The fact that the tech industry came of age on the west coast, in Northern California, meant that the Silicon Valley would never have a hard modernist culture. The endless new meditation apps, chatter about “mindfulness”, and embrace of veganism trace a direct line back to the hippie roots of the tech industry. The utopian vision that seems to be table stakes for starting a tech company is a relic of the New Age outlook of the hippies combined with the technical rigor of NASA. True, engineers have a strong cohort of neck-bearded atheists who get their kicks mocking evangelicals. Nevertheless, the borderless spirituality of Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey seems to be the default state of the tech oligarchs.
I’m fairly confident saying that I am not a spiritual person. I’m religious.
What does it mean to be religious? I was considering this during a recent Lent service at my church. (For those unfamiliar, Lent is the season of penitence in preparation for Easter.) The readings were from the book of the prophet Micah, where the oracle begs Israel to return to their God and promises that their sins will be forgiven: removed “as far as the east is from the west”.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Old Testament will notice that Israel’s relationship to their God was tenuous. And you could hardly blame them: a small tribe surrounded by conquering empires, an exclusive worship cult surrounded by innumerable pagan deities, a people bound to a God who demanded exclusive fidelity while rarely delivering conquests and riches. And yet Israel was God’s chosen people and Israel was stuck with God for better and worse. Despite their best efforts, Israel had a God and their God was determined to have them.
And I think for me that is how I might answer that question on what it means to be religious: I have a God and that God has me. I am a man with a God, and all that that implies.
Often today religion is viewed as a therapy, even by those with favorable dispositions towards it: “It gives me a sense of community, it helps me get over my guilt, it gave me hope after a relative died, helped me become a better person.” I don’t doubt that some religious practices have these positive results but I am unable to escape the fact that the icon at the heart of my religion is a crucified god.
To be frank, my religion has made my life hard. It seems to be increasing incongruous and incompatible with my career and culture. Many of my previously practicing peers have abandoned it for a borderless spirituality. But, like Israel, I am a man with a God and, more importantly, the God has a man. It is who I am. For good and for worse.
I intend to write more here about my experiences and thoughts as a tech industry insider and religious outsider. There’s a lot of people like me in the industry: We’re conservative and liberal, republicans and democrats, gay and straight, but our core identity, how we define ourselves and place ourselves in the universe is our religion. Our voices are largely silent—especially when it comes to religion.
I think it’s time to talk.