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Beware of Convenient Fellowship September 8, 2011 Colleen Carroll Campbell is a columnist for The St.

Louis Post-Dispatch, a forme r speechwriter for President George W. Bush, the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy and the host of Faith & Culture, a T V and radio show on EWTN. The popularity of online religious networks makes perfect sense in our fragmente d, consumerist culture. On one hand, the modern relegation of faith to the priva te realm of life has left believers starved for fellowship and community. On the other, Americans increasingly regard religious views as products to be adopted or discarded at will, depending on how they suit our personal tastes. We shop fo r churches, mix and match traditions and even hopscotch within a given tradition to find the pastor or rabbi or guru whose view of God meshes most closely with our own.

The freedom from commitment that makes online faith communities appealing also c an make them isolating and misleading.. In such a religious marketplace, online faith communities understandably thrive. They offer a quick hit of fellowship without the hassles that characterize bric ks-and-mortar religious communities: the rambling sermons, the grating fellow pe w-dwellers, the squabbles over everything from doctrine and liturgy to the plann ing of the church picnic. If you don t like the dogmas or moral rules touted on on e religious site or Facebook page, you can click to another or, better yet, star t your own. Same goes for the fellow believers you encounter in virtual faith co mmunities. You can confide in them your deepest fears, hopes and dreams, then un friend them instantly if they prove annoying. In a real-world faith community, u nyoking from fellow churchgoers is rarely so neat or clean. But here s the rub, the one Pope Benedict XVI was getting at when he warned social media users against constructing an artificial public profile and enclosing onesel f in a sort of parallel existence : The same freedom from commitment that makes on line faith communities appealing also can make them isolating and misleading. Te chnology, when used as a substitute rather than a complement for genuine religio us community, exacerbates our natural tendency to present only the parts of ours elves we want others to see and to sequester ourselves from those whose differen t personalities and perspectives irritate or test us. The virtual faith experience is smoother and more painless than the real-world o ne. But it is also less likely to foster the kind of deep spiritual growth that comes only from authentic, face-to-face community from grappling with religious teachings and disciplines that challenge our natural inclinations and religious believers whose rough edges help us recognize and soften our own. Seeing God in Others' Faces September 8, 2011 Rabbi Daniel Nevins is the Pearl Resnick Dean of The Rabbinical School and dean of the Division of Religious Leadership of The Jewish Theological Seminary. Long ago, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed, Peace, peace to those who are far and th ose who are near, says the Lord (Isaiah 57:19). While his original intent may hav

e been metaphorical God addresses both the righteous who are near and the wicked w ho are far these words can also be read more literally. Religions flourish when th ey have both an inner circle of spiritual intensity and also an ability to reach those who are either physically or spiritually distant from the center.

We prefer to emphasize physical environments such as the sanctuary, the dinner t able and even the marital bed on Shabbat.. The Internet has quickly become an indispensable tool for both types of contact. And yet something substantial is lost when electronic exchanges wholly replace physical gatherings. The Book of Exodus describes the Holy Ark as bearing two ch erubs facing one another. In the space between and above this encounter is the d ivine presence. So, too, do we feel a spiritual energy when in the presence of a nother person. The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas wrote powerfully about th e experience of looking into another person s face and finding there the commandin g presence of God. The Sabbath is a core component of Jewish spirituality, and it is no accident th at it emphasizes a local and interactive experience. In Exodus we read, Let no on e leave his place on the Sabbath day (16:29). Most observant Jews today avoid the use of all electronic media on the Sabbath and other festivals. A technical rea son is that we are not supposed to write or make durable records on Shabbat. But an additional reason is that we prefer to emphasize physical environments such as the sanctuary, the dinner table and even the marital bed on Shabbat. The seve nth day is a time to stop traveling, to stop multitasking, and instead to cultiv ate an intense sense of presence. In the presence of family, friends and religio us community, we can also discern the ultimate presence of God. Did Cybersex Replace Sex? September 8, 2011 Ronald E. Hopson is an associate professor of psychology and divinity at Howard University. I suspect online religious communities will go the way of other online innovations : it will reach a critical mass and then face a backlash, like the recent de-Face booking movement. As long as we are sentient beings, we will require direct conta ct as a principal mode of interaction.

