Practicing religion through social media
Religion is defined as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. A social network is defined as the “forms of electronic communication through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages.” Given the qualities these two concepts share, it should come as no revelation that many have taken to social networking sites to find their way to God. Religion and social media are quite compatible, and the practice of religion can benefit greatly from the use of social media.
According to the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life, only 16 percent of adults in the United States do not affiliate with a major religious tradition. With close to a billion people on Facebook, believers are finding their religious path through the use of social media.
According to a Huffington Post article by Rabbi Jason Miller, “thirty-one percent of Facebook users in the United States list a religion in their profile, and more than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious.”
However, “God” is not a member of any religious pages. “God,” who identifies himself as a public figure, has only 3,392,139 “likes” on his Facebook page, which doesn’t really say much considering the amount of Facebook users. “God” posts his thoughts daily on Facebook, messages such as; “tell your loved ones how you feel,” and “forgive, even if you don’t ever think you’ll be able to forget.” “God” also asks questions, like, “who are you praying for today?” With questions regarding faith being posted on “God’s” Facebook page, followers actually respond to them, giving them a chance to confide to “God.” Prophets and other religious figures also have their own Facebook pages, which give their followers a sense of closeness to their religious figures. Quotes of the Dalai Lama are posted daily on his Facebook page, which has over 4.5 million likes, more than “God.”
In addition to using online public forums for expressing their faith, many turn to social networking sites for guidance.
Santa Monica College’s Chabad Rabbi, Rabbi Eli Levitansky, has his own Facebook page. It serves as a good way for him to send out information to a lot of people, like when he will hold learning sessions at SMC. People have the opportunity to ask Levitansky questions at any time through his Facebook page. Rebbitzen Mirel Levitansky, his wife, claims that social media has had a tremendous effect on outreach.
“It allows us to connect with students who would otherwise not connect with us, if they would feel uncomfortable asking a Rabbi directly,” said Levitansky. They constantly have people messaging on Facebook with questions and concerns about Judaism.
In the past, those desiring to delve and discuss the many layers of scripture would typically turn to their local place of worship or seminary. With the advent of the Internet, these aspiring scholars don’t even need to step outside their house. There are tons of websites and internet groups where religious students can keep up with and deliberate their respective Quranic Surah, daily page of Talmud, or verses of the New Testament.
People aren’t just looking to social media to find their way to God, but rather to find God in others. Many would rather rely on sites that are guarded for indecent images and language, than surf through the sex starved profiles of half naked men and women on more conventional “dating” sites.
Dating sites, like JDate, the premier Jewish singles community online, or Christianmingle.com, a Christian dating site, and naseeb.com, an online site where the world’s most eligible Muslim singles can meet, are becoming more popular with a growing number of users joining the sites to find a partner of the same religion. These forums add an aspect of ease and comfort when looking for a soul mate of the same religion through a computer screen. Users feel they can discuss certain things they would otherwise feel uneasy or vulnerable putting on non-religiously affiliated dating sites.
Sites like Godsfaithbook.com serve to bring those of the same religion to get together as a religious group for Bible study. These forums add an aspect of ease and comfort to looking for your soul mate through a computer screen, and users feel they can discuss certain things they would otherwise feel uneasy or vulnerable putting on non-religiously affiliated dating sites.
Social Media is even trying its hand at world peace. There are many pages that promote cross religious cooperation and friendship.
The group called Coexist states that it exists for “promoting the coexistence of all religions and ways of life in the hope of bringing about world peace.” According to the Coexist Foundation website, “since 2006, Coexist has been working to promote better understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims, and between these communities and others, through education, dialogue and research.”
Aside from fostering a sort of cultural cohesion, these sites that try to bring peace amongst the different religions do not allow anti-religious sentiments of any sort. This feature is quite important, as many religious pages preaching togetherness merely serve as forums for hateful hellions to totally ruin the mood by blowing up the wall with unnecessary racist statements. The message of togetherness--regardless of which religion a person belongs to--should be respected and appreciated, considering how much hatred is always involved in the crossover of religions.
However, many pages have been created online denouncing and mocking religious believers. The profile photo for the Facebook page, “Religion Poisons Everything,” is that of a man vomiting out various religious symbols. The page serves to circulate the idea that religion is a menace to civilization and a threat to human survival.
The extension of religious knowledge has exponentially increased through the use of social media, because it allows those, who either see religion in a positive or negative light, to share information quickly and consistently. It is with this promising attribute that we should see the firewalls of xenophobia and religio-centrism crumble, hopefully.