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 Muslim 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?
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.
All those things we try to do at church, by the way, are not easily available online. I looked up “basic tenets of Christianity” today, and Wikipedia could not impart to me the alluring beauty of Holy Mystery, or grant me the peace of prayer, or stir the inner tides of the Holy Spirit. Not even the Christian sites that came up taught me the first thing about how to fall in love with Jesus, or how to truly accept forgiveness and unconditional love.
So there's a happy marriage: Religious knowledge can be browsed on the Internet, while religious knowing is formed in person.
Rector, St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada
Technology is a very important tool in the religious education of our youth.
In this day and age, children are accustomed to getting all kinds of information via the Internet, smart phones and other cutting-edge technologies. As we know, much of the unfiltered information made available through these methods is not necessarily good for the developing mind, and some of it is downright dangerous.
Therefore, it behooves us to teach these young and impressionable minds that there are positive, spiritually rewarding ways to use technology. They need to recognize that the Internet can and should be used to broaden their understanding and appreciation of religion.
I also believe that the ability to remain anonymous when visiting religious website forums is critical to an open and honest discussion. The Web provides a special channel for candid discussion, which can lead to positive introspection and constructive progress in life.
Regular readers know that I participate in AskMoses.com, which makes Jewish scholars available for live online chat on a wide range of subjects — and which lets visitors remain anonymous so that they're more comfortable during their dialogue.
When discussing religious issues, we must take care to maintain a respectful dialogue at all times. If you don't agree with someone's opinion, that is perfectly fine, as long as you don't violate his 1st Amendment rights to free speech and freedom of worship. All too often we come across otherwise civil forums where a disagreement on a religious matter leads to acrimonious comments that have no place in a society that values civility and respectful discourse.
Overheated rhetoric and name-calling is counterproductive during any discussion, and that's especially true during conversations dealing with sensitive issues of faith.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills