The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, California. Photographed on August 5, 2006 by user Coolcaesar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was fascinated to read that Ebay has recently banned the selling of spells, curses, hexes, magic, prayers, potions and healing sessions from its website. Ebay – the virtual marketplace – is a capitalists dream. Never has there been a market place with so many dimensions, with millions of items for sale worldwide. The range of ‘ items are’grouped into more than 40,000 main and sub-categories, and cover everything for instance, a finger painting in real chocolate pudding by two-year-old Corbin, who is hoping to raise enough pocket money to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom or a nifty black Ferrari 360 (starting at $150,000). Never before has there been a market with such abundant dimensions. But it seems that even the free market has limits!
I think it is foolish to dismiss the paranormal, but also wise to protect the vulnerable from crass exploitation. There is a fine line between this type of exploitation and that of more reputable mainstream religions. A slightly alarming development in Christianity over recent years has been the rise of the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’ mainly in Pentecostalist circles. Something that impresses me about Pentecostalism is its ability to help people who are struggling ‘sort their lives out’ particularly in a poor urban context, and the creative ways many Pentecostalists put their faith into practical action and help transform communities and add to the common good. However what is a distortion of the Gospel is this idea that God will bless you financially if you donate generously to the pastor. Apart from obviously being open to corruption, it is this fusion of personal empowerment / self help which I think ultimately leads to a consumerist narcissism as opposed to the radical self-giving which is at the climax of the Gospels, and Jesus’s stress on servant leadership. This distortion of Christianity is proving very popular in Asia, especially in South Korea which now has the biggest ‘church’ in the world in Seoul.
Interestingly eBay’s simple online system relies to an extent on the fact that most people are basically honest. But as the market grows in value, it inevitably attracts more rogues. The first line of defence in online trading is eBay’s feedback profile, which is in effect the online reputation of both buyers and sellers. When any transaction is completed, both buyers and sellers are invited to rate how successful it has been, and leave a review. These reviews can be read by all users. Many of the traders on eBay have come to value their reputations greatly, and those with enough positive-feedback scores are allowed to participate in buyer-protection schemes, which offer refunds. As far as religion goes – reputations are forged or destroyed at a much slower rate, over thousands of years.
The student paper here, The Mancunion, claims to be the biggest student paper in the country. Generally speaking it is well produced and well written. It is also invaluable for me to read at the moment as I am still getting my feet under the desk. A lot of student politics can tend to tiresome and the debates a bit shrill, but outside of that it is an enjoyable read. I was fascinated to read an article last week about the popularity of a Manchester University Facebook page which is ‘for students to write about the deepest secrets and most outrageous stories’ . Called .‘University of Manchester Confessions’ it was started over a week ago and encourages students to anonymously write “hilarious, embarrassing confessions,” to then be posted. Among the submissions are tales of sexual debacles, alcohol-infused blunders and halls of residence pranks. Evidently this is all the rage in uni’s up and down the country, tapping into a trend for public confessional culture which is generally for entertainment purposes and normally harmless. However we do know that occasionally vulnerable people are exploited, and do things for their 5 minute of fame which they regret for the rest of their lives – a la Gerry Springer or Jeremy Kyle (in the UK)
I was fascinated by this – partly because we are right across the road from the Union and the Mancunion’s offices. And in the Holy Name church we have 120 confessions a week, many of them students. The contrast is quite striking. The healing that can go on in the confessional is very powerful, quite frequent and an honour to witness as a priest. But that private sacred confessional is in contrast to the trend of public confessional. The generation of undergraduates spend a huge amount of time in a virtual road – where the private is being abolished. As Google and Facebook have admitted we live a new world where Silicon Valley has given up on privacy. They see this abolition of privacy as a mission to change the world. As Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook said they are capitalising on three trends — First, a trend “from anonymity to authentic identity”. Secondly, a trend from “wisdom of crowds to wisdom of friends” and third, a trend “from being receivers of information to broadcasters of information”.
I am concerned about this – as I am not sure that this is as healthy as these huge companies think it is. Students are vulnerable and use social media unwisely at times. I though it might be good to write a reflection for the Mancunion compare public and private confessional culture. I emailed the editor and offered this too him – as of yet – no response ………….