As long as we are sentient beings, we will require direct contact as a principal mode of interaction.. The ethereal characteristics of religion notwithstanding, at the end of the day, religion is about community, contact, belonging and connection not only each pe rson s connection to a higher power, but also people s connections to each other. Co nnection to God is often thought to be mediated through personal connection, thr ough the actual physical presence of others. Electronic bits may prove inadequat e to convey the same rich experience of encounter. Ultimately, virtual gatherings will not be enough. It is as unlikely that online religion will become the predominant vehicle for religious encounter as it is t hat online sex will replace the actual encounter. Spreading the Good Word, Online

September 8, 2011 Diane Winston is the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Sou thern California. Christophe Simon/Agence France-Presse Getty Images It takes time and thought to shepherd the flock online: A priest was multitasking as Pope Benedict XVI celeb rated a Mass last fall in Spain. Back in the 90s and early 00s, online prognosticators envisioned a new religious o rder based on networks of affinities that transcended time and space. Some imagi ned new spiritual communities coalescing in virtual space; others expected tradi tional religions to morph into new Web-based forms. Still others predicted that cults and charlatans would flourish. And indeed, sites like Second Life have brought seekers together, and Facebook d oes make it easier to find like-minded Bu-Jews (blending Buddhism and Judaism). Meanwhile, religious organizations and local congregations have built sites that expand their offline offerings, providing new ways to serve members and attract prospects. But according to recent academic studies, 2011 s online religious expr essions have not lived up to the hype of the 90s.

The Internet has been a mixed blessing for congregations, denominations and reli gious institutions.. Instead, a faith community s online presence tends to supplement face-to-face rela tionships that begin at a local church or synagogue. The virtual experience can entice online visitors to try the real thing in person. Researchers say Web-base d activities strengthen congregations by enabling users to find like-minded beli evers, religion classes, opportunities for mission and service, inspirational re adings and even virtual worship. Instead of reducing offline attendance, partici pation and financial support as some religious leaders initially feared online c ommunities allow congregants to augment their weekend encounters between Monday and Friday. People use online resources, but they still attend a real-world chur ch. Still, online religion has been a mixed blessing for congregations, denomination s and religious institutions. Launching a smart, user-friendly site requires tim e and resources, and staying in touch via social media streaming sermons, upload ing content to YouTube, tweeting to the youth group, reaching out on Facebook ta kes time and thought. There s more to do, and doing it well is crucial. Like consu mer sites vying for eyeballs, clicks and stickiness, religious organizations use branding and marketing to attract attention in a bountiful virtual bazaar. Whil e the ensuing compromises appear chilling to some, others may simply see a slick ly designed homepage as the latest iteration of the gospel mandate. Believers but Not Churchgoers September 8, 2011 The Rev. Cheryl J. Sanders is the senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington. As a pastor, it is my responsibility to encourage participation in face-to-face

meetings at the church each week for worship, prayer and Bible study. While I ca nnot foresee a time when virtual contact will take the place of direct human con tact, in my experience social networking enables additional conversations, inter actions and sharing of information that reinforce the sense of community at ever y level of our lives. Our church has a Facebook group, and I include church memb ers as friends on my personal Facebook page. Some of my most frequent Facebook p osts come from members who are very quiet (or absent) when the church gathers fo r worship, but who readily speak up online to share their opinions, photos and l inks to news about religion, politics and popular culture.

Online communities are a tool for reaching a generation whose personal prioritie s do not include church attendance but who spend hours each day online.. Social networking works wonders for the instantaneous sharing of information of importance to church members, such as invitations to special events, solicitatio ns of prayers for members and friends in crisis, and the sharing of suggestions for worship at home when church services are canceled because of inclement weath er. While social networking does not replace human contact, it provides opportunitie s for virtual participation in religious community by members who cannot attend church because of work, illness or relocation and by students who are away at co llege. Moreover, it is a tool for reaching a generation whose personal prioritie s do not include church attendance but who spend hours each day online. Jesus ca lled fishermen who were experienced at working nets full of fish to follow Him a nd become fishers of men. It is my hope that the work of calling people to faith i n this century will be vigorously embraced by a virtual community of disciples w hose skills in social networking are employed not just for self-absorbed amuseme nt, but also for the care of human souls. A Supplement to Congregating September 8, 2011 Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African Amer ican Studies in the Department of Religion at Princeton University and the chair man of the Center for African American Studies. Online communities of faith will not displace traditional forms of religious lif e. Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites have not replaced typical interactions among a wide range of Americans. Even with the millions of people who use these sites, folks still hang out with their friends and share a range o f emotions face to face. The actual experience of worship and fellowship with others remains a critical p art of any religious community, revealing that faith journeys are not simply iso lated, individual efforts. But communion with others in prayer, in the breaking of fasts, in the participation in ritual practices deepens our sense of who we t ake ourselves to be as members of a particular religious tradition.

