Religion is inextricably tied to the past. So when I noticed an article in Wired entitled “The End of Then: Past? Present? Online, It All Runs Together,” by Paul Ford, I determined to read it once I could figure out whence that musky aroma arose. Maybe it is just my imagination, but the order of the major advertisements in Wired seems like a pre-packaged sexual scenario. Near the beginning of the magazine is an aromatic ad for Chanel for men. A few pages on is a more than full-page ad for Viagra. A few pages on is a short piece on Trojan lubricants, followed coyly by that rare cigarette ad. (I’m probably reading too much into this, but I’m a creature of the past.) Where was I? Oh yes, the End of Then. Ford’s point in the article is that the internet has made access to the past incredibly facile. Anyone with a portal into the web can find scads of information about the past, making past and present indistinguishable in a sense. My thoughts turn to the future.
The future seems to be the true unknown country. Not long ago I saw a story on the internet about how scientists conclude time travel to be impossible because we have not found messages from the future on the web. But we have found the past. Or have we? Ford mentions our fascination with Babylonian tablets, and suggests future historians will be equally intrigued by our continuous electronic chatter. But I turn back to that clay tablet. Those tablets, many of which were already in the deep past well before the Bible was scrawled, preserved what was important for a pre-industrial society: receipts, court records, and myths—the stories of the gods. And their command to build a round ark, at least according to Irving Finkel, whose book seems not to be available in the United States. Those myths, adapted to biblical proportions, have long been in the public domain, and yet, are they really in any sense present? Try giving students a quiz and find out.
We have a past that will always remain inaccessible. The present, for better or worse, is all we’ll ever have. Religion, however, is tied to the past. True claims are based on historical events, some less believable than others, that are permanently out of reach. We can watch how religions play out in the present and decide later. In the future. But the past haunts us forever. I, for one, had thought that cigarettes were on their way to extinction. But I need to put this edition of Wired down because that cologne ad is making me dizzy. And it leaves me wondering about future prospects and what religion has to do with any of it.