Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Religion -- Lots of It -- Available on Internet

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Religion -- Lots of It -- Available on Internet

Article excerpt

Before the Rev. Steven W. Lawler offers sermons to his parishioners, he puts his words to an electronic test.

Lawler, a priest at the Church of St. Michael & St. George at 6345 Wydown Boulevard, uses his computer to post messages on an on-line bulletin board. He requests electronic mail from people who have preached about biblical texts. When they respond - and they do - he transmits copies of his sermons and asks for suggestions.

"It's been a useful process," Lawler said. "It's like writing in community as opposed to writing on your own."

Computers may be a mixed blessing, though, Lawler fears. They may tempt people to get their religion on-line instead of in church.

Churches and religious organizations worldwide are creating World Wide Web sites on the Internet. Computer users can get a taste of most anything religion-related on-line. They can access the Book of Common Prayer, read from the Torah, communicate with a missionary, get hold of international listings of churches, see practically every translation of the Bible, make prayer requests, discuss the second coming of Christ in a "chat" group and, yes, find out about atheism.

But, Lawler said, computers can't replace community.

"Churches have been communities and have been relationally rich places, and there just isn't going to be the same quality of relationship, or authenticity of relationship, done through computers," he said.

The computer revolution "could have the effect of people moving farther and farther away from each other. The community part will be diminished if we go too far."

Lawler said he worries that rather than rolling out of bed and going to an early Sunday church service, computer users may opt for a 3 p.m. link-up with the Vatican's home page, read what the pope had to say and feel as though they've met their obligation to attend a church service.

"If people can, in a sense, fall in love on the Net, they certainly can have spiritual occurrences on the Net," he said. …

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