[SOUTH AFRICA] Many have expressed fears that the Internet is isolating individuals and replacing actual communities with virtual ones. According to a report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project these fears are as invalid as the fears that pure play e-tailers would eliminate bricks-and-mortar stores – at least as far as religion is concerned. Instead, as with commerce, the Internet is complementing existing religious institutions.
The survey received detailed and wide-ranging responses from over 1,300 churches and synagogues in America, and showed that the Internet is being used by congregations to strengthen the faith and spiritual growth of members, to evangelize and to perform a variety of pious and practical tasks.
More than 80% of respondents said that the Internet had improved the life of the congregation, 91% thought that e-mail helped congregation members and ministers stay in touch and 63% said the Internet had helped the congregation connect more to the surrounding community.
Clergy also extensively use the Internet to gather information – 81% have used the Internet to find out about worship services, 77% have researched the Bible on the Internet, 57% have used the Web to find information on other denominations and 54% have looked up other matters of faith.
The religious institutions were found to be much more likely to use the Web for one-way communication, e.g. posting sermons and basic information about the church, rather than 2-way communication, e.g. spiritual discussions and online prayers.
The South African religious community is no exception. Take the Hatfield Christian Church, which posts sermon notes, commentary on the bible, even organizes its cellphone prayer meetings through its site. Islam.co.za offers the Koran online and articles pertaining to Islam; Chabad House is a Jewish site with similar services. Alternative religious sites aren’t scarce, either, for example the Shaman’s Fire and the Pagan Federation. All with extensive links to other pages, true webs within the Web.
Turning the Internet -and more specifically the Web- into a successful commercial venture is proving to be a little trickier than expected. But if you’re aim is not to make money, the Internet proves itself a powerful and easily used tool for information sharing and community creation – whether religious, philosophical, scientific or academic. And it does so by enhancing, rather than replacing, what already exists in
the -real- world.