Religious leaders need to use these sites to deepen the communal bonds that are so central to our individual faith journeys.. Online communities stand as a supplement of sorts. They enable a connection acro ss physical boundaries. Folks from California, Mississippi and New York can join

with others around the globe to exchange views about their beliefs, to debate d octrine, and to affirm their commitment with like-minded people. Online communit ies then can strengthen the bonds of faith. But supplements can also disfigure and distort. Technological advances inevitabl y affect the way we experience communion with others. In the U.S., those technol ogies have affected how we have lived our religious traditions. The insights of industrial expansion informed the revivals of the Second Great Awakening. Radio and television fundamentally transformed our national religious landscape in the 20th century. Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday understood the impact of rationa lization and entertainment on the task of harvesting souls. Now we have the Internet full of online communities of faith. The challenge is n ot to give in to the anxieties that inevitably follow such an extraordinary deve lopment. Warnings like Pope Benedict XVI s aren t very helpful. They reveal, more th an anything, feet stuck in mud. Instead, religious leaders and communities need only think creatively and imaginatively about how best to use these sites to dee pen the communal bonds that are so central to our individual faith journeys. COMMENTS

Given the failure of religious experience, brick & mortar churches with hard & f ast doctrine grow increasingly irrelevant. Thus, it should come as no surprise t hat on-line religiosity is gaining a presence. The pope'a concern may or may not be genuine as his opinions are published on-line as well. The paradox of papal criticism of on-line religiosity when viewed on the Vatican website is devilishl y fun. Religious experience is not limited to what established church leaders say it is . As to the fear that on-line religiosity may lead to moral relativism...that ship sailed long ago. The Catholic church began warning the Great Unwashed about rel ativism when Luther nailed his gripes up on the cathedral door. The mullahs warn ed about the infidels. The Hindus warned about the Buddhists. The idea that "rel ativism" is a new phenomenon, and a disaster to boot, is simply unsupportable. A ll religions are relativistic and given the rather poor track record most faiths have as to inculcating their beliefs into the minds of their followers, it seem s that most are utter failures. People are fallible creatures and will choose that which suits their needs best. Nothing new there. RecommendRecommended by 5 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 2. Rationalist Reality September 9th, 2011 8:16 am It is more convincing, and convincing is needed, when an actual person confirms

for you that your belief in an invisible entity without demonstable impact on th e physical world is justified. Also, while belief in god is a sign of an unquest ioning mind and a tendency toward willful ingnorance, getting together with like -minded people to do good works is quite commendable. On-line religion keeps the superstition but jettisons the socially redeeming aspects. If you must believe in god, stay in church and organize to do good works! RecommendRecommended by 2 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 3. DP NYC September 9th, 2011 8:58 am Religion on Facebook: Another face of foolishness! Profestations of religion do not predict behaviour. Religiousity is no guarante e of good behaviour and no assurance to another person that the religious person is any better morally than anyone else. I am as interested in another persons religiosity as I am of the spiritality of a monk! What's in it for me. Probably nothing, and possibly harm! RecommendRecommended by 2 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 4. retrorichard China September 9th, 2011 9:09 am "Deep spiritual growth..." I find I'm not sure what that means. Perhaps the answ er will be something like...whatever you want it to mean...or, ...different thin gs to different people. We are different...unique, even, an All-loving Creator m ade us that way, but, treating religion...re=again, ligio=tie, bind, as somethin g we add to ourselves, instead of the template of our purpose in living and idea l pattern for life, is the original mistake. I suggest that there is a higher fo rm for our relationship to our Creator and each other. It's embryo is found in e very historical, revealed religion we know...experiences that, until the last co uple of centuries, have been in isolation. How many Muslims truly understood wha t Muhammad meant when He identified Himself with Christ, Moses, Noah and Abraham ? How many have endeavored to, as He insisted they must, come to know these Mess engers of past ages in order to know and understand His Message? There is a prog ression here that is critically meaningful to our life...our real life, not a cy ber existence. A demand that we learn from each of these experiences in order to understand and accept the One for the age in which we are living. The Creative source is single, mankind is one kind, and Religion is not a boutique we may bro wse for what we want. It has proceeded from One Source for the benefit of all me n. Here is a quote that applies, regardless of the forum: "Religion is, verily, the chief instrument for the establishment of order in the world, and of tranqui lity amongst its peoples. The weakening of the pillars of religion hath strength ened the foolish, and emboldened them, and made them more arrogant. Verily I say : The greater the decline of religion, the more grievous the waywardness of the

