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Agnostics Anonymous

In May, St Radegund's Church in Lincoln became the first to live broadcast its Sunday service. The congregation, which averages around 25, was joined by another 350 people watching online. 'It enables us to take the word of God to people who maybe can't make it to church, or even to a whole new audience,' said Revd Kathy Colwell. The Church of England's Digital Media Officer, Tallie Proud, is urging other churches to follow suit; official advice recommends streaming services for those who are away, ill, or too nervous to attend. Also this month, former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has been discussing religious violence ahead of the publication of his new book, Not in God's Name. Asked why he thinks European Muslims are going to fight for ISIL, Sacks argues that they are 'in search of identity'. For Sacks, religion is essential to give us a sense of national identity and a shared 'common good', to prevent the pursuit of 'altruistic evil' that's offered by ISIL propaganda. He sees Islam's current troubles as being caused by a 'turning inwards' among Muslims, and other faiths, 'that emphasises difference, not common ground'. But, according to Sacks, there is another reason for the rise in Islamist extremism: 'the destablising effect of the revolution in information technology. In the past, radical groups would be marginalised and largely unknown, but now they can instantly reach a global audience.' While the vicar of St Radegund's has just begun to exploit its potential, Islamist extremists have been doing it for years. Those watching at home can cherry-pick their sermons and construct their own dogmas without the guiding influence of a community around them, and without the human interaction that may temper and contextualise these messages. Even more importantly, it detaches them from the reality of being within a sacred space: its architecture, scents, echoes, temperature. These spaces are different for each religious group, but they are distinct from the rest of life and shared intimately. Mobile devices disrupt both that separation and that intimacy. Darleen Pryds, an associate professor of Christian spirituality at the Franciscan School of Theology in California, believes that when devices are used: 'I have found that most people tend to disengage from the experience of communal worship, and there is a nervous, excited energy that pervades the room.' The assumption that you can communicate a spiritual experience, even with super-fast broadband, denies the significance of physically entering a sacred space. If it doesn't bring people together, and it doesn't preserve its sacred spaces, religion is just another tinny voice coming through a laptop speaker in a lonely suburban bedroom.