TERRY MATTINGLY: Facebook, for whatever reason, is trying to get religion |


There are 2.4 billion Christians in the world today, by most estimates.

Again, nearly 3 billion people have Facebook accounts. Almost 70% of American adults use this social media platform, which recently surpassed $ 1,000 billion in market capitalization.

“I’ll use Facebook to reach people, because you almost have to do it,” said Father A. Stephen Damick, content manager for Ancient Faith Ministries, a 24-hour source for online radio stations, podcasts, blogs, forums and more, said in an interview. The ministry was born in 2004 and is now part of the North American Archdiocese of the former Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch.

Facebook remains, he noted, “the # 1 social media platform in the world – by far. You cannot ignore all of these people. … We knew this before COVID, but the pandemic made it impossible to deny the obvious. Everyone had to connect, one way or another.

Facebook Live became a means of delivering worship services online, although all a pastor could do was mount a smartphone on a stand. Even small congregations have started to organize online religious education classes, support groups, and leadership meetings.

Regarding worship, it was one thing for Protestant mega-churches to broadcast adapted television services based on Christian pop-rock music and charismatic preaching. Online options were more problematic for denominations in which worship centered on the smells, bells, images and tastes of ancient liturgies.

Then, in early June, images began circulating of a Twitter post featuring “prayer posts” allowing Facebook users to “allow group members to ask and answer prayers” with just a few clicks in settings. control of a page. Participation could be as simple as a user clicking an “I Prayed” button linked to a prayer.

It is not a totally new idea. The “Prayer Warriors” Facebook group already has 865,700 active members, a larger flock than the average of the 518,000 Episcopalians who attended services on an average Sunday in 2019, according to denomination statistics.

Nonetheless, the hubbub of “Prayer Posts” led to a New York Times headline stating, “Facebook’s Next Target: Religious Experience”. The feature noted that the tech giant held a “virtual faith summit” that included testimonies from religious leaders claiming that Facebook had helped them develop their ministries during the height of the pandemic.

Could traditional religions organize rites in “virtual reality spaces”, as well as Sunday school classes in “augmented reality”? Could the ancient Jewish prayers sung by mourners be replaced by waves of comments and clicks?

At some point, pastors will also have to decide whether to trust the powers of this Big Tech superpower, noted Father Jim McDermott, associate editor of the Jesuit America newspaper.

“We are not talking about the Vatican or the Dalai Lama. … We’re talking about Facebook, a company that lives on convincing people to reveal as much of their lives as possible on their platform, ”he wrote in a comment titled“ Facebook wants you to pray with them. Don’t be fooled by their intentions.

Prayer is a unique form of communication, he stressed. Putting prayer in a high-tech setting ruled by clicks, emojis, “shares” and sympathetic or sarcastic comments “arms our prayers against us. Each click “I prayed” stimulates us and also generates anxiety. Will I have more? Will it be as much as I think my prayer deserves? What if it doesn’t? Or if someone else gets more than me? What does this say about me? Or about them? “

Then there was another truth seen during the pandemic, Damick noted. Obviously, many believers “found that going to church through their screens … was a little too easy – for some people, easier than attending in person.”

The clergy can see the positives as well. Internet programs allow many people, especially the sick and the elderly, to stay connected to the congregations they love. Podcasts and Facebook posts attract many new scholars through the doors of physical sanctuaries.

At the same time, “we have to stay aware of what Facebook is doing and what its goals are,” he said. “Facebook isn’t interested in changing the world through prayer. Facebook wants you to stay on their page and keep talking and clicking. …

“Everything you do on a social media website will be used – now or in the future – to advertise you. Facebook is not interested in your salvation.

Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.


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