Apologetics on MySpace

I took a cruise through the MySpace forums this morning. Our YM Coordinator's first question to me this morning was if I had any experience with either MySpace or Facebook, and since I had been reading about but not paying much attention to either site I went and checked them out. The Forums section of MySpace has some interesting discussions going on in the Religion/Philosophy section, like these questions:

When Jesus was crucified, would his blood spilling on the ground have made the ground holy?
  • Most posters seemed to believe that Jesus' blood would have had a sanctifying effect on the physical ground beneath the cross. The answer that caught my eye was that the blood sanctified the ground, and the small subterranean creatures in it, including a certain species of grasshopper that became... the praying mantis.

Why are there so many rules in all the different faiths, and why are they so similar?

  • The most quoted and most debated answer to this question was that the rules are all major cultural taboos and not specific marks of "peoplehood" the way they are presented in the Hebrew Scriptures.

How does the Holy Trinity work?

  • I'm very impressed with the length and detail of the answer, but it's fiendishly long to copy in one bullet like this. Read it here.

Since modern-day Judaism doesn't use animal sacrifices, how do todays Jewish people atone for their sins?

  • The very knowledgeable poster who answered this question first pointed to the "day of atonement" mentioned in Scripture, Rosh Hashannah, from Leviticus 23:24-5.

How do you honor your parents when they are abusive or uncaring?

  • Answers ranged from taking out frustration against them in violent ways ("honor them with a punch in the jaw") to Scripture reminders to love parents no matter what, to the very insightful "Children need to honor their parents, and at the same time parents need to be worthy of that trust and honor." (Which answer has its base in Scripture, Ephesians 6:1-4.)

A few months ago in Youthworker Journal, there was an article about doing ministry in online settings like this one. One of the points made was that the relative anonymity of the Internet allows teenagers to admit they have serious questions like these ones, when their church might not be as open to hearing their doubts and ideas.

One of the most interesting things in my stroll through MySpace was that the ages of the people posting in the forums ranged from teenagers to grandparents, all discussing the same questions. In a culture where generations are increasingly separated (from daycare to nursing homes, we tend to build cultures of peers rather than matching people with questions and people with answers) the idea that through this online community people of all ages can share opinions and honestly wrestle with the same ideas.

There has been a lot of controversy about MySpace and Facebook and similar sites, generally because so much personal information can get out into the public sphere and then be misused, but I think there are two things we can legitimately encourage in our students. First, we can teach critical thinking skills. Jesus calls us to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" and that means knowing how to identify what is good and evil and practicing that discernment in every situation, not simply avoiding. Second, we can teach wise sharing. Students need to know basic safety practices on the Internet, and need to have an especially well-developed sense of etiquette to be a positive witness in the anonymous world of cyberspace.

In the Youthworker Journal article, author Renee Altson points out that if we create and use online communities, we need to follow through offline as well, holding our students accountable for the things they say and do online and how it affects their testimony about Christ. She's right. MySpace and its copycats have a lot to offer as a forum for openly sharing faith and life, but we can't allow them to be substitutes for the real thing. Neither can we afford to drive our students to those places by closing our minds and our real-life gatherings to the honest questions and doubts they have.

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