Tuesday, February 24, 2009

“Getting that Online Religion”

In a NPR segment back in 2007, religion on the internet was discussed, particularly how the internet is changing the way we communicate with the holy. An interview with Godtube.com (now Tangle.com) founder Chris Wyatt provided some interesting insight on the ways the internet appeals to the religious. Hyatt’s Godtube.com, a video-sharing site that includes a virtual prayer wall, gives believers and nonbelievers alike a way of getting in touch with the spirit online. For believers who are already members of a church sites like Godtube.com provide a community where people from different parts of the world and of different religious backgrounds come together and share ideas and beliefs through blogging, videos, and participating in the prayer wall. It also provides a venue for church members to reach new people (“spread the message”) in an increasingly secular environment. As discussed in class, virtual communities offer individuals with shared interests and identities a forum to come together “under the same roof” and engage in religious activities. It seems that Godtube.com and the like bridge social capital; they provide limited social support and broaden the social horizons and worldviews of those who frequent the site. These sites also have the capability of enabling bonding social relationships between people and creating stronger personal connections.

For nonbelievers, the site provides access to a variety of religious denominations and media. Websites like Godtube.com are opened to everybody and therefore an environment where people of different persuasions are welcomed and encouraged to participate. Some people often find it easier to ask tough religious questions online as opposed to in person due to the anonymity the internet affords. Cyberspace in general allows disabled and other marginalized people to feel as if they are part of a community.

However, religion online does appear to have it limits. The most notable discrepancy between online and offline religion is the relative inability to fully recreate a religious experience online. One reason for this is due to the limits of modern technology to provide one with the physical and mental feeling of a religious experience such as prayer and confession. Aside from programming issues, people often face issues of religious law that prohibit them from engaging in religious practices online. For example, conducting religious services in a synagogue created in Second Life is not allowed. However, it is evident that the internet is changing the ways we practice and think about religion in our day to day lives, and therefore, it may be that someday soon people will be able to engage a ‘real’ religious experience online.