From the Panel

Communing With God Via Social Media, Prayer Tweets: Sacrilegious or Wise?

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Below is an excerpt from "On Faith," an Internet feature sponsored by The Washington Post and Newsweek. Each week, more than 50 figures from the world of faith engage in a conversation about an aspect of religion.

This week's question: Thanks to new digital technologies, you can 'tweet' prayers via Twitter to the Western Wall or prayer requests to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. You can pray the rosary or pray the hours from your laptop. You can participate in worship services and discuss holy texts via Facebook. You can create and join faith communities on Second Life. Are social media tools a blessing or a curse for people of faith? Should we use digital technology to commune with the divine? Does God tweet?

Just yesterday, God tweeted me. I was inclined to respond with sarcasm to someone, and suddenly I got a simple three-character message from the Lord: "No!"

That kind of thing happens to me often. Well, not a literal tweeting, of course. But for those of us who believe that God does speak to us today through such vehicles as church teaching, the Bible and conscience, there is nothing really offensive about the idea of getting short and snappy messages from the Divine.

More importantly, there is no good theological reason why we can't use new technologies to communicate with God. One of my favorite pieces of spiritual writing is the journal of Therese of Lisieux (published as "The Story of a Soul"). She wrote her daily thoughts in a notebook. If she lived today, she might well have blogged or maintained a Facebook page.

-- Richard Moux, president, Fuller Theological Seminary

The danger of technology is not that it trivializes faith. After all, when Moses prays on behalf of his sister Miriam, he says merely "please God heal her" -- five words in Hebrew which are both spontaneous and heartfelt, the ideal tweet.

The danger of technology, of course, is that it will shape the message by its brevity and ease. Religion is not only spontaneous and heartfelt; it is also complex, thoughtful, reasoned, meditative. Technology (I say as I write this on a plane) encourages us to do many things quickly, not all of them well. Last week the book editor of the L.A. Times wrote an article about how difficult it is to find the mental space to read in a digital age. As a reader, I find that testimony profoundly disturbing. As a religious person, I understand that technology threatens not the beliefs of religion, but its practice.

-- David Wolpe, rabbi, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles

Most people who believe in the concept of a Divine being think he or she lives in a heaven or paradise far above that is the ultimate place of residence for the "saved," while some sort of hell realm below is where the rest will go. However, from a theological perspective, the major theistic traditions say that God is omnipresent. If this is the case, then not only would God be present throughout the universe and within each of us but on Twitter and Facebook as well as throughout the Internet. Theologians also say God in omniscient; therefore, he or she would likely know all "tweets," all blog entries, and even all e-mails.

. . . The real key is what is going on in the minds and hearts of those involved. If I use the Internet to become more involved in my spiritual search and find pages or persons who inspire me in that direction, then what is the problem?

-- Ramdas Lamb, ex-Hindu monk, professor

To read the complete essays and more "On Faith" commentary, hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, go to http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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