I’m a little slow to getting around to reading this article, and I had meant to read it sooner since some other blog I read (don’t remember which now) had linked to it and commented on it as well.
It’s an interesting survey of religion and “spirituality” (how I hate that term!) on the internet. It is primarily from a Catholic perspective, but then this is from a Catholic magazine. The first half is an interesting overview of what it is and the latter half is analysis and commentary on that. His conclusions? Not terribly good.
“The world is breaking up,”? the mad poet Robert Bly once intoned, “into small communities of the saved.” These communities have resulted in the rise of what is known on the web as “Saint Blog’s Parish,”a ring of 758 websites where compatible Catholic bloggers can join forces to establish their own small group. Nearly every blogger links to similar bloggers, who link on to other bloggers, who all link back to the first site, until the circle closes and something emerges that does, in fact, look like a community. And yet, it is a community based on like-mindedness and tied together by remote interaction–which makes for a very strange community, indeed.
Which, I flatter myself, is similar to what I said here. Jonathan Last goes on to note,
Beliefnet’s Waldman thinks that this distancing of the self from the religious act can be helpful. “The anonymity of the Internet is what makes it work so well for religion,” he says. “It’s the flip side of why porn spreads. The same phenomenon that has led to pornography spreading, a variant of that has made religion one of the most popular topics online. It’s that you can explore religious matters in the privacy of your own home; ask questions you might be embarrassed to ask; have conversations with people with some anonymity; and do it anytime day or night.”This “anonymity combined with intimacy,”Waldman says, makes people “more inclined to open up,”since they aren’t revealing themselves totally.
To which one wants to say: Doesn’t that metaphor give you pause? Is a technique that has made pornography into the Internet’?s number-one business really a good idea for religion, the Internet’s number-two business?
And his rousing conclusion is “Shut off your computer. Take a deep breath. Go to church.” Good advice.