Don’t search for God on the Internet

The internet is full of facts, fictions, opinions, and thousands of cute cats. But what if you’re searching for faith?

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The internet is full of good things. First-person testimonials, lively discussions, wise advice—just enter the correct search term. But with all the sound information also comes nonsense, and justification for just about any idea and any behavior. If you want to feel validated in an opinion, you’ll probably find it in one forum or another.

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Many people argue that the internet has made us lazy. Instead of going to church, maybe you just watch a few movies about faith on YouTube and call it a day, almost as an anecdote for being reluctant to pray or or give up a bigger chunk of our time to God. But, sadly, faith-minded snippets on the internet won’t really give you the solution you might have been searching for. Unless you have a meaningful online discussion about faith with a friend, you’ll probably only find general statements, that can be interpreted very openly. And, of course, a lot of the information out there isn’t sound.

So if you are really looking for the truth about yourself, your faith, or your life, chances are you won’t find it online. You will only find people online, and their various opinions (sometimes with facts, sometimes with fictional notions). Many will simply be the result of echo-chambers—often supporting what you want to hear, but maybe not what you need to.

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I have experience this phenomenon from both sides. As a writer of a Catholic blog, my readers often have certain expectations of who I should be and what I should write about. Many people expect me to be perfect, which I can confidently say, I am not. Sometimes, when we see what we think are perfect photos on Instagram, or perfect lives on blogs, it becomes easy to believe that perfection is attainable, and come to expect it from others. Because the internet is a place where we can show just certain sides of ourselves, those sparkling and beautiful, seemingly without faults. Maybe we share posts about helping the homeless, but don’t talk about really difficult topics.

So, as readers, we often seek mistakes in others, and are maybe even a little annoyed by how different another person’s views or lifestyles. A reader might post about a celebrity they don’t really know, saying that they got married too early, or don’t weigh enough, or weigh too much, or dress strangely … and the list goes on. (If you’ve seen the TV segment ‘Mean Tweets,’ you know how much worse it can get.) These are simple snap judgments that are all too easy to make, and post for everyone to see. And sometimes they aren’t just about celebrities or political figures, but acquaintances, too.

A while ago, I had a big problem with Facebook–so much so that I didn’t want to open an account. I knew it was a good tool to share my thoughts and writing, but I worried that I would need to learn how to separate my internet profile from my true self. Because what I put on the Internet only represents a fragment of who I am. It is only here, in my real life, that you can meet me, and only here, in the flesh, where I can really meet someone else like you.

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I think we’d all do well to remember that we’re all different, and all imperfect. There are no two identical people with the same experiences, just similar ones, sometimes.

So, sure, you can get general advice from the internet about which brand of shirt to buy, or what the best sights to see in Rome are. But you might not find genuine inspiration that brings you closer to God. You might not find truth and love that can be gained through prayer, doing good and selfless acts in real life, reading and thinking about the bible, or by going to church. (Though, of course, we do our best to help point you in the right direction at For Her.)

The only place where we can solve our problems is the real world, in our everyday off-line lives. The internet is merely a tool that should be used judicially. Because, no matter what search engine you use, you’ll find it’s mostly full of abstract jokes, crazy people, and hundreds of thousands of cute kittens, with little room for thoughtful, peaceful reflection about God and how He connects to you as a unique individual.

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So next time you find yourself falling down the prickly, briar patch-laden rabbit hole of online forums and Facebook walls, remind yourself that these are only small fragments of a much larger picture of the world, and that there may be other things right here in the real world more worthy of your time.

Jola Szymańska
Jola Jola Szymańska

Jola is the vice editor-in-chief of For Her’s Polish edition, and the author of the catholic blog www.hipsterkatoliczka.pl. Trained as both a lawyer and a musician, she relaxes by playing the piano, watching British YouTube and … praying.

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