The Internet has become a hub of religious worship for millions of people around the world. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Sikhs and people of other faiths turn regularly to Web sites to pray, meditate and gather in "virtual" houses of worship graphically designed to look like the real thing. Some sites offer rites from baptism to confession to conversion to Judaism.
For many cyber-worshipers, online religious life conducted at home or in an Internet cafe has replaced attendance at traditional churches, temples, mosques and synagogues. Some are coming to religion for the first time, in a setting they find as comfortable as their grandparents found a church pew, while millions of people reared on churchgoing are discovering new ways to worship.
"The first wave of religion online, in the 1990s, was mainly for nerds and young people and techies," said Morten Hojsgaard, a Danish author who has written extensively about online religion. "But now it really is a mirror of society at large. This is providing a new forum for religious seekers."
Hojsgaard said the number of Web pages dealing with God, religion and churches increased from 14 million in 1999 to 200 million in 2004. Religion now nearly rivals sex as a topic on the Internet: A search for "sex" on Google returns about 408 million hits, while a search for "God" yields 396 million.
The rest of the article is focused on the growing number of Hindus who are turning to the internet for their religious experience. But I have no doubt that the internet is impacting all religious faiths. In some ways this news is a replay of what happened to religion when it went on television and the discussion about what kind of community was possible when you were sitting in front of your television. But I think the internet poses a different order of challenge and opportunity because it is possible to on the internet to interact with others in ways never possible with the television.