Lent in 140 Characters

Clint Rainey: Stephen Smith, at Bible Gateway, has for three years made an annual top-100 list and snazzy tag cloud with what Twitterers say they’re giving up for Lent. This year, he wrangled up 85,000 messages tweeted between March 7 and March 10. (March 9 was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten calendar for Catholics and the one Americans popularly conceive of as Day 1 of the fast.) The top vote-getter, you ask? Twitter. Followed by Facebook, with chocolate third, soda seventh, and the teenage troika of transgression—swearing, alcohol and sex—landing fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Smith does not say how many I’m-not-tweeting tweets came once fasting was underway. But to compute it misses the point anyway. Hashtag searches cannot differentiate sarcasm from sincerity, so besides depriving themselves of “Lent” (eighth), “giving up things” (12th), “stuff” (25th), “Catholicism” (26th), and “religion” writ simple (14th), Twitterers on Smith’s list also helpfully sacrificed “nothing” (46th), “school” (13th), their virginity (37th) and sobriety (44th), as well as “me” (63rd) and “you” (16th)—perhaps “You”?

As it happens, jokester posters flooded the list. For Lent to be so thoroughgoingly Americanized that a quarter of his top-100 entries seem to mock it is itself telling. Even wisecracking tweets promising 40-day renunciations of Christianity still focus discourse on the idea of redemption through self-denial, sacrifice, commitment, self-discipline, however it is we define those terms. What Christian objects to publicizing that message at Easter?

This year’s forgo-social-media push returned Twitter and Facebook, last year’s top vote-getters, as champ and runner-up, and it was again the pastoral blogosphere’s Easter meme. But as tech-savvy pastors in particular avail themselves of social media as tools of evangelism, pastor-converts, like San Francisco pastor Bruce Reyes-Chow (who’s taken his protests to NPR, SFGate.com, The Huffington Post, and of course Twitter), will speak out against conscientiously swearing them off. Instead, Web 2.0 is seen as a demystifying force that portrays the Christian walk as self-denying and sacrificial, yes, but also as approachable, normal, everyday. In a word: tweetable. Continue Reading →

Inspired, Yes, but Divinely?

A review of Jesse Bering’s The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life

by Clint Rainey

A few scientists and believers once naïvely clasped hands in hope that the evolutionary explanation for belief in God would signal a détente in the science-religion war. Belief could satisfy science by being instinctual, as Dean Hamer’s The God Gene and others argued, while also satisfying religion by being divinely set in motion. This détente, we know now, was a pipedream. Since being etiologically explained as instinct, belief has suffered at the hands of an army precision-trained in the scientific method.

Attempting to deliver the deathblow in a new book is Jesse Bering, an evolutionary psychologist and director of the Institute of Cognition and Culture at Queen’s University, Belfast. Articulate and amusing, The Belief Instinct: The Psychology of Souls, Destiny, and the Meaning of Life is a coupe de grâce as much as it is rage, arguing that belief, for modern man, is indeed an adaptation—a crucial one, up to a point—but that it’s become a vestigial organ of the mind, uselessly outmoded. Continue Reading →

Christian Porn: Tackling the Elephant in the Pews

by Clint Rainey

Some pastors view Super Bowl Sunday and church attendance as inverses—if the first, less of the second. (The joke is pastors conclude their sermons the week before that second holiest of Sundays with “See you in two weeks.”) But this year, replete with bizarre props, attracting media attention like iron filings, Pastor Craig Gross decided to try riding on the game’s coattails to a victorious inverse of his own: Christians and porn use.

Through XXXChurch.com, the “#1 Christian porn site,” Gross runs Porn Sunday—this year, for the first time, Super Porn Sunday—to get churches to confront Christian porn use, what his ministry calls the “elephant in the pews.” For the weekend’s festivities, he moved his hub from Las Vegas to Dallas, home of Super Bowl XLV, where he tweeted pics of his car in the city’s freak snowstorm and complained about Texans he believes didn’t know how to drive in it. Sunday, he was 30 miles away from Cowboys Stadium in the Addison Conference Center. More than 350 church services that morning simulcast a 35-minute video he put together with a lineup of NFL players: quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and John Kitna (who tells us his Pandora’s porn box opened with Janet Jackson’s exposed breast) and Ryan Pickett, the Packers’ defensive end. “I would love to have been with you guys today,” he says at the start of the tape. “But fortunately, I’m a little busy.” Continue Reading →