If Facebook was marketed as a church, would you have joined? Does Facebook give you a sense of community— does it help create a feeling of connection? Does it give you an outlet to express the trials and tribulations of your life and are these expressions met with positive and helpful reinforcements? Is there an ideology attached to it, or rather, is there a belief system? And, moreover, does it give us an answer for mans biggest burden— death? Religions throughout history have gone through various evolutions and modern religious practice tends to be more connected to doctrine, rather than rituals. Maybe this evolution can continue and maybe Facebook will fill the religious void of future generations, but how?
Emile Durkheim posited that religious experiences after the industrial revolution became structured differently and relied on notions of “organic solidarity” and that people become connected by their commonalities and create a feeling of “oneness” from connecting to their social network organically. Community churches of the past (and present) allow people to organically connect on commonalities that are connected to their close proximity to each other- local issues, school, etc and, to some extent, ideology is crafted thereof. It is not a hard stretch to assert that Facebook could fill this role, as it allows people to organically connect on likeminded ideology, beliefs and issues related to proximity- schools and community issues. For example, my sister home schools her children and belongs to a ‘home school Facebook group’ in her community, that allows her to electronically connect to people in her community on likeminded belief structures, in regard to education, at least. Facebook gives us a sense of community that becomes more directly tied to commonalities of belief, more than commonalities of proximity, as Facebook connections transcend space. In other words, I can connect on political issues with people in any country in the world, and from that, my church is built without land or cultural borders. But even within that transcended connectedness I can subdivide and create sects within my social community built on commonalities of proximity — serving the needs of churches of the past in addition to a a church of the future- transcended globally.
In many religious institutions there is a hierarchy of religious authority to help guide people in times of need— ethical and moral dilemmas, issues of practicalities or just general affirmations and parables about life. As I have experienced for myself and as I have observed for other people as well, people commonly reach out to their social network on Facebook to get help and feedback about similar personal moral conflicts and help regarding problems of everyday life. And its common for people to post things that are life affirming, such as parables. However, most people do not have a friend in their Facebook friend list who they’d consider to be a Moral Authority of any sort, therefor this guidance is crowd sourced from their network— which allows people to get a diverse balance of feedback, which can help drive a broader and deeper understanding of the conflicts at hand. In this sense the priesthood of Facebook becomes the collective — a religion for the people and by the people.
How does Facebook deal with the metaphysical qualities of religion, namely, reconciling the perpetual burden of humanity— death, and, its eternal counterpart, giving life Meaning? Humans are social creatures and just the sense of community and global connectedness alone could, in a sense, create meaning to life— as it connects you to the human organism that transcends both time and space. All human experience is a perpetual story that builds in every direction and we are all part of that story. Facebook helps directly connect us to this process, in real time. Additionally, every post, photo, article and link— in other words, everything you have ever done on Facebook is enterally engrained on some storage device at Facebook HQ, with most likely various forms of redundancy. So, your self-curated digital life will live on forever: therefore, every photo, whim, post, random meal photo et al, will transcend time and space as part of the perpetual human story— as your life becomes another chapter in the epoch story of our species. In short, electronically speaking, you become immortal. This notion may seem unhumanistic or shallow, but look at it this way: most religious traditions see the afterlife as transcendence of your essence and not your body, so its not a far stretch to posit that your electronic impression will be a reflection of your essence— hence, they transcend together.
Lastly, and oddly, is the idea of Facebook as ideology. Facebook and their crafty algorithms automatically change your newsfeed and advertising and pretty much everything you do based on everything you click, say, like, comment and follow, in addition to the city you live in, age gender, web browser, computer brand, occupation, marital status, religion and so on. This may not seem like ideology on the surface, but I will explain how it can be argued as such. Ideology is a collection of beliefs that reside deep within yourself that you perceive as true and act, as if they’re true. In other words, its like wearing a pair of glasses that create a false reality that you unconsciously reinforce, perhaps as a defense-mechanism to feel connected to a group— or to feel an identity. On Facebook the ideology is not explicitly chosen, like in real life. In real life I can choose to register for the democratic party and volunteer for them, and then get a bombardment of their propaganda in my email inbox. As can I do that with any religious, political or social group. We choose our affiliations. Facebook creates a custom ideology based on everything you do, in other words, it creates your false reality, based on what you do, rather than what you choose. And, it perpetually adjusts with you. If you ‘like’ posts that are propaganda for the democratic party, then Facebook will alter your reality and create a higher likelihood of you seeing similar posts, reinforcing the ideology you are self-creating through action.
You may or may not be happy with being part of a Facebook religion, but there is a reason why religions have been a core part of the human experience for multiple millennia’s and moreover, there is also a reason why Facebook is so popular— they are, perhaps, both born from the same innate human desire: connection.
1. Edles, Laura Desfor, and Scott Appelrouth. Sociological Theory in the Classical Era: Text and Readings. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge, 2005. Print.