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In Theory:

Religion and the Internet

August 22, 2009

A recent article on CNN.com reported that the number of young Muslims using the Internet to connect and learn more about their religion is increasing. One young Islamic woman even started a website “as a place for young people in the region to ‘show a different side of our religion and discuss topics big and small, taboo and not,’” the article says. How important do you believe technology is in giving young adults the ability to learn more about, and even challenge, the basic tenets of their religion?

One thing technology has done, in our denomination anyway, is change the way we approach religious education — which we usually call “spiritual formation” now.

In the olden days, young people learned the basic tenets of Christianity through Sunday school, which was modeled on the public school systems’ methods of imparting, absorbing and regurgitating information. There were books and handouts, even homework and gold stars for attendance. Teenagers memorized answers to the Catechism, in order to be confirmed in the faith. And all that was from necessity: Where else would they learn the Ten Commandments, if not at church?

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But it didn’t work that well (can you name all Ten Commandments, right now?); and it sent the counterproductive message that religion is useless and boring. Most of us who grew up in that generation of Sunday school only found a more vibrant, inspired spiritual life in adulthood (at least, the lucky ones did).

Today’s availability of information on the Internet frees us, in church, to focus on spiritual formation — the guiding and shaping of souls to know and love God — instead of religious education. We figure, “Hey, they can always Google the Nicene Creed, but if they don’t already care about God, why would they?”

So we nourish kids’ curiosity and yearning for transcendence. We teach them to pray, and engage them in worship and service. We try to offer them life-giving encounters with God and Christ, and leave the factoids up to the Internet.

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