Spreading the word in cyberspace

The anticipation of chocolate eggs and rabbits, the promise of a long weekend and arguments over Easter trading tend to overshadow Easter remembrance and celebration as the most significant event within the wider Christian community.

It is an event marked by weeks of preparation by some, and one of the few times when others on the fringe of the Christian community for most of the year turn up for a church service.



Yet while numbers might seem higher than usual in church on Easter Sunday, an increasing number of the faithful are now looking to the online world for spiritual connection and nourishment, either to supplement their regular church life or to replace it all altogether.



This Easter we see all sorts of Easter-related online spiritual content being created. You can take a pub quiz about Jesus at sites like rejesus.org.uk, take part in online meditations on the Stations of the Cross and post a prayer to a virtual prayer space.



Or post and read articles on networks of blog exploring the seasons of Lent and Easter, and attend a virtual reality service in the Anglican Cathedral of Second Life. It's a really eclectic mixture of institutional and individual efforts.

This pursuit of a virtual Christianity through email, blogs, podcasts, and online social networking is somewhat ironic. Christianity is, after all, oriented around the assertion that God became flesh and blood in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and moved into our neighbourhood - a move towards the material from the purely spiritual or virtual.



Nevertheless, both institutional Christianity and individual believers are progressively spending more time and resources in online environments.



That institutional Christianity has taken an interest in the online world should not be a surprise, given the way it has historically used books, magazines, radio and television to further its mission. So we see a huge number of websites being developed for individual congregations, denominations and para-church organisations complete with multimedia resources, virtual ministers and online stores.



Whether it is vatican.va or the local church down the road there often seems to be frenzied activity along the lines of "if we build it, they will come". And it's not just static websites being created, with the Catholic church in Australia creating a social networking site for last year's World Youth Day and GodTube recently rebranding itself as it moves from being a Christian YouTube to becoming more like Facebook or Bebo.



What might be more surprising to some though is the extent individuals have developed their spiritual lives online. One of the main thrusts of the Protestant Reformation was its assertion that individuals could relate directly with God without having a priest acting as mediator.



This idea of a "priesthood of all believers" is echoed in today's new media environment with consumers now less dependent on third parties mediating information for them. Blogs and other forms of content-creation allow consumers to become producers of information and become, as one person has put it, part of the "mediahood of all receivers".



Spiritual and religious resources and ideas can now be created and propagated by individuals and small groups cheaply and freely, supplementing those produced through traditional channels.



One of the side effects of this is the development of networks of individuals across geographic and denominational boundaries in ways not seen in the past and transcending traditional structures of religious authority and organisation. For example, where the content of faith was shaped by the physical community one belonged to, those with questions about faith and life can now investigate and discuss those instantly with others in the online networks they've joined.



Just as access to the printing press changed the face of Christianity in Western Europe, so too the internet has the potential to change organisational dynamics within those parts of the Christian community that enjoy access to it. The very real spiritual needs being met online for some believers, and the claims they make about the nature of community they find, raise some interesting questions as to just what an authentic religious community looks like.



Can it be found online, or does it need to have a face-to-face flesh and blood element to it?



In this world it might be hard to see where the figure of Jesus of Nazareth might fit in. What might a first century Palestinian Jew have to do with the internet?



Perhaps he'd have accounts on the social networking sites of this world, Twitter, as he journeyed around, and maybe even run a blog at VerilyISayUntoThee.com.

The author is a lecturer at the School of Theology, University of Auckland. This article was originally published in the New Zealand Herald.

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Apprentice IT Technician

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

    1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

    £153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

    Sales Associate Apprentice

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

    Apprentice C# .NET Developer

    £150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We provide business administration softw...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal