Participation in online religious communities and practices (“liking” religious pages on Facebook, posting religious messages, and joining online religious communities) has become an increasingly widespread phenomenon. A recent “Room for Debate” in The New York Times discussed the pros and cons of religious life online. Several commentators highlighted the potential pitfalls of a religious life lived solely online, including Colleen Carroll Campbell who warned that:
The same freedom from commitment that makes online faith communities appealing also can make them isolating and misleading. Technology, when used as a substitute rather than a complement for genuine religious community, exacerbates our natural tendency to present only the parts of ourselves we want others to see and to sequester ourselves from those whose different personalities and perspectives irritate or test us.
However, Diane Winston notes that research demonstrates that online religious activity can actually enhance participation in the life of “real-world” faith communities:
Researchers say Web-based activities strengthen congregations by enabling users to find like-minded believers, religion classes, opportunities for mission and service, inspirational readings and even virtual worship. Instead of reducing offline attendance, participation and financial support — as some religious leaders initially feared — online communities allow congregants to augment their weekend encounters between Monday and Friday. People use online resources, but they still attend a real-world church.
Read the entire debate here.