GOD ONLINE: Exploring media spirituality

Web sites, TV, films, books and the search for meaning.

Gimme that online religion

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No cobwebs, no hymnbooks, no leaky roof: That’s the appeal held out by St. Pixels, one of the more colorful attempts at an online church.

Stated aim is to “create a welcoming and witnessing community on the Internet.” That puts St. Pixels in the same class with sites like GodWeb and VirtualChurch. And it shares their strengths and weaknesses.

St. Pixels affects a playful look, with cartoonish characters guiding you around. A “Hello Thread” message board lets members greet one another. There’s also a live chat, which you can use as a guest. Simply download a one-time Java application and click a small floor plan of a church. The chatters also hold regular worship services.

Some message boards look at books, movies, theology and current events. Heavier topics come under the “Reflections” area — as small as the use of candles, or as controversial as manipulation in church. “Solidarity threads” deal with problems like grief, smoking, school exams and family situations.

And like other churches, St. Pixels asks for donations: The management says your fair share would be $20-$30 per month.

At bottom, though, this is mainly a religious version of social networking sites. It may be a valid alternative; one member told me she finds fewer perverts on St. Pixels. But does it add up to church?

Sure, you can read greetings, but will you feel a handshake? Will you taste the bread and wine of Communion? When a loved one dies, will someone throw an arm around your shoulder and pray? And will Java-powered chats convey the quiet awe of a sacred space?

St. Pixels and such other sites can provide valuable resources. But they are churches only if you give up some basics of human experience. That seems an awfully high price for freedom from cobwebs.

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Written by Jim Davis

September 5, 2008 at 3:00 am

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