INTERNET INTER-FAITH INTEGRITY
Dialogue is a communication tool, which enables people to interact between differences of opinions and arrive at a consensus on a particular issue or argument. It is not to bring out what is just rather what is feasible or to be applicable to a particular circumstance.
Inter-faith dialogue is necessary because the modern world is a religiously pluralistic society, where religious intolerance is increasing, which foresees a need for religious harmony.
As a biblical foundation to Dialogue, the Old Testament contains several accounts of God in dialogue with humanity. The New Testament too has many incidents of Jesus dialoguing with the people. Dialogue is also theologically assisted. We find elements of dialogue in these theological doctrines namely Mystery of Unity, Mystery of the Trinity, Mystery of Incarnation of Christ, and so on.
The Catholic Church, being the mother has shown much interest on the harmony of the world by insisting on the need for the inter-faith dialogue. It has contributed many documents on the same. Important 10 documents are briefed in this paper. All these documents by various popes concentrate on how to encourage dialogue among different faiths in various levels, how the Catholic Church is to be an instrument of this cause. In fact, the Church considers this as a ‘Modern Mission’, which is the sign of the time.
Coming to the next phase, the modern world is witnessing the evolution of new media, due to the rapid penetration of internet access. Journalism is no longer a news feeding mechanism, rather every one becomes a journalist. Every person is able to express his own view on any particular issues or occurrences. Social media is the prime cause for this evolutionary transformation.
Social media is an online platform which people use to build social relations with others. However, now it has developed as a platform of discussion on various issues, and religious aspect is one among them. There are many popular social media platforms: like, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Pinterest and LinkeIn.
Upon analyzing the social media impacts, it has many positive effects on society: Connectivity, Education, Help, Information and Updates, advertising, Noble Cause, and Helps in Building Communities. It also holds many negative effects: cyber harassing, Privacy Threats, addiction, Fraud and Scams, Reputation, Fixation, Kids, and Data Bombarding.
With all those positive and negative impacts, social media is conceived as a stage in the human evolution; hence, it is unavoidable and inevitable. Knowing the inescapability of it, the Church also has landed into this arena. Pope Francis is very active on the social media. There are many official apps from the Papacy, so as to interact and guide the faithful promptly.
One hand, the religions, not excluding Christianity have found this virtual platform as convenient tool to promote one’s own religion – ‘Digital Religion’. On the other hand, it has also paved way to get easy conflicts among religious ideologies. The fear is that it arises from the gross root level – once picked up, there is no way to quench that fire.
Narrowing to the picture of India, the statistical preview of Indian internet users prove that there is a rapid growth of Internet India. Narandra Modi, the Prime Minister of India had used this advantage to quickly reach his political reach through social media – the ‘Modi-fication agenda’.
BJP and RSS, its mother organization have taken this approach to next level of implementing Hindutva ideology through social media. They have adopted an institutionalized a separate IT wing for this purpose. There is nothing wrong in their approach, as long as they do only the promulgation of Hindu Religion; the concern lies in their approach of creating dividing schema based on religion, in view of political polarization.
The people who actively involved are branded as internet Hindus, who claim themselves as Hindu warriors - who are born to protect their religion. They detest the mainstream western Media as they project the reality of the issues, hence they want to get rid of those obstacles, by founding their own media. There is small level of reaction from the internet Muslims, but it is very insignificant.
In all these chaos, there seems a bright solution by using social media for a positive right cause – ‘Inter-Faith Dialogue through Social Media’. The same medium which has been used for promoting religious fanaticism can also be reversely utilized for bringing out harmony, by raising the positive stroke of the religious tolerance to religious understanding.
Taking social media as a media product, one needs some skills to properly channelize it as a medium to religious dialogue: Analysis skill, Evaluation skill, and Synthesis skill. Applying these skill facilitate filter out ill motivated content, and be on the stand of unbiased usage of the social media. In the context of India, the implications of these skills are only in the theoretical level, as most of the people are illiterate and moved by emotional polarization. Hence, the responsibility of making the people aware of this lies in the hands of the literate population.
The response of a Christian to this phenomenon would be sowing the positive seeds in the same platform and wait for the proper time of its reap. As Jesus teaches only LOVE, we cannot retaliate to this, rather we need to love even our enemies. The response of the Catholic Church to this circumstance is not very vibrant; we can only cull out some aspects of it from the already published documents on the ‘usage and ethics of the internet’. The Church also fears about deviation of faith by the usage of social media impact.
Analyzing all of these, a sample project is proposed, taking the diocese of Kumbakonam as a trial territory. The Project is ‘சமூக வலைத்தள சமய நல்லிணக்கம்’ (Samuka Valaithala Samya Nallinakam). For this project, we scrutinize ten volunteers from every parish. This team of online members, along with all the major seminarians, are trained for a month by professionals in various aspects of inter-faith dialogue and the skills of technology, culture and so on. Their work is not to cyber fight with the religious opponents, rather to get the neutral population to dialogue. This positive storm of getting them into dialogue would slowly spread across the web and make a change at large in a slow pace. This suggestion is only a conception; in order to actualize it, we need a wider research and development according to each territory and culture.
Finally, in order to at least kick start this proposal, the pastors are to be well efficient of the technology and the nuances of it. Unfortunately the present formation programme has not been updated to that level. It is the Church administration, which holds the key to this lock.
To conclude, this scientific thesis is only an attempt to use the potentiality of social media for a right cause. Bishop Fulton Sheen had emerged a new method of mission – ‘Tele-Evangelism’. I hereby, venture into an evolved form of evangelization; to be specific – a mission of inter-faith integrity through social media. I could probably name this mission as ‘Internet Inter-Faithism.’
I gratefully remember and vouchsafe a bouquet of thanks to Fr. James Anbunathan OFM Cap., my moderator and professor, who induced the spark of idea, encouraged and spared his able and liberal guidance in this new venture of doing a scientific research on this peculiar and painstaking topic. I also thankfully acknowledge Br. Antony Julius, Br. Sesu Prabakaran and Br. Arul for helping me in correcting the paper. In addition, I also acknowledge my gratitude towards our Rector, community members and all the professors for supporting me in all the ways possible.