ungodly. This cannot but lead in the end to chaos and confusion. Hear Me, O men of insight, and be warned, ye who are endued with discernment!" RecommendRecommended by 2 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 5. Adam Copeland Moorhead, MN September 9th, 2011 11:17 am Thanks you, NY Times, for joining the debate on digital life and digital faith. I'm grateful for your strong coverage of religious issues, especially when so fe w outlets do so these days. I wonder, however, about what those who lead online communities of faith, those whose primary mode of faith formation and interaction is online might say. As a Presbyterian pastor, my initial reaction to the commentators is gratitude they a ll affirm the importance of in-person faith communities. But I'm biased: that's where my livelihood lies. I've used Twitter as a metaphor for the body of Christ, the Church before. Surel y there's further ways digital life can at least augment our faith positively, i f not enrich it in new ways never possible before. RecommendRecommended by 1 ReaderReport as inappropriate . 6. Lara Brownsville, Texas September 9th, 2011 11:32 am I can now understand better why the world is in such miserable condition. Presum ably intelligent people still talk seriously about myths as if they were real. T he result is that "believers" are inspired as ever in the past to act out their basest inclinations in the name of such myths. If intelligent people devoted the ir efforts to save the planet, secure peace, achieve international social justic e, protect the poor, liberate women and ban weapons of every kind, the world and humanity would have some hope for the future. But, against all evidence of the ages they still trust magic and incantations, organized and disorganized religio n, fellowship of like-minded believers that often amounts to rigid ethnocentrism . I would have some hope for the future if Socrates were discussed on Facebook, I mean, the secular brand of the Golden Rule. RecommendRecommended by 5 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 7. McSpinster

New York City September 9th, 2011 7:12 am Virtual anything is not the same as/good as reality. Does this really need debat e? RecommendRecommended by 3 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 8. travelersabode New Haven September 9th, 2011 12:17 pm Virtual connections are of great value in spreading news--however as an ancient prayer states of God, "when two or three are gathered in your name, you will be in the midst of them." Nothing replaces the community we need even more desperat ely as we sit before our computers, alone. Communities that worship, enjoy each other and the mystery of God's presence, and reach out to the edges of our socie ty to welcome others into our midst and to serve those in the most need can neve r be replaced. RecommendRecommended by 1 ReaderReport as inappropriate . 9. Scientella Palo Alto September 9th, 2011 2:32 pm First correlate IQ with Facebook users. Then correlate IQ with believers. Of course Facebook users are disproportionately religious. These things go toget her. (I do not have a Facebook account and treasure my privacy. I am also a A-theist! ) RecommendRecommended by 1 ReaderReport as inappropriate . 10. Avon

New York September 9th, 2011 6:35 pm I think it depends. Deep spiritual growth certainly exists, but just as it's a somewhat different th ing to different people, it's reached differently by different people. One can be a solo hermit or join a cloistered sect and be isolated from human va riety and real life regardless of the solitude - community thing. One can have a richly open, deliberative "spiritual friendship" with someone, or with a small group, online or by telephone ... or it may be synthetic or hollow as the author suggests. I think the key is for each individual to give themself what they need - and to reach out as needed to determine what that may be. RecommendRecommended by 0 ReadersReport as inappropriate . 11. miriam Astoria, Queens September 9th, 2011 8:50 pm Scientella (#9): I too am a holdout against Facebook because I value my privacy. I'm also a Chris tian. So what? Many of my co-parishioners, especially the young, have Facebook accounts but the y still show up on Sunday mornings. Meanwhile, the eateries of Astoria are packed with other locals having brunch wi th their friends. Temptations to skip church have been around since the first century--see Hebrews 10:25. But as Johnny Cash used to sing, flesh and blood needs flesh and blood. And that includes those who are different from us. As C.S. Lewis observed, to ta ke the Sacrament at the Altar you must go to church (if you're physically able), where you meet the grocer and realize you're not worthy to clean his boots. But the idea that online contact has actually replaced face-to-face contact, rat her than supplementing it, strikes me as one of those bogus trends that the Time s loves to hype up. Yes, there are some people who have no other social life, bu t they are probably those who would have no f2f social life in any case, usually because of some disability. Most of them probably feel that "not good to be alo ne."

