Religious structures could feel unstable in their ethical foundations as they shift in reaction to threats from the world. It may be difficult to find a community to put your faith into and it may be unclear what is a religious practice and what is an organisational/commercial service.
How the scenario could unfold
In the future, we may see an increase in division among society as populism and online bubbles foster more extreme or inflexible standpoints, shifting the focus to differences and blame, rather than similarities between people. This division may be aggravated by churches or it may be seen as an objective for them to help heal communities.
At the same time, there may be increasing pressure on religious institutions to denounce teachings that are incompatible with modern culture. Such as traditional religious perspectives on the morality of gender equality or LGBTQIA+ rights. Modernisation may cause followers to question their faith or church or it may help win people’s approval.
The styling of religious experiences may go further. In recent decades, tens of millions of Roman Catholic Latin Americans have embraced Pentecostal Protestantism, in part because of its ability to adapt to the culture. For instance, it has successfully absorbed Latin American culture and music far better than Catholicism has in four centuries. Moreover, Pentecostal Protestantism focuses on faith healing, which drives many people to the religion in times of ill-health. These examples demonstrate how the malleability of religious institutions helps them survive.
We can also consider a continuation in the trend of ‘mega-churches’, which adopt commercial business models and tactics to spread their message further. So, we find a potential scenario where religions are more needed than ever for stability and social cohesion, but are faced with decisions about staying firm or adapting, styling and competing in a modern and dynamic world.
What might that mean for Jean?
For someone like Jean, whose life is valued based on its alignment to his religious values and beliefs, threats to the church represent threats to him. We explore how services may evolve around these needs to support him or bring even more complications
Jesus is the source of happiness. I don’t worry about the future because it’s up to Him what will happen.
Technologies that can alter core beliefs could be used to design lifestyles and characteristics to optimise wellbeing. Wellbeing could be co-opted to suit a corrupt agenda.
Structured Social Judgement
Constant social media judgement could lead to extended states of anxiety potentially making people attempt to perfect their outward appearance. Data could be collected against people’s will and without their knowledge and lead to further control over people’s behaviour.
Jean is a cleaner. He wakes up early in the morning to travel all over south London for work. When he finishes his day, he picks up his kids from school and spends the ride home asking them about what they learned. On the weekends, he takes the kids to the park to spend quality time with nature, away from technology. On Sundays, he brings his family to the church where he finds acceptance and belonging in shared values. He had to change churches recently because he felt it’s teachings were being diluted.
For people like Jean, their happiness rests in an exchange with God. As long as they love and fear God, the world will respond accordingly. ‘As long as you fear God, you are ok’. Entwined with this, there are responsibilities to keep the local community strong, be thankful for what they have, and avoid short term temptations.
For Jean it is critical to stay connected to God, living in line with the teachings of the church and to provide for others in the community. Providing helps his status amongst the congregation, and helps him feel a part of the community
For people like Jean their concern is that the world is threatening their belief structures and challenging their core values. Some churches are adapting, but what does that say about their values and their spirituality?
Explorations in ‘Religious malleability’
We explore the future in this scenario by looking for potential points of friction between this context of religious malleability and the needs of someone like Jean. These explorations are outlines of services that act as emerging spaces for solutions or as spaces to explore the problems and provocations elicited by the services.
Pocket Jesus is an application that codifies the Christian faith and quantifies your religious practice. By codifying Christian practice and rules, it can correlate your practice with your life and happiness to bring your values more in line with your life. The service links teachings to the nature and subject of your prayer as well as offering new ways for you to donate and for church leaders to manage congregations.
Team: The Lab
VR Religious experiences
On VR Religious Experiences, you can subscribe to the channel that partly funds your church. The best VR religious experiences are here: You can have access to multiple channels divided by religion and hundreds of denominations. You can access experiences you could never have done otherwise, bringing you closer to your community, your faith and your God.
Team: The Lab
APPostle is an app powered by machine learning that is trained to track your activity and to stop you if you are doing something against your religion. It can codify your beliefs, monitor your alignment with and visualise your spirituality profile. The app makes suggestions and corrections to bad behaviours and actions against your religion.
Team: The Lab
In this set of explorations we are asked to consider a course of events where faith organisations may use technologies that become the norm in other areas of life to entwine with people’s lives in deeper ways. This could be seen as a protective response by faith groups to protect their value and connection to people’s lives.
It may equally be plausible that faiths adopt new, less dominant positionalities in people’s lives. If we consider in this scenario that faith groups may reach further into people’s lives to protect their role in a world of dynamic modernisation, we can interpret this response as a way to understand people’s lives and move forward with them, constantly staying present, relevant and in tune with shifting wants, desires and values. Or, alternatively we can see it as a way to protect a more robust religious stance by controlling perspectives.
In either scenario, people become more vulnerable to manipulation. If a person’s ethics and values are structured by an institution, then it already has vast power. But, if it can monitor and influence daily actions then people become even more controllable.
t is also plausible that for some people this closer connection to their faith will bring far greater happiness. By knowing and understanding the teachings better and being able to more consistently connect their behaviours with their ethics and values, they may feel more spiritually fulfilled, socially connected to their community and, depending on the teachings of the faith, it may also bring greater social cohesion.
These explorations in future faith practice represent important questions about power, about the potential of strong leadership to connect or divide society, and about how integrating external faith voices into daily life could make people feel challenged or supported and validated.
Related to ‘Religious Malleability’
Platforms as facilitators and brokers of value judgements. It’s possible that in the future we could foresee an advancement of AI with the ability to codify and model the highly complex ethical parameters of everyday life.
Ethos learns, tracks and guides people’s behaviours to help them live more in line with their values and beliefs.