My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Too Much Noise

Apparently the University of Carolina jams technology in the lecture theater to eliminate distractions away from the important matter in hand – the lecture. Is that right? Are there any students of Carolina University out there to disagree?

I was at a conference at Cambridge University, UK, the other weekend, on Sustainability in Crisis. (That is another story, that I will come back to later – my report for that will be going up on the Conscious Connections website soon). Anyway,I was listening to the American Douglas Crawford-Brown, Director Emeritus of the Institute for the Environment at the University if North Carolina, US, making his contribution to an exploration of how we need to govern for sustainability. Douglas has now moved to Cambridge, where he is Executive Director of the Cambridge Centre for Climate Change Mitigation Research. And he told us that his enforced change of lifestyle has not only cut his carbon footprint by 60% but he is also much happier with a much better quality of living to boot. And he it was who mentioned the technology jamming. He should know!

I have to say that I did find somewhat distracting the clicking of laptop keyboards all around me as people took notes, not to mention the flashes of mobiles as they took photos of the power point presentations. Surely this must have distracted the speakers as well? And somehow I found it a little rude.

Fast forward to this last weekend, when I was at the Christian New Media conference in London, exploring how we can best use in our churches the many new digital media opportunities available to us. And right at the beginning we were told to switch on our mobiles. Yes, switch them on, not off! And all through the day there was a continual twitter roll up on the screens at each side of the main lecture hall, full of a continuous chatter of tweets from the assembled 360 delegates. How distracting was that!! And isn’t it somehow rude? Not listening with full attention to the words of wisdom from the platform? Even if the tweets are comments on what the speaker has just said? Perhaps I’m just old-fashioned!

But there is a serious point I want to make on all this. There is too much noise!

A new organ of consciousness

Long before the era of mass cheap travel and the universal availability of personal computers, the French Jesuit and visionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin predicted a new kind of oneness of humanity. He foresaw the massive advances in technology and communications that would create a planetary information network. He called this new organ of consciousness the ‘noosphere’. This, he said, would enable a convergence of mankind at all levels, between families, communities, organizations and nations, across all boundaries, social, cultural, economic and political. With the development of the worldwide web, and the enormous advances in global communication that this made possible, these predictions have been fulfilled. What is more, Teilhard also foresaw the possible dangers of such convergence; and that this had fundamental implications for the future of humanity if we did not consciously evolve to cope with the effects of these changes.
Teilhard lived before the age of the internet and the global communications phenomenon that he foresaw so accurately. He made a life time study out of trying to integrate theories of evolution with religious experience, particularly Christian theology. Most of all he wanted to understand the place of man within evolution and the implications that would have for our future.1 He was excited by the possibilities of his predicted new global consciousness for the future evolution of mankind. Man, he said, was at an evolutionary crossroads, and if he could overcome the dangers inherent in these changes, then he was capable of heading for a new state of peace and planetary unity. There would be a convergence of systems across the world, a coalescence of consciousness. He called this the ‘Omega’ point. He was equally clear that to achieve this new planetary harmony ‘It is not our heads or our bodies, which we must bring together, but our hearts…Humanity…is building its composite brain beneath our eyes. May it not be that tomorrow, through the biological deepening of the movement drawing it together, it will find its heart, without which the ultimate wholeness of its power of unification can never be achieved?’1” (3)

I do not believe that the coalescence of consciousness of which de Chardin spoke is fulfilled in the constant noise of tweets, or digital inconsequential chatter. That is not where humanity will be healed. Note that de Chardin spoke of bringing together our hearts, not our heads or bodies. Constant electronic noise, however much it is used to make connections between humans, distracts from our spiritual being, from our spiritual connectivity. It is true that in the conference we were shown many wonderful opportunities that digital media could bring to our churches. But that sense of spiritual togetherness, of love and harmony between all sentient beings, is found in group meditation, prayer, worship, and in the sound of silence, not in digital noise. And I believe that it will be an increased understanding of the mysteries of our global human consciousness, not digital connections, which will finally bring humans together to live and work in peaceful love and compassion and cooperation regardless of color or faith or creed.

“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
King James Bible, Cambridge Edition - 1 Kings ch. 19, vv. 11, 12

1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, written to understand what is happening to man and to help others understand.
2. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy, Collins 1969, p. 49.
3. Extract from Healing This Wounded Earth, 2011, O Books.


  1. Nature is noisy. Birdcalls, Cows mooing, wind etc. It's not the soise as such, but how smooth it is. Keyboards do not make smooth noise.

  2. Our spirit is in some kind of spiritual harmony with the "noise" - I would prefer to call it "sounds", of nature. Tempest and storm can be healing. Perhaps natural sound is smooth, digital noise is not smooth. But beyond all that I think it is very important for our spiritual well being to have times of silence, both alone and shared, when we connect through consciousness, not through chatter, whether or not that chatter is digital. Meditation and prayer both provide such situations. Taize services are useful here.