Lent Post #35: #Let Us Type/Pray. Is the Internet Killing Religion?

A few weeks ago, one of my professors came right out and said that we are a cracked out country. Woah. Hold up. What? Now don’t worry, I’ll go right on ahead and explain that statement in context. I’m sitting in my extremely long, slightly boring at times 3 hour afternoon lecture on the methods of writing curriculum and all of a sudden, this particular professor whips out this loaded statement. He said that we are a statement cracked out on caffeine, instant gratification, and most importantly, technology, and this is why children, and even adults are struggling with education, and even church attendance. All of a sudden, I went from my baseline attitude of “I HATE THIS CLASS” to “I AM MADLY IN LOVE WITH THIS PROFESSOR’S THEOLOGY OF CHURCH!!” If you haven’t figured out already, I think church and online when mixed together become something of a sticky wicket. Don’t even talk about administering the sacraments – that’s a horrible, no go, I don’t think so. 

Fast forward to this week, when my most favorite blog, the CNN Belief Blog, wrote its own version of my professor’s rant on our internet cracked out generation: Is the internet killing religion? We blame the internet for a whole lot of things: Autism, ADHD, school shootings, violence, our own procrastination problems and not getting work done on time (and then needing to beg and plead with professors for extensions, using excuses like, “my dog ate my homework, I couldn’t get my car started, and my least favorite one that I’ve heard used, “I’m sick…”) but can we blame the internet for the failure of the church? CNN and my professors seem to agree! (And scripture might also concur…)

Earlier in Lent, I blogged on the increase in the identification of the “nones” and the “spiritual but not religious,” especially among the twentysomethings. In 1990, internet use among adults was at zero, and within that age group, those who identified as “nones” was at 8%; twenty years later, it jumped to 80% internet usage and 25 million twentysomethings who were spiritual but not religious or nothing at all. Internet usage was defined as checking your phone regularly, updating a twitter or Facebook account more than once a day, and watching more than four hours of TV a day. Further, people who use the internet a few hours a week, the survey CNN cited said, were less likely to have a religious affiliation by 2%. 

Political backlash does also play a big factor, according to CNN. Generational backlash, memories of the 80s Moral majority and Religious Right, as well as the current Republican association with Christianity tend to cause less of an interest in an association with a church or faith tradition. CNN linked the increased availability with information online with this disassociation with faith traditions, especially organized ones. 

But where are people going? Where are the twentysomethings going if they are going anywhere, since it seems that fewer are moving to Atheist associations? Many are moving to more grassroots or social justice oriented projects, where they feel as though their own voices can be heard more clearly, and away from the church traditions of their parents, which feel stuffy and confining. 

But how does the internet play a role in all this? If the internet is truly killing the church, how is it doing this? The more time society spends on the internet, the less time they spend connecting with physical, real animate human beings who come and gather. The internet, with its plethora of easily accessed videos and stories, dulls and drowns out the desire for touch, for waiting. Instant gratification becomes the norm, rather than sitting, waiting in silence – in a generation accustomed to “get the best, the greatest, the newest,” church, which is all about sitting and praying for the movement of the spirit, becomes obsolete. Where gathering on Sunday was once a valued and treasured part of community – both physical and spiritual, now people post things online, only to “check back”  for feedback, reception and validation. Community occurs over hours, days and potentially even weeks, without any face to face interaction, with more expectation of anonymity. 

Does this mean that the church needs to engage more in social media to draw the social media cracked out individuals into church? Or, gasp, start an online church to draw in those who prefer to spend their lives on the internet? I don’t think the future is online, nor do I think the totality of human interaction should be conducted there. The sacraments cannot and should not be administered online, pastoral care cannot be conducted online, and God forbid, a funeral shouldn’t be conducted via Skype, a hashtag or a twitter handle. Humanity, the church and the grace of God has survived through the ages, through the gathering of broken but reconciled human beings one or more days a week. 

Church needs social media to connect with youth and the twentysomethings to some extent. But should church transition entirely from four walls, hymns, communal singing, the passing of the peace using awkward hugs and handshakes, and the joyful coffee hour after worship, to “WiFi Worship” with cyber peace passing, cyber prayer, and God forbid, cyber sacraments? A firm NO from this seminary student and ordination candidate. Church is about gathering, be present with and for, in the flesh, as Christ did. The Apostle Paul talks about imitating Christ, and to me, church is all about working toward a Christ-like existence. This doesn’t mean being “all high and mighty,” but more about spending time working with and among, strengthening, and building up the other members of the Body of Christ. 

Nobody has to go to church to do anything today. So why should people go? People should go to be a part of the body of Christ if nothing else. To receive the sacraments if nothing else. But life should be more real than hashtags, twitter, and days summed up in 140 characters or less shoved out into the anonymity of cyberspace. Faith cannot be conveyed in 140 characters,  in soundbites, in a “status update.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ deserves more than that, deserves more time than that. He died for far more than that, and therefore, he deserves the Glory and the Honor, if nothing else. 

Christ had the courage and the gall to die on behalf of sinful humanity. Yet we have the gall to insist on an existence crammed into soundbites, on our terms. Sit still, fit into the pews, and find yourselves just a wee bit uncomfortable with faith. Not a faith that moves at the speed of the World Wide Web or a Google Search, but that of the amazing and miraculous God who was willing to shed blood on a cross FOR YOU. You’d be surprised that the information conveyed from a pulpit, from a real human being, not from a space bar or a pixelated screen, might actually be worth sitting down for. 

Ultimately, technology and the internet seem to be hurting the church in one key way. The internet makes us impatient. It keeps us from being still and listening for the still small voice, the call of God on our lives. It makes us more narcissistic, more egotistical, and more “me”-driven, rather than God-driven. It calls us to place the blame first on others and second on ourselves. The internet gives us the expectation that the world happens right here and right now, on our timeline, not on God’s, and that with the push of a button and the click of a mouse, we get what we want, right now. And if the page doesn’t load in less than 10 seconds, it is an outrage. Hit reload over and over and over. You cannot hit reload on God, nor on church. Life doesn’t work that way, nor does faith, or does church, and if you find one that does, bless you, but is that truly the body of Christ? 

I’ll leave you to ponder the permanence and reality of that question. 




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