Some of the common things given up for Lent, the six-week period of selective abstinence leading up to Easter Sunday, include chocolate, soda, and other habits such as drinking, smoking, and the like. In Russia, however, religious leaders would like you to consider another possibility: Social Media. Insert grumpy cat here.
The suggestion comes from the Russian Orthodox Church, which isn’t asking followers just to give up one form of social media during Lent, but all – and, for that matter, as much Internet as possible overall. “I don’t mean just people who use depraved, entertaining, stupid and empty information,” church spokesman Vsevolod Chaplin explained. “Even useful information [online] that relates to our work and well-meaning interests, clogs the brain and soul too much.”
If you’re thinking that giving up the Internet altogether – or even just all of your favorite social media outlets – would leave you with a lot of free time on your hands, don’t worry. Chaplin has an answer to that potential problem, just in case. “Giving yourself several hours or 15 minutes of time during Lent to not read curses on social networks, but serious texts, serious art, prayer, unhurried conversation with close ones – this is a unique chance to change your life,” he told the Guardian newspaper.
The move to push followers away from secular social media and towards intellectual (and emotional) enrichment – although not explicitly from religious texts or sources – doesn’t come entirely out of nowhere. Last month, head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill told a meeting of bishops that the church needed to become more active online in order to fight back against what was described as an “anti-religious” element.
“When a person makes a query on church life in an Internet search engine,” Kirill told a RIA-Novosti news agency, “he finds a lot of lies, hypocrisy and hatred… Blogs, social networks – all offer new opportunities for Christian testimony. To be absent from there means to admit one’s helplessness and reluctance for saving one’s brethren.”
So what’s it gonna be, Russian Orthodox Church? One minute you say we “should all give up social media” and the other it’s “get more involved in social media.” I guess both approaches highlight the notion that the Church is clearly looking at social media as a problem it must address.
What will be interesting to see is how the Church moves forward from this point. Although it might, for now, suggest followers to unplug themselves, this all seems like an unworkable solution in the long-term. If the Church does follow through with Kirill’s lead, we’ll see how its Web presence take form after this latest description of social media as “depraved… stupid and empty.”