The digital world’s clash with religion
Katie Troyer first used a refrigerator at the age of 32.
Growing up Amish in Ohio, Troyer’s teenage days were void of everything from kitchen appliances to cars.
“My family had no technology compared to what people have now,” Troyer said.
In her 30s, she left behind the only life she ever knew. Now a resident of South Florida, Troyer says that although she embraces technology, she recalls fondly her life in Ohio.
“I always think about the Amish way of life,” she said. “And I still treasure the Amish.”
While childhoods become increasingly saturated with iPhones, drones and everything in between, stories like Troyer’s are becoming uncommon as technology reshapes culture and religion. These changes ultimately call the future of religion into question, especially in the cultural melting pot of South Florida.
A whopping 87 percent of American adults claim they use the internet actively, according to a 2014 Pew Forum Internet Project report. With such a wide sphere of influence, internet usage has contributed to a 20 percent decrease in religious affiliation, according to a 2014 General Social Survey report.
From the Amish to Judaism to Islam, the Sunshine State is home to religious followers whose ways of life have been altered by today’s technological revolution.
The heart of the Florida Amish is the Pinecraft community of Sarasota with more than 3,000 permanent residents.
Devoted to a life disconnected from the general population, they lead simple lives characterized by plain dress, few politics and bare bones technology.
As Amish adolescents near the ages of 16 and 17, they engage in Rumspringa, a time when they temporarily leave the community. Created with the intention of exposing the youth to “crazy English life,” about 85 percent of them return after this ritual.
“Frankly, staying in the community may be a better alternative to retreating to the outside world,” said Donald Kraybill, author of “The Amish.” “Even without technology, the Amish way of life is the culture they grew up in. It’s the language they’ve learned.”
With more than 750,000 inhabitants, the South Florida Jewish community now boasts the third largest Jewish population in the country.
Those who identify as religious Jews follow several guidelines, including Shabbat, a weekly observance commemorating God’s day of rest. On this day, orthodox Jews strictly forbid the use of technology. Additionally, those with more fundamentalist orthodox views continue to regulate technology use throughout the week.
“There are two opposite demands in play,” said Henry Green, professor of religious studies at the University of Miami. “One is the preservation of the tradition, a value system of family, a continuity of what it means to be Jewish. On the other hand, the orthodox resistance to modernity –- and with that technology –- inhibits them in using those skills to accomplish their goals regarding preservation.”
Of course, not all Jews follow the same guidelines. Henchi Felling, director of Chabad at the University of Miami, said her family actually uses some technology on Shabbat.
“I’m very tech savvy, but unplugging every once in a while is so significant,” she said. “I have the best of both worlds.”
On the contrary, technology plays an instrumental role in heightening the convenience of Shabbat. To accommodate a 20 percent Jewish student body, the Hillel Jewish student center at the University of Miami implemented a technology called “Shabbat locks” that eliminate the carrying of keys, which are prohibited on the day of rest in some circumstances. Technologies similar to Shabbat locks, like Shabbat elevators, are further increasing convenience for the general Orthodox population.
Although the Muslim population in South Florida is smaller than the Jewish community’s, Florida maintains the seventh largest Muslim population in the country.
While those in the Islamic faith typically refrain from banning technology, some set strict standards for what is acceptable, and certain activities are prohibited. The central basis behind the Islamic disapproval of technology resides in the fear that it could lead to immorality, which could corrupt the community.
Others, however, believe that the internet is an essential tool for advancing religion. Apps such as Quran Majeed, which translates the Quran into various languages, make Islam accessible to anyone with a smartphone.
“Having an app telling you when to break your fast or which direction to face during prayer is very appealing,” said Muslim Chaplin Wilfredo Ruiz. “I personally use my Muslim apps daily. They’re especially appealing to the youth who will continue the tradition.”
From self-driving cars to hoverboards, technological innovation continues to reengineer all aspects of life, pushing the population deeper into a digital society.
But as technology advances, stories like Troyer’s are also in danger of extinction along with the traditions of the religions they stem from. Although the future of religions may be unclear, one question they must ask is certain: Adapt or be left behind?
“Some level of adaptation [to technology] is always going to be necessary,” said Paul McClure, a professor who studies the relationship between religion and technology at Baylor University. “But the landscape of religion and technology is constantly changing, so the future is hard to predict.”