A recent article in the New York Times about Singularity University got me thinking about how mainstream religions may be missing a major opportunity to become more progressive and relevant in the modern age.
The singularity, a notion popularized by futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil, posits that man and machine will ultimately merge. The result will be a kind of immortality, so the theory goes, as aged organs and body parts are replaced by machine parts and human brains are kept alive and enhanced through computer downloads and add-ons.
Singularity University is a new institution of higher learning that brings together leading thinkers, technologists, scientists, and entrepreneurs to explore ideas like the singularity and other potentially important future trends.
Why aren't religious organizations imbued with the same spirit of wide open discovery we find in a place like Singularity University?
Is it because religions already have all the answers and hold that nothing beyond what is written in the sacred texts (and our own interpretations of them) is worth discovering? Sure, most religions acknowledge the importance of science and technology, and some of the best inventors and scientists have come from the ranks of the religious -- including Einstein. But what of the active evolution of religion itself? Is that not a journey worth taking for believer and non-believer alike?
Things could be different. Major and minor religions could and should come together to form their own kind of "singularity university" devoted to the future-forward study of religion.
Instead of rebuking the work of people like Ray Kurzweil as an offense against God, as many have, religious leaders should be thinking about how to shape a religious future unlike anything we have known before, ideally a future in which religious experience is dynamically enhanced and religious divisions are increasingly bridged.
A university or center for religious discovery could lay the groundwork for exploring religion as a living organism that has tremendous potential for learning and inventing beyond just what the good books say. It would focus less on dogma and more on dreams.
Will man and machine combine to create the kind of super-being that the singularists suggest? If so, will that new being no longer have a use for religion? It's about time the religious and spiritual communities begin addressing these questions with a "singularity university" of their own.
Even better, why not have a type of "singularity university" dedicated to joint religious and scientific discovery? That's an idea I bet even the singularists have yet to fathom.