HBO’s “Silicon Valley” won praise during its six-season run for accurately satirizing Northern California’s tech startup culture. A classic episode depicts a meeting in which one of the main characters accidentally “outs” a colleague, leaving the gathered tech leaders uncomfortable. But they’re not upset that their potential partner is gay—rather, they’re shocked to learn that he goes to church. Another character later admits that Christianity “freaks people out in the Valley.”
There’s truth in the show’s satire. Having held tech jobs in Silicon Valley and Seattle, I’ve experienced a combination of hesitation and hostility toward my Catholic faith. Eastern Orthodox, Mormon and Protestant colleagues at my company have had similar experiences, leading them to worry about being open with their religious beliefs. The fear is valid. For all its talk of diversity, the tech industry has little room for devout believers. This discomfort with faith cuts off much of tech from the moral foundation it needs.
In avoiding religious believers, the tech industry fails to reflect America’s religious diversity. Around half of tech workers identify as atheist or agnostic, according to a 2018 Lincoln Network survey. That number stands out even in an increasingly secular U.S., yet the gap is no surprise given where tech recruits workers. Seattle and the Bay Area are among the U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest percentages of religiously unaffiliated residents. The University of California, Berkeley, perhaps the top school for tech talent, ended its religious-studies program in 2017.
The dearth of faith-driven tech workers and leaders leads many in the industry to view believers with suspicion. When Google employees discovered that some of their Christian colleagues hold a weekly prayer group, some responded by asking “we employ people who pray?” and “is that really appropriate to do at work?” But people of faith can be seen as much worse than oddballs.
“Silicon Valley” hit that nail on the head. In another episode, a character declares that “Christianity is borderline illegal in Northern California.” Less of a laughing matter is Mozilla’s treatment of Catholic CEO Brendan Eich, who resigned under pressure in 2014 after opposing gay marriage. Others have reported similar treatment, while untold people of faith have hid their beliefs, fearing retaliation or blacklisting. I’ve interviewed candidates who omitted attending religious universities on their résumés, and in one case deliberately misspelled the name of the pro-life group where she used to work. She didn’t want tech HR departments to discover what it was.
The hostility extends to how tech operates. A recent report by the Napa Legal Institute found that social-media platforms increasingly censor religious believers who oppose abortion, assisted suicide and transgender ideology. And the lack of faith guides tech innovation. Some of the industry’s leading lights—from Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page —are pursuing “transhumanism,” meaning immortality through tech-enabled enhancements. Absent an orthodox belief in God, tech leaders are striving to become gods themselves.
Worst of all, the lack of faith encourages a moral vacuum in which tech itself is held up as a god. Absent the guardrails that come from religious tradition, is it any wonder tech is used to censor and suppress? Is it any surprise that many tech companies are responsible for violations of privacy, value extraction, and the promotion of vice?
The approach taken with the “metaverse” is a case in point. Rather than using tech to empower people to lead better and fuller lives in the real world, the biggest names in the business are obsessed with creating an alternate reality. Tech should be solving society’s biggest problems—something religious belief tends to demand and drive—not avoiding them or creating new ones.
Tech needs an infusion of faith. It could make the industry more humane and enlightened and morally grounded, helping lift up those it currently pushes down. This transformation may already be under way, thanks to the swarm of tech companies moving from the West Coast to Texas, Florida, Tennessee and other states where religious belief still runs high. Yet with most of tech still centered in Silicon Valley and Seattle, this trend needs to accelerate. Tech isn’t a god, nor are tech leaders, but they do need God.
Mr. Rex is founder and CEO of Rex, which builds and invests in tech companies. Originally posted by the Wall Street Journal.
Sources to studies mentioned by Mr. Rex:
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