Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rituals and Pixels - A Review

Review of “Rituals and Pixels: Experiments in Online Church” By Simon Jenkins

The invention of the world wide web has offered society a highly accessible, highly efficient, and very fast way of accessing literally thousands of pages varying from encyclopaedias to virtual worlds. In these worlds we are able to connect to thousands of people from all over the world who have interests in pretending to be a colourful penguin (see club penguin), to attending a church service online. In the article “Rituals and Pixels: Experiments in Online Church”, Simon Jenkins sets out to explore the possibility of genuine online church services, and the pros and cons associated with a virtual church – dubbed “the church of fools”.

The “Church of Fools” was established to create a non-denominational, global, Christian community. The church itself was made to be easily recognisable as church, complete with soaring arcs, stained glass windows and an altar. However, the main issue explored by the creators was whether the experience and community of a virtual church could be as genuine and close as a “real” one. In order to achieve this goal, the creators employed real people of the clergy to conduct the services and gave the many online users the option to visually demonstrate their prayer through gestures such as blessing, crossing and kneeling. Overall, virtual church was a success for those using it for the reasons the creators intended, with many individuals stating that it was just as moving, if not more moving than their “real life” church services.

Despite this, Simon Jenkins also noted that there were many issues with the online church. Firstly, the anonymity of the users was abused, with some using derogatory terms or directing worship towards inappropriate areas of the church (e.g. other users, vending machines). Secondly, there were many attempts made to hack the “Church of Fools” to plant viruses or otherwise shut down the church. Finally, although the church proved to be very popular, due to limited computer capacity there had to be a cap placed on the number of people allowed to enter the church at one time to avoid the systems crashing.

In conclusion, it has been found that a virtual church can provide the same spiritually moving experience and community bond as a “real church”. However, due to the limits of technology and the anonymity of the internet communities such as the “Church of Fools” may be abused by users.

Jenkins, Simon. "Rituals and Pixels: Experiments in Online Church." Online - Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 3, no. 1 (2008).

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