Religion in the generic has always served many purposes: explicating the mysteri ous nature of humanity, life and the cosmos; gives some clarity to ethical and m

oral questions and mandates; and, communion. As science has responded in a methodoligal and definite manner to many questions which, in the past, the religions first fought science -- e.g., Galileo, Newton , Darwin,...Einstein... But most major religions have now integrated these findi ngs as new understandings were formed. Of all the Western nations, the United States has taken Christianity far more li terally than the other countries and cultures. Most European nations now keep the ritualistic aspects and take the formerly believed literal aspects as metaphor or myth. But, people are social animals and the need for communal interaction remains. So , some use the church to be together and form relationships. Others forsake reli gious experinces and, instead, use the so-called social media. Or, partake in bo th. Communion is important for many reasons. One is that it helps to get you through the night. And, we are social creatures by nature. RecommendRecommended by 1 ReaderReport as inappropriate . 2. RC Pompano Beach FL September 9th, 2011 11:33 am "The seventh day is a time to stop traveling, to stop multitasking, and instead to cultivate an intense sense of presence. In the presence of family, friends an d religious community, we can also discern the ultimate presence of God." I think that if it's even possible to truly "discern the ultimate presence of Go d", it ultimately is a discernment engendered from within... and no amount of tr adition, and no long-standing religious rites and ceremonies can, or will, engen der it. Millions of people throughout the ages, having been exposed from birth and then throughout their adult lives to communal religion and its rites, have not only n ot felt this discernment... they are in fact "non-believers", despite the life-l ong indoctrination and exposure. Mr. Nevins last paragraph re the 7th day, does touch upon a good-nerve though. I t is the promotion of a common-sensical day-off from the stress and seemingly no n-stop rat-race that most of us are embroiled in, in our "modern" culture and to reconnect with ourselves and with our families. Regarding Facebook and its ability to bring like-minded religious people togethe r, or not, I ll rear my sometimes anti-tech head by saying, that it s a non-issue fo r me. I don t care. religion is about community, contact, belonging and connection not only each perso n s connection to a higher power, but also people s connections to each other. The above statement, about religion is accurate. The religious take comfort from co

nnecting

with others in the expression of their particular religious faith.

I think though, that there should also be mentioned that these connections serve t o validate that which ultimately cannot be validated, i.e. god, saints, miracles , etc or in other words, the the efficacy of faith. Faith may be there, but what is believed in is unquantifiable. Togetherness, connections , serves to not only strive to validate religious faith am ongst the connected it contributes to a sense of well-being derived from sheer numb ers. The more people that connect by being in each others presence, and the more people that are members , the greater sense of well-being. Numbers lends to the cr edibility of the righteousness of the particular religion . So many of us can t possibly be wrong. But then there s ones personal sense of something greater than us in the cosmos, p erhaps divine, perhaps not. Feeling some semblance of this perhaps divine someth ing greater than us in the cosmos, and contemplating it in various forms, might be called simply, a sense of spirituality. Unlike organized religion, it is not predicated upon communal sharing, nor shared rituals. It can be shared in conversation, possibly expressible. But ultimately, it is so mething singular within the self, because ultimately, whether in a grand cathedr al with 2,000 like-minded people, or sitting alone in a park we are alone inside our own minds. Or, if you like, alone within our own spirits. Can online communities like Jesus Daily take the place of offline religious life , like what happens at synagogues and churches? Believers but Not Churchgoers Thank you for your contribution to this very interesting question. The power of the computer age is certainly a good thing when it is used in the right way to find Jesus from the Christian's point of view. Of course it has its drawbacks. The older generation of people who are a bit 'frightened' of compute rs, or are computer illiterate, would find it almost impossible to find Jesus vi a the computer independently. The social interaction at the church is so importa nt, and really can never be replaced. The Eucharist service, the memory of Jesus ' last supper, and the accepting of the consecrated body and blood of Jesus by a n ordained minister can never really be replaced by computer, this is just my op inion though. From my believer in the Holy Trinity beliefs point of view though, I think that the computer, and internet Christian services are invaluable. Gett ing the truth of god's message across by the preaching of sermons is a true bles sing to myself and I'm sure many other people out there. When you love somebody like the Lord Jesus, and we have rights to practice our religion in safety and f reedom, like we do in the western world, it's a honour and privilege for me to g et closer every day to Jesus via the computer as well as attending church servic es. True fellowship comes when you meet people face to face though I believe, an d the knowledge obtained about the Holy Bible from the internet, can help our co mmunication of the 'great commission' being god's will found in Matthew twenty e ight, to enhance Christian fellowship around the world.