John Wycliffe made waves in the 14th century when he created the first English translation of the Bible. Today, religious dialogue is being translated daily into the language of online users.
At the forefront of this paradigm shift is a public-relations agency called Global Tolerance Ltd., which describes its communications work as “positively different.”
Global Tolerance created Faithbook, a group on Facebook, to promote interreligious dialogue in a forum that welcomes users of all faith traditions to form friendships, hold discussions and move toward a shared understanding of one anothers’ beliefs.
“A major problem churches face is how to stay relevant and engaging in today’s culture,” said Global Tolerance managing director Simon Cohen. “Faithbook achieves this because it allows users to speak in their own voice to peers and begin discussions on faith that matter personally to them.”
Discussion prompts are posted by users, such as reactions to Tarif Khalidi’s newly published Koran translation, faith in the context of financial crisis, and conversion experiences.
“Faithbook can tackle extremism because real believers are given the chance to correct misconceptions about their faith in real time,” he said.
Mr. Cohen was in Washington last month lecturing on the interfaith movement and how to employ Mohandas Gandhi’s message of nonviolence in a post-Sept. 11 world. He talked about being uncomfortable with terminology that was used to describe Islam in the media, such as “Islamo-fascist” and “Muslim extremists.”
He gave a hopeful message that instead of complaining about negativity and misrepresentations of faith in the press, social media gives everyone the chance to “be the change you want to see in the media.”
Yet just as Wycliffe was met with confrontation for translating from the Latin Vulgate to the people’s language of English, some might be queasy about religion entering the world of LOLs and tweets.
“For better or worse, the Internet is playing a definitive role in the way our generation looks at faith,” Mr. Cohen said. “The Bali bomber, Imam Samudra, said, ‘The Internet is now the most important method of spreading jihad.’ Now Faithbook can be used in a positive way to promote debate and tolerance.”
One of the discussions on Faithbook prompted the question, “Why is Faithbook necessary?” A user named “Tim” responded, “I had never actually met a Muslim until I was around 25 years old. … the little I did learn, now and then, came from newspapers and hearsay. So the mental picture I had of Islam was very fragmentary, second-hand and inaccurate.
“Very few have the chance to discuss their beliefs with a variety of people who hold other beliefs to the extent that we understand enough of what’s different and what’s alike that we can all avoid tragic misunderstandings and live together,” Tim wrote.
Social-media conversations often have been criticized for condensing religion into inspirational quips and pop theology. Can the tradition, depth and complexity of a faith tradition be captured by a Facebook post or a 140-character tweet?