–to defy control,” but also “the sheer profit motive awaiting those inventors and companies able to create computer programs” that thwart centralized control and empower individual choice and imagination).

See M URPHIE & P OTTS , supra note #, at 170-92 passim.


By contrast, religions that are both theologically flexible and relatively democratic are well-positioned to deal with the consequences of the digital reproduction of religious experience in postmodern society. Some Protestant denominations are reacting to the consumerization of religious experience in classic market-based style, “rebranding” their beliefs and practices so that they more closely appeal to the religious demands and interests of their members. Many contemporary denominations thus dilute their doctrines and theologies in favor of a “religious nonjudgmentalism” that de-emphasizes denominational differences, doctrinal requirements, and traditional themes like duty, responsibility, and sin, in favor of more comforting, therapeutic themes like the inherent worth of each individual, and the unconditional love that God holds for each person despite her imperfections.124 A church offers three varieties of services each
Sunday–traditional, contemporary, and charismatic,125 a pastor re-characterizes sin from an offense against a holy God to a self-defeating behavior,126 a congregation avoids examination of controversial issues like abortion or gay rights.127


W OLFE , supra note #, at 155-84 passim. The movement towards nondenominationalism was already unde r way in the 196 0s. See, e.g., T. Luckm ann, The Decline of Church-Oriented Religion (1967) in S O C IO LO G Y
R E LIG IO N 141, 147 (Baltimore, MD : Penguin, Roland Robertson ed. 196 9):


One of the most important developments in American church religion is the process of doctrinal leveling. It can be safely said that within Protestantism doctrinal differences are virtually irrelevant for the members of the major denominations. Even for the ministry traditional theological differences seem to have an everdecreasing importance. More significant is the steady leveling of the differences between Catholicism,
Protestantism, and Judaism. [] There can be little doubt . . . that Catholicism, Protestantism and Judaism are jointly characterized by similar structural transformations–a bureaucratization along rational businesslike lines–and accommodation to the “secular” way of life.

Trueheart, supra note #, at 12.


W OLFE , supra note #, at 166.


Trueheart, supra note #, at 16.

One examp le of a relative lack of interest among believers in the demands of doctrine and sin may be the app arent ind ifference of even som e con servative Protestan ts to the prospect of legalized gay ma rriage. See, e.g.,


The evangelical “mega-churches”–evangelical congregations as large as 10,000 that are among the fastest growing churches in the United States, are a notable example.128 Evangelicals generally and megachurches in particular are unapologetically focused on marketing their beliefs to mass audiences through mass media, and hold the preservation of their mass appeal as a high priority. 129 Accordingly, though evangelicals are usually theologically conservative, evangelical megachurches have exhibited considerable theological flexibility in responding to the needs and demands of congregants.130 They eschew denominational identification, and almost always avoid mentioning such affiliation where it exists.131 Such churches are also usually fundamentally democratic, although their members often are indifferent to the exercise of control over their pastoral leaders.



In a religious marketplace of ideas situated within a postmodern world of epistemological indeterminacy, the more products that are offered, the less likely it is that any single one will be able credibly to claim that it alone can access reality. The dominant energy in contemporary religion is not the search for transcendence–knowledge of the divine objective reality beyond,

David D . Kirkp atrick, Backers of Gay Marriage Find Tepid Response in Pews, NY T IMES , May 16, 200 4, §1 , at 1 col.1 (reporting that conservative activists have been surprised and disappointed at the general lack of interest among conservative Christians in a constitutional amendment that would pro hibit gay m arriage ); Michael Massing, Bishop
Lee’s Choice, NY T IMES M AG ., Jan 4, 2004, at 34, 40 (reporting that Episcopalians were neither “outraged nor exultant” at the prospect of a sexually active gay bishop, and that mo st seemed to feel that their church could accommo date the participation and interests of gays and lesbians).

Trueheart, supra note #, at 2.


Trueheart, supra note #, at 3.


See W OLFE , supra note #, at 70-81 passim.


Trueheart, supra note #, at 22-24.


into which each person must fit him- or herself–but rather the search for immanence–knowledge of the divine subjective reality within, into which each person may grow. Religion remains vibrant and alive in the contemporary United States, but is increasingly experienced beyond the bounds of denominational orthodoxy.


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