Friday, November 21, 2008

Online Religion on PBS

PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly launched a cover story, episode 1212 today on Online Religion that features your truly. The story explores the impact and implication of doing religion online as it where. Here is and excert of what I had to say:
SEVERSON: Heidi Campbell is a professor at Texas A&M University and author of the book “Exploring Religious Community Online.” She says there are very tangible reasons why the religious experience through chat rooms and social networking sites has increased in popularity — online prayers, for example.

Dr. HEIDI CAMPBELL (Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, Texas A&M University and Author, “Exploring Religious Community Online”): In fact, some of the people in my early research said that they felt more cared for and that people, when they said they were praying for them online, that they really meant it because there was some tangible artifact that they could see to really show that they were praying for them.

SEVERSON: She says the Internet extends the “global body of Christ” because someone or some prayer is always there, and she says for those too shy or introverted to speak up in church, the Internet offers anonymity.

Dr. CAMPBELL: That anonymous nature allows them to ask the questions, to get the feedback, to say things that they would never be able to say in a face-to-face environment.
For the full story check it out here.


Ken Smith said...

I think the most telling comment comes from Cathleen Falsani: "You know, I was finding that I was getting more hurt by congregational life than I was being fed and that I could find that elsewhere and still be safe spiritually."

The key word here, of course, is "safe", and I think it points to why this sort of experience can be valuable, but ultimately falls short. At best it should be understood as a sort of "training wheels" for spiritual growth. For instance, compare Falsani's viewpoint with G. K. Chesterton's:

"It is quite reasonable that the village genius should come up to conquer London if what he wants is to conquer London. But if he wants to conquer something fundamentally and symbolically hostile and also very strong, he had much better remain where he is and have a row with the rector. The man in the suburban street is quite right if he goes to Ramsgate for the sake of Ramsgate — a difficult thing to imagine. But if, as he expresses it, he goes to Ramsgate “for a change,” then he would have a much more romantic and even melodramatic change if he jumped over the wall into his neighbours garden. The consequences would be bracing in a sense far beyond the possibilities of Ramsgate hygiene."

Or C. S. Lewis: "It's a poor idea of safety first to stay where the water is shallow. God's way is to teach us to swim."

Ken Smith

Kyong James Cho said...

It seems to me that there are two underlying issues/assumptions that frame the question of the validity of online community. One is the validity of this particular technological innovation. Can online community be seen as equally good or function in the same way as face-to-face community? Here the inherent qualities of the Internet are put to question. Charles Henderson appears to believe the inherent qualities of the Internet do not lend themselves to the full, integral experiences of face-to-face community.

The second issue deals with the functionality of the Internet. The Pastor of Park street Church mentioned towards the end of the video segment that the Internet is a tool that can be used for good or for evil. Here the question is not about morality, but about the Internet's role as a tool. The video has not touched upon it, but one helpful question to raise is the debate between technological determinists and those who view technology in a more functional way.