Notes on “Virtual Religion in the 21st Century”

Several months ago, I received a copy of several articles that explore the intersection of religion and the internet. I want to record some of my notes on the articles and at the same time share them with you.

“Believe It or Not: Virtual Religion in the 21st Century” [PDF Link] by Susan E. George was published in 2005 in the International Journal of Technology and Human Interaction. In this article, George “explores the development of virtual religion and its impact on humanity” (63) through three main movements:

  • “First we consider the nature of religion and note that a social and communal expression is vital” (63).
  • “Second, we explore ways that technology is facilitating religious expression, noting it is both supporting conventional practice and enabling new” (63).
  • “Third, we move to consider technology in context, noting how it is ideally the application of science for the benefit of humanity, although many people have identified negatives of technology including its power to rob humanity of the essence of what it is to be human” (63).

These movements give an overview of the landscape of the internet and religion. I found particularly helpful the references to a ruling from the US Catholic bishops on The Sacraments via Electronic Communication. I will leave more discussion about the sacraments online to a future blog post. George leaves the reader with the question, “How can technology play a positive role in humanity” (70)?

How would you respond to this question?

Four Narratives for Online Spiritual Community

Several months ago, I received a copy of several articles that explore the intersection of religion and the internet. I want to record some of my notes on the articles and at the same time share them with you.

Considering spiritual dimensions within computer-mediated communication studies” is another article by Heidi Campbell that was published in 2005 in New Media & Society. Campbell presents four ways of understanding the internet:

  • Information space – highlights “internet communication and information exchange. Focus is on the ability to allow individuals to utilize a variety of technologies to interact with data” (113).
  • Common mental geography – “regards the internet as more than a tool for communication, but a mechanism that individuals can use to construct a common worldview” (114).
  • Identity workshop – “a model enabling people to use online space as a place to learn and test new ways of being” (115).
  • Social space – “the online context as a social space where making connections with people is the primary goal” (115).

In addition to these four areas, Campbell asserts that the internet can also be understood as sacramental space, which “presents the internet as a sacred space and encompasses aspects of all of these models” (118). According to Campbell, online spiritual community can be considered in several ways:

  • Religious identity – “characterizes the online community as a group committed to each other through their shared faith and chosen liturgical expression or religious tradition” (126).
  • Spiritual network – “characterizes the online community as designed and initiated by God for a specific purpose” (127).
  • Support network – “characterizes the online community as existing to provide a spiritually and emotionally supportive atmosphere, emphasizing transparency and disclosure in its membership” (127).
  • Worship space – “characterized as creating a worship space. The internet becomes a tool for transmitting spiritual activities” (128).

I found these narratives to be quite helpful when considering the direction of Resurrection Online. I particularly appreciate Campbell’s encouragement to choose a particular model, “Identifying with a particular narrative helps an online community promote internal order and maintain coherence. Each model emphasizes a particular motivation for technological use, while highlighting a shared belief that the internet can be set apart for sacred use” (129).

Which of these models do you find to be most helpful when considering the internet? Which of these models do you find to be most helpful when considering Resurrection Online?

4 Ways to Consider “Spiritualising the Internet”

Several months ago, I received a copy of several articles that explore the intersection of religion and the internet. I was fascinated. I had no idea that there was scholarly work being done on the subject. My background in biology and small experience in research combined with my current job description as Pastor of Resurrection Online lead to great interest for me. I want to record some of my notes on the articles and at the same time share them with you.

Spiritualising the Internet: Uncovering Discourses and Narratives of Religious Internet Usage by Heidi Campbell was published in 2005 in the Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet. You can download a PDF copy here. “Spiritualising the Internet means the Internet is seen as a technology or space that is suitable for religious engagement, whereby allowing users to include Internet-based activities into [the] rhythm of their spiritual lives” (2). Campbell presents four ways in which the spiritualization of the internet could be discussed:

  • “The Internet as a spiritual medium frames the Internet as a technology possessing, within the hardware and wires, an unseen realm where humanity can encounter the transcendent and spiritual experience” (13).
    • In this discourse, the internet functions as a ‘spiritual network’ (14).
  • “The Internet as a sacramental space discourse frames the Internet as space which can be shaped to allow people to engage in new or traditional religious rituals online” (13).
    • In this discourse, the internet can serve as a ‘worship space’ (14).
  • “The Internet as tool for promoting religion frames the Internet as resource able to connect with religious people and activities that can lead them to spiritual transformation” (14).
    • In this discourse, the internet is a ‘missionary tool’ (14).
  • “Finally, the Internet as a technology affirming religious life frames the Internet as a resource for building a communal or individual connection with a particular religious tradition or form of life” (14).
    • In this discourse, the internet supports ‘religious identity’ (14).

I very much appreciate Campbell’s treatment of the subject and find these four discourses to be a good classification.

The internet as spiritual medium does not make much sense to me and I do not believe that this way of spiritualizing the internet could come out of Christian tradition. The final three ways of considering the internet are all ways that Resurrection Online is seeking to spiritualize the internet.

