The exponential growth of the Cyber society and Cyber culture within the Internet has not gone unnoticed by the religious community. As I write, church web sites are being published and electronic prayer groups zip by in modems and wire networks across the globe. Even isolated monasteries like the Monastery of the Christ in the Desert (see sidebar) are able to send their Benedictine messages from their cloister in New Mexico. New age religions also use the [virtual] soil of the Internet as the center of their virtual church (see end of the Cyber society Observation for links on religious web pages).
With these in mind, it is safe to write that Religion has seamlessly incorporated itself within the realm of Cyber society. The presence of Religion in Net Culture is not an unforeseen trend. Although Religion and Modernity does not have the best relationship, Religion has learned that they need to conform with the current trends of technology to survive. Religion sees Modernity (in hand with secularization) as a threat to spiritual well-being and existence of its churches. Today for example, membership in Christian denominations is decreasing and the number of priests is on the downward slope as well.
The declining trends are placed on modern individuals tendency to think of religion as neither good nor bad but simply irrelevant. (Encarta Religion) Another reason lies in the prestige appropriated to science, the body of knowledge that made no reference to spiritual gods and the foundation of all the technologies that made human life easier. The religious organizations recognize the decline in membership and religious passivity of the general populace. Instead of going condemning the technology, they adapted to it and used it to perform their evangelical work.
Evangelicalism originally means personal commitment to Christ and the authority of the Bible (Encarta Religion). Evangelicalism can also mean the spreading of Gods word. History witnessed the churches efforts to convert people with the help of discovery and innovation. For example, the invention of the movable press type by Johann Guttenberg in Germany changed the painstaking effort of copying the bible by hand. Anyone can now access a bible anywhere they need it. With the invention of the television and radio came the TV and radio evangelists, spreading the word of their God and converting the masses.
Many churches actually own stations and record studios that would help establish the stability of their religion. The birth of the Internet, however is a whole new platform altogether. As a cyber deacon in one the new-age religions puts it (with exaggerated confidence and modulated voice), The Internet has the potential of evolving into the greatest communication tool of all time (Busch 1). The Internet is sometimes scorned as the menace and heralded as the savior of society. How has the Internet worked for Religion?
The Internet, for one, has become the primary breeding ground for New-Age churches and religion, usually creating a virtual church in the confines of their web pages. A new form of spirituality that offers individuals the opportunity to reconnect with mystical dimensions of the self and thus the wider cosmosrelationships that are typically obscured by secular culture and often are not addressed in biblical traditions. Some of these New Age Churches include Cosmosofy, Digitalism and The First Cyber Church of the Scientific God.
Most, if not all of the cyber churches try to create a church that combines love for God as related to science. For example, Digitalism is a modernized religion based on the wonders of technology and Buddhism. The First Cyber Church advocates a love for God and mankind with good science as foundation. As a whole, these new religions try to meet anybodys spiritual needs. Traditional Churches and denominations have also taken advantage of the Internet. Many of these religions have established web pages, like the Vatican, Qabalah (for insight on Jewish Mysticism) and Anglicans Online to name a few.
A list of traditional churches and their links are found at the end of this paper. The old religions like the New age religion uses the Internet to spread their message of faith with the aid of the technologies associated with it. For example, John Fredenburgh, rector of the All Saints Church in Valley Cottage NY has found a way for his congregation to participate in prayer groups without the inconvenience of time restraints. He was able to organize Is a well maintained and organized website about Sikhism.
This religion began in India 500 years ago. It showcases many images sacred to their religion. ayer groups through emails, chat, and web postings for people who need spiritual need, the physically sick who need spiritual advice. He believes that in this Internet society, people are getting more concerned with their private space. He added that he has been trying to get his group together but has never successfully done so until he tried doing it the Internet Way. For Reverend Mark Cyr of the Episcopal Church in Warwick, people who are not affiliated to a religion may stumble to a religious web page by accident or serendipity. The chances are good that these people may get interested and go through the information in the web pages.
People who experience difficulty going to church may suddenly find themselves praying with their church/congregation online as well. Furthermore, he asserts, there is not RIGHT or WRONG way of worshipping or meditating. Going to church on a Sunday morning can satisfy a person just as if he or she was physically present in his/her church. Of course, Religion in society not only involves a belief in a God but a disbelief in an Almighty being as well. Many websites exist in the Internet that deal with atheism and agnosticism, helping atheists and agnostics come in terms with their belief (disbelief or confusion).
Although no prayer groups of religious chat rooms are established, intellectual thesis, information, articles are available for any disbelieving atheist. These services however are not without shortcomings. A church is a religious community that requires connection with people. Because the Internet society is revolves around personal space and privacy, isolation is often a problem, especially if it becomes an obsession. There is something wrong if a persons exclusive exposure to society (and religion) is through the Internet. Moreover, it is essential to realize that not all the facets and services of a religion can be done over the Internet.
Confession for Catholics is bound by a vow of secrecy. E-mailing a confession may not be a great idea. The information age may benefit industrial countries where Christian denominations are dominant. But in poor countries in Africa and Asia, Online churches are currently not feasible. India for example, the center of Hinduism does not have as much Internet Access as the United States and would not benefit greatly from online Hindu churches. The same would apply to the ethnic religions found in Africa. The gap between industrialized and non- industrialized countries are widening in regards with the assimilation of information and technology.
Religion is a part of almost every known society on earth. With the arrival of the cyber society and cyber culture in the post- industrial era, it has become an essential part of this new virtual society. Although I am neither able nor qualified to predict the outcome of Religions presence in the Internet, I am confident that Religion would always be present in any society. Humans may think of themselves as modern creatures who have a firm grip on scientific evidence and reality, but there will always be some who will seek spiritual side of the truth. This is where Religion works best.