Thursday, October 13, 2011
When asked the question, "do rituals online work?" many arguments play out in my mind. In regards to Christopher Helland's definition of ritual, "ritual is purposeful engagement with the sacred, whatever the sacred may be for those involved" there appears to be no right or wrong answer to this question. Helland's definition of ritual takes a subjective approach, leaving the individual to define what it is and determine if their ritual worked for them. Rituals work online in a number of ways. In Christianity, many church websites offer sermon podcasts, e-prayers, and access to the bible and bible commentary. Rituals such as these are not problematic because everything that is required of them to function can be facilitated through the computer (text, sound). Baptism however is a ritual that becomes more complex. Baptism is the profession of faith to the church body that the individual has accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. The one being baptized is dunked into a tub of water to represent a cleansing of the old self into a new creation.
The Flamingo Road Church Internet Campus held their first online baptism in 2008. The youtube video features a split screen of the pastor, in Florida, and a woman, in Georgia, performing the ritual through the Internet. Although the pastor is shown talking to the member over speakerphone, it is important to note that the woman's profession of faith is taking place through the Internet, not in the church. This may raise concerns amongst the Christian faith in regards to the setting. As I watch the video however, both the pastor and the woman appear to be genuine in their actions. If things were different and baptism was being done through an avatar, I would have more concerns. This example of baptism held through the Internet meets Helland's definition of a ritual as being a, "purposeful engagement with the sacred." I do not question how the ritual is taking place but whether this way of ritual diminishes the seriousness or takes away from the authenticity it has offline.