Friday, November 11, 2011

Tweets for Jesus: Religious Authority in the Twittersphere

In the past couple years Twitter has risen to the top of the social media network. Coupled with it's close friend, Facebook, these two networks play a vital role in today's digital society. What is interesting about Twitter in particular is that the forum is being used for an array of social and religious causes. Ever since the likes of Ashton Kutcher, John Mayer, and Larry King joined the "twittersphere" a couple of years ago, the idea of changing the world in 140 characters or less have forever changed how people convey their personal beliefs in the digital arena.

What is interesting about twitter is that the forum is not exclusive to the likes of the famous names mentioned above, but rather a number of Christian preachers and religious leaders have taken to the lifestyle as well. Preachers such as John Piper, Matt Chandler, and Mark Driscoll, each of which pastor congregations in the thousands, have utilized Twitter to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Cheong proposed that one of two aspects related to religious authority were taking place in the digital world: either the online realm was eroding and diminishing religious authority or it was being used to reframe and substantiate pre-existent offline religious authority. I believe in the case of these Christian religious leaders and their cultivation of Twitter, the digital medium is being used to further enforce their already prominent religious authority. The ability and readiness to send a messaged to hundreds of thousand of people through a mere text based message on a cell phone is an undeniably powerful tool. These Christian leaders are using Twitter to further their offline influence, allowing their message to spread not only throughout the globe, but across the world wide web as well. Twitter is being used to redefine and validate these credible religious leaders, and thanks to the new technology, they have the power to change the world, all in 140 characters or less.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Supplement or Substitute? (Round II)

My paper will investigate whether the online community within Christianity is a supplement or a substitute to face-to-face interaction. As discussed in earlier blogs, this is a very interesting topic that will take a lot of research and first hand experience to investigate and get properly pinned down. Possible case studies include Second Life, Facebook, and Lifechurch. For the sake of simplicty, let's focus on Facebook for now.

There are a number Facbook pages that are dedicated to Christian religious practices and community. Whether it be sermons, message boards, or prayer requests, this social network is becoming a vital player in Chrisian community. I personally believe that Facebook is being used as a substitute for the original face to face community. In many instances in my own personal experiences, people have posted prayer requests, praises, and various lines of encouragement, but fail to lead the same lives offline. Facebook is becoming a platform for religious community that is evoling into a complete substitute for the "real thing." If these other case studies, such as Second Life and Lifechurch are similar to Facebook, I believe we are seeing a trend of the online community emerging into a complete substitute for the traditional face-to-face religious community.

Friday, October 28, 2011


This week we have discussed a very interesting concept in class--identity, specifically within the online realm. In the world of facebook, twitter, and other online social networks, there is a thin dividing line between reality and the virtual realm. This same line is very much the case in terms of identity within the religious context. My question is simple: does weak dividing line help or hurt our religious identity?

I believe that online religion hurts our overall religious identity. Social networks allow people to basically pick and choose their own form of religion, and that often leaves them with this conglomerate of beliefs that are very confusing and different from the traditional forms of their religion. At the end of the day, I believe the availability to pick your beliefs of the "buffet line" of online religion takes away from the authenticity of peoples beliefs. It may be a strong claim, but the more aspects you add to your beliefs, the sooner it loses its sweetness and simplicity. If people can control their religious identity with certain boundaries within the online realm, I believe they can be successful. But these boundaries need to be had before this sound identity will be accomplished.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Online Community: Supplement or Substitute?

Similar to last week, I continually find myself questioning the validity of religious practices in the online arena. I voice this uncertainty as no means to sound disrespectful, but rather can't help but question if online worship is the thing for me. Last week I wrestled with the legitimacy of sacred online rituals. This week I shift my focus to the authenticity of online community, specifically within a religious context.

In class we cracked open the case of St. Pixels and the Online Church. Both of these online forums are a dominating presence in the digital religious world. I by no means question the impact of their ministry, but rather the personalization of online chat rooms versus face to face conversation. According to Hutchings, visitors of the Online Church "watch broadcasts, interact through a supervised chatroom, pray with volunteers in one-to one chat" (Hutchings, 7). Though these are all helpful tools to build others up in the Christian faith, I personally do not believe they can fully replace the realness of a face to face community. These chat rooms are great, but must be used as a supplement, not a substitute. As is the case with the Online Church, it is a great resource for Christians around the world, but it will not replace the profitable effects of real community.

The online community is a great tool for those seeking fellowship, specifically within a religious context. But at the end of the day, nothing is a substitute for the real thing.

Hutchings, T. Considering religious community through online churches. Retrieved from

Friday, October 14, 2011

Digital Worship: Is it real or make believe?

Over the course of the past couple weeks I continually find myself back at a single question--is digital worship truly sacred or merely superficial? From Christopher Helland's talk at the Digital Religion Symposium to the Scheifinger case study regarding online Puja rituals, I have been exposed to an array of examples in which people find the online realm as a perfect and legitimate medium for worship. Whether it is second life or a religious sponsored text based website, there are countless ways in which people use the digital world to connect witht the spiritual. Though I do recognize that this is undeniably happening, I can't help but be slightly critical of the legitimacy of these digital religious experiences. I mean this as no disrespect to the rituals and traditions of another's religious ideology, but a large part of me has yet to come to grips with the fact that one can have a truly legitimate religious experience in a seemingly superficial online world. My hope is to continually seek a greater understanding of this topic in the weeks ahead. I guess a smart step in the right direction would be for me to first lay out my personal definition of that which constitutes the sacred. Maybe then I can begin to discern between the sanctified and the superficial.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Religious Rituals and the Internet: Reflections on Christopher Helland's Talk

Throughout the presentation given by Christopher Helland, we were introduced to several themes relating to the topic of ritualism. The first was the definition of a ritual. By definition, a ritual is simply “personal engagement with the sacred.” I believe that there were many interesting aspects to Christopher Helland’s talk about ritualism. Along with his definition of “rituals”, I thought it was very interesting how he laid out the development of our digital culture over the last ten to twenty years. One of the most striking points made by Mr. Helland was that the Internet originally started as a mere four modes and is now billions upon billions of modes in size. Another intriguing point is how there is no longer a dividing line between our real lives and our lives online. Though I do not completely agree with the stance, I believe that our society is ushering itself more and more into this alternate form of reality. According to Mr. Helland, there are many forms of rituals. Let’s list a few: divination, therapy, anti-therapy, initiation, and now, the Internet.

Along with Mr. Helland’s stance on virtual rituals, I was very fascinated by how countless people of many different religious backgrounds are now worshipping online. At first, I was taken aback by how people could step into a Muslim mosque in Second Life, or how those of the Jewish faith could go into a synagogue in a virtual, online world. But now, looking back, I myself am beginning to wonder, “Could this be the new direction in which the whole world begins to worship?” My gut instinct tells me that this will not be the case, as I personally have always believed that the sacred and the religious always go hand-in-hand with face-to-face, real life relationships which I believe cannot be duplicated via virtual reality.

As for now, I still stand behind this view that online worship still has many superficial aspects to it. But I must acknowledge the fact that Mr. Helland’s talk was very persuasive and interesting in the realm of virtual worship, which only leads me to research this topic more in the days ahead.