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Monoculture of Faith December 20, 2005

Posted by TimTheFoolMan in Religion, Philosophy, and Science.

Dan Greer, co-author of Cyber Insecurity, has some interesting thoughts about the dangers of a technological monoculture. Lately, I have started developing similar concerns about theological monocultures.

Lately, it seems that many of the world’s religions have larger or smaller factions that isolate themselves from open discussion and debate about the prevailing theological concepts or beliefs. A good example of this is the currently raging debate about Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Evolution. There are well-established segments of Christianity that are simply not going to listen to any explanation, of any kind, that doesn’t agree with a literal, 7×24 hour-days creation story.

Now, keep in mind that I’m not advocating that anyone simply discard a belief system upon the introduction of an alternative belief. That would be a classic example of being “tossed about by the wind.” What I’m suggesting is a tolerance for differing views, such that one is able to happily co-exist with people who think differently, and possibly even (gasp!) learn from them.

The danger of a theological monoculture is that it develops critical mass, and soon develops a “purifying effect.” On the surface, this seems like a good thing, as it tends to weed out what many might consider to be heresy. However, the dominant social side-effect is to cause people to start following a line of thinking blindly, without giving any consideration to whether or not there’s any truth behind it.

In Dan Greer’s analysis, he posits that one of the dangers of a “monoculture of Microsoft” is that each of the machines in a Microsoft-only network will most likely be vulnerable to the same set of threats. In a more heterogenous environment, an attack against a Win32 box would probably be completely ineffective against a Linux system. In addition, there are capabilities (not just vulerabilities) available on different platforms that give such a network a broader base of functionality than a homogenous one.

Likewise, churches that tolerate a range of scriptural interpretations seem to be able to get “attacked” by various theological challenges without falling into the… “because that’s the way we interpret the Bible… that’s why” arguments. When there is a range of interpretations, there is the opportunity for intelligent discourse. Some of this discussion may cause one side or the other to scurry off to do some research. In my opinion, this is when the church truly starts to grow.

When someone challenges some long-held belief, and instead of shouting them down, or humiliating them with accusations of heresy, I sit down and start to examine the reasons for believing a certain way, my own faith grows. If, instead, I simply parrot back what I’ve been told, without any research of my own, all of my arguments become a matter of quoting someone else, and having less-than-satisfactory explanations for my belief. Faith… real faith, isn’t just “saying something I hope is true.” True faith is demonstrated by exercising it.

For example, my faith in the chair I’m sitting on is demonstrated by the way I relax in it, and expect it to support me. If I never sat in it, but constantly went on and on about its wonderful ability to support my body weight, I would have no personal knowledge to back it up. Likewise, if the faith I have in God (or Jesus as Savior, or The Bible as the Word of God) needs to get exercised by putting some weight on it. One way for me to do that, is for me to allow that faith to be challenged (in the same way that the chair is challenged, sometimes seriously, by my body weight).

Unfortunately, most Christians (myself included) are reluctant to have anything challenge what we believe. Some of this is pride… probably most of it. However, as long as we sit around safe and snug in a fortress of theological monoculture, social pressures will keep even the most minor challenges at bay.

Step out. Broaden your theological horizons.

Consider the possibility that you, personally, aren’t infallible in your faith, even if your faith is in an infallible God.


1. A Fool and his Words are Soon Parted » IE7 Beta: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - February 2, 2006

[…] What’s next? Will an update to my X-Box controller firmware cause my Tivo remote control to stop working? Monocultures are risky, whether its in theology or technology. Regardless of the features, when it comes to Windows applications, there’s something to be said for avoiding a sole-source. […]

2. Laura’s Blog » Blog Archive » - February 2, 2006

[…] In reading fellow blogger timthefoolman’s Monoculture of Faith, I was struck by how familiar that way of thinking was to me. […]

3. A Fool and his Words are Soon Parted » More on Monoculture - February 18, 2006

[…] Since posting a discussion about the inherent dangers of monoculture in the areas of faith, I’ve had several interesting discussions (online and off) about possible flaws in the original premise: that the “Microsoft monoculture” poses an inherent threat to computer systems, and therefore our information infrastructure. Dan Geer posed this argument at the Usenix 2004 conference. […]

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