  1. Resurrection Online seeks to encourage people to engage in both traditional and new religious rituals through the internet. Right now, this is primarily in the weekly worship service.
  2. Resurrection Online seeks to be an evangelism tool which can be used to connect with non religious and nominally religious people. I believe that this is a tool for those that are already connected with Resurrection to use when inviting others into the community.
  3. Resurrection Online seeks to affirm a United Methodist way of being a Christian with the flavor of The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection with a particular purpose, vision and journey.

What do you think about the categories that Campbell presents? How might Resurrection Online live more fully into these categories? Would that even be helpful?

Will you share your thoughts, feelings or opinions in the comments?

Top 3 People Who Visit the Internet for their Spiritual Needs

While there are many different types of people who go to their internet for their spiritual needs, here are the top three.

  • Spiritual Seekers – Non and nominally religious people who are aware that they have spiritual needs and are searching for ways in which they can be met. This may include people who have been hurt by previous participation in a faith community, those testing out a community before showing up in person and those trying out different types of faith expression.
  • Physical Barrier – These are people who are unable or unwilling to seek fulfillment of their spiritual needs as part of a physical community. This group may include those that are hospitalized or recovering from surgery, have a compromised immune system, experience chronic pain and face mobility challenges.
  • Convenience – These are people who have chosen to connect online because it is more convenient than being physically present with others. This may include families with small children, persons who are nominally committed and persons who live far from their faith community of choice.

This is one of the questions that I was asked during the interview on Up to Date last week on KCUR and my responses are based on my experience with the Online Campus at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

Is the depiction of Jesus and other religions in The Shack true?

I received this question in the open forum at the end of Discussions on The Shack last Thursday. I am going to direct back to several posts that I have written in the past on this topic.

This is a question to which I struggle to respond clearly.

I have reached the end of the questions which I had planned to respond to on my blog. Are there any other questions you have about The Shack to which I might respond? Leave a comment below…

With what theology in The Shack do you disagree?

Out of all the questions that I received last Thursday at Discussions on The Shack, I experienced this as the most pressing from those that were there. All quotes come from Young, William Paul. The Shack. Los Angeles: Windblown Media, 2007. Here are a few my areas of disagreement…

The church

  • “‘It’s simple, Mack. It’s all about relationships and simply sharing life. What we are doing right now – just doing this – and being open and available to others around us. My church is all about people and life is all about relationships. You can’t build it. It’s my job and I’m actually pretty good at it,’ Jesus said with a chuckle.” (Young, 178.)
    • I agree with this perspective.
  • “‘Like I said, I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion,’ Jesus said a little sarcastically, ‘and not very fond of politics or economics either.'” (Young, 179.)
    • I disagree with this perspective. What is the definition of “religion” or “the church”

Jesus as fully divine and fully human

  • “When we three spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that this entailed. Even though we have always been present in this created universe, we now became flesh and blood. It would be like this bird, whose nature it is to fly, choosing only to walk and remain grounded. He doesn’t stop being the bird, but it does alter his experience of life significantly.” (Young, 99.)
    • I believe that this tries to explain away the mystery and is inadequate

God as Father

  • “Let me say for now that we knew once the Creation was broken, true fathering would be much more lacking than mothering. Don’t misunderstand me, both are needed – but an emphasis on fathering is necessary because of the enormity of its absence.” (Young, 94.)
    • I disagree here – Father is how Jesus refers to God and it is in this relationship that we know God


  • “Try as he might, Mack could not escape the desperate possibility that the note just might be from God after all, even if the thought of God passing notes did not fit well with his theological training. In seminary he had been taught that God had completely stopped any overt communication with moderns, preferring to have them only listen to and follow sacred Scripture, properly interpreted, of course.” (Young, 65.)
    • I disagree and was not taught what Mack was taught in seminary. God does continue to communicate overtly.
  • “It seemed that direct communication with God was something exclusively for the ancients and uncivilized, while educated Westerners’ access to God was mediated and controlled by the intelligentsia.” (Young, 66.)
    • At Resurrection we hope that you love God with your mind.

Flickering Pixels

I just finished reading Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps. After just finishing the book I felt thoughtful, peaceful, powerful, aware and enlightened. This book was an unexpected breath of fresh air into my life.

Hipps is a Mennonite pastor in Arizona who formerly worked in advertising. He has a distinct perspective on media and how it shapes the way that we think. Hipps suggests that the book is about “training our eyes to see things we usually overlook” (14).

Hipps is a proponent of Marshall McLuhan’s phrase – the medium is the message. Hipps helped me to think critically about the media with which I engage in every day. I am more aware of the effect that the medium itself has on me as well as any given content.

Hipps ranges across a wide variety of topics within the field of technology and faith. After addressing media, images and how our brain learns and process information, he makes a clear connection with God. God communicates in many different ways with God’s creation and in a very real sense the medium is the message, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ.

I unequivocally recommend this book to those who seek to be more aware about the infoluence which technology has on life and faith.