Having transformed the way people shop and invest, the Internet is changing how people practice their faith, The New York Times reports.
Barna Research Group estimates that 25 percent of the 100 million Internet users in 1998 used the Web for “religious purposes” – mainly to communicate with others about their beliefs via email or chat rooms, the Times says.
Steve Waldman, founder of the newly launched Beliefnet, says the Internet enables people to anonymously explore a driving need – similar to the way people can explore sex online.
Don Lattin, religion reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, says the Internet is accelerating changes already underway in American spiritual life.
“People are paying more attention to their own personal spiritual quests, and this contributes to the breakdown of institutions,” he told the Times. “It is said we are in a post-denominational era.”
Sites like Beliefnet, which includes information on roughly 50 religion, offers virtual prayer circles and even virtual memorials for deceased loved ones.
The upcoming Web site Faith.com will have seven portals covering 172 denominations, the site’s founder said.
Both sites have commerce components that include the online sale of videos and sermons.
Theologian and author Tom Beaudoin warns that such Web sites contribute to the “menuification “ of religion by emphasizing personal choice over responsibility to a religious tradition.