Monday, October 12, 2009

Religion and the Internet

By Jack Weingart

One of the most distinguishable differences between life in the twentieth century and the twenty-first century is the dependability and accessibility of the Internet, which is now a global tool, platform, and virtual realm where people of all walks of life coexist. Barack Obama turned to the Internet during his historical presidential campaign to gain and update political followers, celebrities and the average person alike take to Twitter to broadcast their every thought and move, and millions upon millions of dollars is spent each year over the web through online shopping, gambling, and trading. Theoretically, an individual does not even need to leave their house anymore to order groceries, buy clothes, and maintain relationships with family, friends, and their cyberspace cohorts. Interestingly enough, web users can even attend church and practice their religious convictions online.

Since the Internet has changed nearly every facet of life, it should be unsurprising that religion has not gone unscathed. While it can be argued how dramatically the Internet has influenced religion, it is indisputable that the web has made religion more accessible to people. As Campbell explains, “Increasingly diverse expressions of spirituality and religious practice can be found online, challenging traditional concepts of the religious community” (2004:81-82).

With online religious sites, such as, people can now make virtual confessions and be forgiven for their sins with a couple simple clicks of the mouse. Web users can also join religious communities and regularly attend mass online. Take the Church of Fools, for instance, a unique online 3D interactive church that ran as a multi-user environment from May to September 2004 and now as a single-user environment. Online churchgoers can pray at pews, sing their favourite hymns, or tour the humble 3D chapel (Jenkins 2008). And the Web has not only Internet-ized Christian religions. Nearly every religious body is represented and has a voice on the Internet. There are virtual mosques for those practicing Islam, for example. And Mormons looking for love can turn to LDS Singles Online (LDSSO), a social networking website geared towards helping Mormons find a partner. The site is similar to other online religious dating sites in that it helps the faithful find partners who share the same beliefs (Scott 2002).

It is interesting to note that while religion is just beginning to pick up online, both church attendance and the overall value people have about church involvement are steadily declining. This trend is what some refer to as “believing without belonging,” a new and interesting dynamic where people still hold to religious beliefs even though “they actively choose not to belong to the affiliated religious institutions with which these beliefs are connected” (Campbell 2004:85). The Internet is one medium that makes this phenomenon possible. As a supplemental tool rather than a substitute, the Internet offers users “opportunities for personal experiences of the sacred in a mediated environment” (Campbell 2004:89). The Internet, then, can be seen as maintaining religious principles during a time when religious followers feel a bit disillusioned and detached with organized religion. As organized religion may be dwindling in numbers, the Internet is ensuring that its messages, rituals, and influence are preserved.

Works Cited

Campbell H, 2004, ‘Challenges Created by Online Religious Networks’, Journal of Media and Religion, 3, 2, 81 – 99.

Jenkins S, 2008, ‘Rituals and Pixels. Experiments in Online Church,Online- Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet,

Scott DW, 2002, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me a Mate: A Cultural Examination of a Virtual Community of Single Mormons’, Journal of Media and Religion, 1, 4, 201 – 216.

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