One of the thing Christians are called to do regularly is confess their sins and receive forgiveness. This plays out in various ways, from the traditional confessional booths in Catholicism to corporate prayers of confession in Protestant worship to individual meetings with clergy.
But until I read the current issue of Theology Today, a quarterly from Princeton Theological Seminary, I was unaware that you could find a place on the Internet where you can confess your sins anonymously.
And apparently more than one place.
But the one that Prof. Nancy J. Duff writes about is DailyConfessions.com. Really. Unless you're a subscriber to the quarterly, the whole piece -- unlike a place to confess -- is not available online but the abstract is here.
As Duff notes, the confessions site is for people "who are not necessarily Catholic or even religious." And she notes that the site itself says that it "is a Secular (not specifically relating to religion or to a relgious body) forum." (Though site editors didn't explain why they capitalized secular.)
Once people confess their wrongdoing on this site, others can jump in and comment.
"Responses," writes Duff, "include sarcasm, judgment, quick dismissal of guilt, or genuine understanding and compassion."
For Duff and others who care about religion, online confession raises lots of questions about whether it's a proper way to do something this serious and whether there's anything religious institutions can learn from one more way the Internet is used.
Despite the inevitable misuse of such a confessional site, Duff writes, "For at least some people, however, these anonymous, yet public, confessions serve a human need worthy of the church's attention."
And she's right.
She also notes that you can find online sites that offer Holy Communion. Here's one. This strikes me as considerably more problematic than confessional sites. But perhaps in certain circumstances it can serve a need.
In any case, the Internet is changing the way people do religion, and institutional religion better pay attention so as not to be, well, left behind.
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MORE TARNISH ON RELIGION'S IMAGE
Another sign of sickness and cruelty among those infected with false religious certitude: Some of them are attacking the Rev. Rick Warren on the suicide of his 27-year-old son. WWJD? Not throw hateful flames at grieving people.
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P.S.: The future of Christian churches will be the subject of a free symposium from 2 to 4 p.m. this Saturday at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, 67th and Nall in Mission, Kan. For details, click here.