Jessica White | Staff Writer
In just 20 years, the Internet has drastically changed the way people connect with information, entertainment, each other and even God.
Thousands carry the world’s largest theological library in their pockets, on their iPods or smartphones. The Internet could be the most wonderful tool for religion that has ever happened, said the Rev. Paul Raushenbush. But that depends how people use it.
“It’s a blessing and a curse,” said Raushenbush, an American Baptist minister and senior religion editor for The Huffington Post. “People have access to an amazing level of information and connectivity, but they also have access to an Internet in which people are either willfully or unintentionally misrepresenting religious traditions in a way that can actually make people more unaware.”
Raushenbush will look at that paradox and discuss how to approach religious life online at 2 p.m. Monday in the Hall of Philosophy. He will draw from his experiences as a minister, religion administrator at Princeton University and online religion editor and blogger.
Raushenbush was ordained in 1998, so his ministry corresponded with the rise of the Internet — and also grew because of it. In 2000, he started an advice blog on Beliefnet.com called “Ask Pastor Paul,” where people could ask questions they might be reluctant or embarrassed to ask their local ministers. Raushenbush continued to blog and edit for Beliefnet and then The Huffington Post, while he held ministry and religious administration positions. He transitioned to The Huffington Post full time a few years ago.
The religion section of The Huffington Post is not just about religion, Raushenbush said, but it is a place of religion. Many of its writers have strong but different faith backgrounds, and they try to create productive conversations in which they are critical but constructive.
“The basic goal is to lift up the best of the traditions,” he said. “It’s a place where, hopefully, you’re going to learn something and appreciate something more about your own tradition. But also, you’re going to be able to learn something about a tradition that’s different from yours.”
During Ramadan, Raushenbush said he loves to read the daily blog of one of his Muslim writers.
“Even though I’m not Muslim, I’m actually growing in wisdom as far as what I know about Islam. But then it also actually helps my own spiritual life,” he said. “The idea is that we can appreciate across religious boundaries but also know something more about our own traditions.”
The most important thing about approaching religion online is to be engaged, aware and intentional, Raushenbush said — to receive and also give the best, honest experience.