An Associated Press article today highlighted the penetration of technology into religious worship, citing the example of moderate, peaceful Muslims who travel to Mecca and with cell phones share in real time the experience of circling the Kaaba with loved ones back home who were unable to make the long journey to the sacred shrine. The article also mentions the "dark side" of the use of technology in religion, i.e. the role of the Internet in propagating and disseminating the views of violent, extremist groups, e.g. al Qaeda. This underscores two important points in connection with the virtual world: 1- As Cass Sunstein argued in Republic.com, the Internet tends to have a polarizing and a balkanizing effect on society. 2- More importantly, technology can be used to create electronic shrines (in addition to the virtual trip to Mecca mentioned above, Hayutmann's Virtual Temple comes to mind). This carries the potential of liberating religion from physical territory, and therefore calming down the current territorial disputes in the world which are mostly based on religious differences, (e.g. the Middle East, Kashmir, East Timor etc.) Therefore, the Internet, although it seems to be having a polarizing and balkanizing effect at present, can mitigate this problem through encouraging it to be an attitudinal instead of a real estate issue. The main danger, however, in transitioning to this new model, lies in the MAD (mutually assured destruction) concept. The world has thus far managed to avoid nuclear Armegeddon through MAD, since enemies hold each other's cities and other valuable assets hostage. With decentralized extremist religious groups such as al Qaeda which advocate religious martyrdom, under the MAD concept, some persons, such as Jack Wheeler, believe that the best quid pro quo for not attacking U.S. cities with unconventional weapons could be leaving their religious shrines intact. However, under this scenario, the possibility of the creation of a virtual Mecca would seem to carry the potential of undermining the relative stability of the MAD stand-off. Those who believe that Mecca is part of a current MAD stalemate, such as Jack Wheeler, (but not Matt Drudge or I) can probably rest easy for now, though. According to a paper by S. Sigelman of Harvard's JFK School of Government, only about 1.5% of the world's 1.3 billion muslims have Internet access at the moment (compared to about 20% in the developed world), but this could increase dramatically over the next decade.