Thanks to new digital technologies, we can ‘tweet’ prayers via Twitter to the Western Wall or prayer requests to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. We can participate in worship services and discuss holy texts via Facebook. We can create and join faith communities on Second Life. Is this, as Martha Stewart (Don’t ask where that came from) would say, a good thing? Should we use digital technology to commune with the divine? Does God tweet?
To the extent that there is a personal God who receives our prayers, and I believe that there is (mostly), then tweeting those prayers to Jerusalem, Rome, Mecca or any other holy place is entirely reasonable and appropriate. In fact, it’s pretty strange to imagine a God big enough to pray to, who is not big enough to understand our prayers in whatever language or mode they are offered. But of course, this question isn’t really about God, it’s about us.
The social media which allow us to pray along with on line communities, study sacred texts with friends on Facebook, and all the rest of the new technologies which facilitate greater expression of whatever faith we hold, should all be celebrated. The fact that we even ask about such things should not surprise us though. People have resisted technological change, especially in religion since we made the shift from story-tellers sitting at camp fires to canonized oral texts. And the struggle only got more intense when the shift was made from fixed oral texts to printed ones.
In each case, large numbers of people saw the new technology as genuinely threatening. In some ways they were right.
With each great leap in technology, the meaning of religion, religious community, prayer and study have all shifted. So to the extent that some (many? most?) of the religious were tied to the way things had “always” been, they had every right to be nervous and even resentful.
But since the founding of virtually every religion on the planet was a response to something, not an attempt to preserve it, such resentment flies in the face of the most traditional religious issue, the one challenge which lies at the heart of every tradition: how do we positively change ourselves and our world in light of the present challenges we face. That has been the message of pretty much every teacher who has come to be regarded as a founding father, or mother, of a faith.
As with all new technologies, correctives will need to be built in. We need to address that it is not always helpful that a prayer can not be longer than 140 characters on Twitter, or that it is simply not possible to physically bring soup and medicine to the sick and needy in our virtual communities, including this one — Windows and Doors. But, if we really understand the stories of how traditions are born, then Twitter, Facebook and all the rest are sacred vessels waiting to be filled with purpose and meaning, no different than the printing presses which sent Bible around the world in unprecedented numbers.
Ultimately, the question is not really about either the vessels or the God to whom they are dedicated. The question is about the stewards into whose hands those vessels are entrusted. The question is not really whether God Tweets, but are we capable of tweeting anything sacred, purposeful or meaningful. If we are, then I suspect that in a few decades the most reverent among us will be wondering how we ever got along without such sacred technologies as Twitter and Facebook, and of course Beliefnet.com.