Internet a Boon to Smaller Religions

Article excerpt

ROGER COLEMAN is a witch with a message, and now he's found a way to get it across - the World Wide Web.

Coleman, a minister with the Church of the Iron Oak in Melbourne, Fla., has set up a page on the Web describing his church's belief in witchcraft and pre-Christian gods.

Witches are among many obscure religions and sects that have found in the Web - the wildly popular graphical segment of the Internet - a way to compete in the religious marketplace and keep their beliefs alive.

"It's going to change the face of the way we provide religious services," said Coleman. "In the past, small groups formed with five or six people. The Web and e-mail provide us with a way of making contact with something larger than our immediate locale."

The Hare Krishnas are on the Web. The Anglican Catholic Church and Jews for Jesus have home pages to proselytize to the computer-savvy.

"For a relatively low cost, you can get a message out that you might not otherwise be able to do," said Douglas F. Ottati, professor of theology and ethics at the Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. "It does favor the little guy - maybe your storefront church can look as good as the Vatican."

Most major religions, from Roman Catholics to Muslims and Baptists, have an on-line presence, but the Web is especially attractive for small denominations or sects that would be hard-pressed to reach a wider public.

"It provides them with something they don't have - the resources for mounting a media campaign or having a publishing house that mainline religions have," said Donald Dawe, a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary.

Except for a few Web sites such as the ominous Church of Satan, which has elaborate graphics of devils and pentagrams, most religious sites are fairly plain - usually a simple picture followed by lists of information on theology, dates of ceremonies and related sites.

Cyber missionaries say they're not worried about the Internet's slimy side - pornography and radical politics. Virtual religion is almost as prevalent as virtual sex. …