Most religions suggest that an omniscient and omnipotent god is continuously monitoring human behaviour. Given the influence of religion in human history as well as contemporary society, it makes sense to assume that scholars would be interested in examining god’s divine surveillance. But, despite the rising popularity of surveillance studies, there has been little discussion of this topic, likely because god and religion are touchy subjects. My goal with this post is not to cause offense or make truth claims about any particular beliefs, but to encourage research into the implications of god’s divine surveillance.
My primary argument is that, although atheism and criticism of religion have made significant waves in popular culture and may have influenced a decline in religious belief (especially since the emergence of “new atheism” in the early 2000s – heavily influenced by writers like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens), religious influence and belief in God remain common in most secular societies around the world. In North America, for example, the vast majority of citizens continue to identify with a religion:
- According to the 2011 National Household survey in Canada, although rates of religious adherence are dropping, 67.3% of the population identifies as Christian, and another 8.1% of the population identify as Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist or Jewish.
- Similarly, PEW surveys reveal that over 70% of American citizens identify as Christian, and another 5% identify as Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu.
In addition to playing a major role in self-identification, religion plays a key role in shaping every day social rituals, influencing political policies and elections, as well as shaping debates about morality. Accordingly, god and religion remain central to any study of human society.
Such studies overlap with considerations of surveillance because an essential element of religious belief is the claim that moral prescriptions are handed down by a God that is ever present and always watching. As such, even the most personal and private actions (masturbation or day dreaming) are observed by god’s “all seeing eye.” In particular, I would like to see studies examining how the notion of an all seeing God influences human behavior:
- Do individuals adjust their behavior in response to the idea of god’s all-seeing eye?
- Can the all-seeing eye have a deterring or chilling effect on thoughts/actions that religious authorities deem deviant?
- What are the specifics of this all-seeing eye? Does it differ from religion to religion?
God’s all seeing eye is particularly interesting b/c of its omniscience and omnipotence. Because he (god is usually described as male) is said to transcend all time and space, we have no private refuge in which to hide from god; even our inner-most thoughts are subject to their observation. Furthermore, god’s surveillance is judgemental. Decisions about our health and fortune while living, as well as decisions about our after-life, are made based on god’s surveillance. Accordingly, we are expected to comply with god’s expectations (as expressed by whatever religions a person subscribes to) at all times. When you put it this way, god comes across more like a judgemental supervisor and less a loving and guiding deity.