July 9, 1999
The Invisible Organization: Religion and Politics in Cyberspace
-- Martin E. Marty
The World Church of the Creator, the white supremacist movement that helped impel Benjamin Smith to go on a hate-crime murdering spree, propagated itself online. Like many other hate groups, it has had a Web site, and like so many others, it promotes ideology that is manifestly destructive of human good.
The millionaires of Silicon Valley, we read in a July 7 Chicago Tribune article by Karen Brandon, have suddenly caught on to the need to go political. Brandon's story reports on Gregory Slayton of MySoftware Co., who raises large sums for the George W. Bush campaign and commutes to Washington to help Republican politicians "understand the high-tech world."
"Party affiliations in Silicon Valley are notoriously weak," writes Brandon, noting that the Technology Network, the region's "most prominent political organization," is bipartisan. "Their ideology is, 'We're entrepreneurs. We made it on our own. We don't need government," says political scientist AnnaLee Saxenian of Berkeley. "I think these guys have been dragged into politics grudgingly as a defensive measure." So how do the Siliconites gather for politics? They don't. Brandon: There is "disdain for that campaign staple, the fundraiser dinner." "A lot of the fundraising will be done by e-mail," says Lezlee Westine of TechnologyNetwork.
How do we connect these two stories, one of enthusiastic destruction, the World Church of the Creator, and one of grudging affirmation of politics, the "Technology Network?" Answer: they suggest unforeseen forms of activism. Picture hate groups three decades ago and images of Ku Klux Klan gatherings, cultlike clusterings in basements, cabals and cells will prevail. Picture political activity into the recent past and even into the present and dinners, rallies, precinct meeting, and the like dominate.
Unforeseen was the ability to create what theologians used to call "the invisible church" (and invisible political comings-together). The electronic church began to invent this form of human organization, whose potential few can foresee and fewer foresaw. In 1967, Herman J. Kahn and Anthony J. Wiener published THE YEAR 2000: A FRAMEWORK FOR SPECULATION ON THE NEXT THIRTY-THREE YEARS. Their index has no reference to "oil" or petroleum" and no reference to "fundamentalism" or religious militancy." Yet these are driving forces in geopolitics and in Americans' thinking about what is important to them.
So it would be hard to find in books published even more recently than 1967 any envisioning that haters on one hand and movers and shakers on the other could use cyberspace to create churches and clubs in religion and politics. We have not yet begun to begin to realize the implications of this form of human organization for tomorrow. We do, however, have "Distant Early Warning" signals of its importance.