Facebook and Religion Don’t Mix

This corporate plan to bring religion into Facebook has a cold, steely feel to it.

Facebook (photo: Gerd Altmann / Pixabay/CC0)

Facebook and religion go together like … nothing. They don’t go together. Yet, the social media giant that regularly creates obstacles for truth — such as against prolife group — has their sights set on religion. 

The New York Times reported, Facebook’s Next Target: The Religious Experience. The subheading:The company is intensifying formal partnerships with faith groups across the United States and shaping the future of religious experience.”

That word “shaping” gets caught in my brain. Facebook has been trying to “shape” a lot about our lives. And now, they are delving into religion? Funny. Stick with the clever memes, Facebook, and how about you start letting prolife groups share the truth about the sanctity of unborn human life.

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, went from Jewish to atheist to some sort of belief in God with a friendly nod to Buddhism. He even met with Pope Francis in August of 2016. Great. But when truth gets blocked — a Facebook specialty for select topics — it’s incompatible with religion.

My own Catholic faith is not about agenda. (Note: clergy living lies are not ambassadors of Catholic truth.) We might get accused of having an agenda, but it’s only true if you can say that Jesus has one, which I guess he actually does — wanting souls in heaven with him for all eternity. First-century haters tried to cancel him because they did not want to hear about renouncing sin or the price of salvation. They did not want to believe that Jesus, with only an army of fisherman and sandal-clad disciples preaching repentance, should be heard.

Of course, Jesus was not canceled. He was resurrected. And the cancel-culture of his time, from Rome and beyond, could not stop the Gospels from spreading. Not even the martyrdom of his followers stopped the spread. 

Facebook is opposed to inconvenient truths, many getting blocked from prolife, pro-marriage and pro-family groups. Getting back to the subtitle, what could “shaping the future of religious experience” mean? It starts with a non-disclosure statement, according to an article on Get Religion: “I imagine that to learn details, readers would have to hear from some of the participants in this trailblazing online work. But there’s a problem with that. When asked about some specifics, an official with the Atlanta branch of the trendy Hillsong Church couldn’t answer, because ‘he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.’”

Last spring, Facebook tested a prayer post feature where members of some Facebook groups could post prayer requests and others could respond. “The idea for prayer posts grew out of the myriad ways users have connected over Facebook while distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the spokesperson. “Our mission to give people the power to build community extends to the world’s largest community; the faith community,” Nona Jones, head of Global Faith Partnerships at Facebook, said in a written statement to Religion News Service. Jones, a Protestant church pastor along with her husband, explained, “we are committed to finding ways to build the tools that help people connect to hope on Facebook.”

Hope is a wonderful thing. But Facebook? They have an image problem among people with traditional Christian values and conservative politics. I am personally acquainted on one of my pages with Facebook censorship, which regularly doles out penalties such as shadow-banning and threats to forfeit the page for failure to comply with their community standards. 

A corporate plan to bring religion into Facebook has a cold, steely feel to it. My religion often does get on Facebook without their plan. I regularly see prayer requests, offers to pray for intentions during adoration and faith-inspired memes and Catholic articles shared on Facebook. Otherwise, I’ve got the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and confession, which do not come by way of social media. With the sacrament of confession, the priest in the person of Christ is prepared to give his very life rather than break the seal of the confessional. Compare that to Facebook’s recent data breach, which exposed over 500 million users to the hacking of phone numbers, full names, locations, email addresses and other biographical information that could be used to commit fraud.

Those things happen everywhere though, right? And yes, Church data bases can get hacked too. Virtual religious supporters also admit that it will not replace in-person experiences. So, am I being too cynical about the world’s largest social media influencer deciding to add religion to their services? I don’t think so. I’m not expecting holy results.