Religion and social media seem to have a budding relationship. This month the Vatican released an app to help believers spread the Gospel — Pope2You, while affirmed that confessing one’s sins via social media was no substitute for the real thing in person. The Facebook group Why Islam offers users the option to call associates who are “more than happy to answer your questions about Islam” while you surf the page. And a Buddhist Twitter feed is offering followers a human guide to good living in an online world.
These are just a few examples of the ways faiths across the world are not simply adapting to social media but are seeking to influence it.
Below are five social media trends in religion:
- Prayer: In Ireland the Catholic Church called for Twitter users to send daily prayer messages using the microblogging site and similar short message services. And for those far from a suitable venue, Buddhist meditation is available through the “Cybersangha,” a term used by members of the online Buddhist community.
- A way to educate and spread the word: Rabbi Irwin Kula is the president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership that is using tools like Twitter “to offer quick accessible nuggets of Jewish wisdom” and Facebook “to connect community members”. The Mormon Church has offered a platform for users to find innovative ways to spread the message of faith via social media.
- Ancient wisdom for the virtual world: “Before you post, ask yourself: Am I looking to be seen or validated? Is there something more constructive I could do to meet that need?” says @tinybuddha, a tweeter on healthy Buddhist living. “If you propose to tweet, always ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
Rabbi Daniel Lapin says the more things change, the more society needs to rely on those things which remain constant. The orthodox rabbi takes questions online on contentious issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and even taxation.
- Social media is affirming many traditional ideas: Conservative followers of their respective faiths have seized the opportunity to affirm the relevance of matters such as the importance of marriage in a secular age. For many, the internet is not a scary emergence in a rapidly moving modern world, but a new platform to spread the word.
Facebook pages like Save Traditional Marriage have helped mobilise many conservative-minded religious adherents who work to ensure states and countries pass laws explicitly defining marriage to exclude same sex-relationships. The efforts have been met with varying degrees of success.
That said, the issue of religion in social media has by no means escaped those who prefer no religion at all. The fan page “atheism” has close on 100 000 fans. Reformists in the major faiths are also seeking to use social media to redefine traditional views
- Dating: Finding a marriage partner online is gaining increased acceptance as internet speeds improve across the world. The aversion to dating or the presence of two unmarried members of the opposite sex together makes online dating a happy medium. For the Hindufaithful, especially those outside India, hinduconnections.com deals with dating right through to the perfect marriage arrangements.
In a seeming paradox, a growing number of Christian youth are also fulfilling a more traditional approach to relationships using social media. Sites such as Christian Dating for Free, with more than 7 000 Facebook fans is one example: “In all honesty, the very definition of ‘soul mate’ speaks of us,” say Madel who met his soul mate online. “We lived on the opposite side of the world, and it was tough adjusting to a long distance relationship, but we made it happen. Now, eight months after meeting on this site, we are happily engaged and looking to share every moment together.”