Category: Digital


catholic-312A piece of news that might have passed you buy a couple of weeks ago is that the Vatican has secured control of  the .catholic domain name.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which coordinates the assignment of Internet domain names and addresses around the world, is rolling out a new generation of new domain names such as  .party and .xbox, among others.  See the video below to see what TLGD’s (Top Level Generic Domains ) were available

I was hoping that I could be rebrand this blog – but I found out that the Vatican does not plan to allow individual bloggers or private Catholics to use “.catholic,”.  The domain will be limited to those with a formal canonical recognition: dioceses, parishes and other territorial church jurisdictions; religious orders and other canonically recognized communities; and Catholic institutions such as universities, schools and hospitals.  Paul Tighe who is the priest in charge of the Pontifical Council for Social Communication  says that .catholic will promote “a more cohesive and organized presence” of the church online, “so the recognized structure of the church can be mirrored in the digital space,”.

20120602_IRD001_0The politics behind ‘naming the internet is fascinating.  Saudi Arabia has entered an objection to the Vatican’s bid for a new “.catholic” internet domain. In an appeal to ICANN,  Saudi officials argued that the Vatican “cannot demonstrate that it possesses a monopoly over the term ‘Catholic.’” The information-technology commission of the Islamic kingdom claimed that other Christian groups, including the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, also use the term “Catholic.”  It wasn’t a specific attack on the Catholic church as the Saudi commission sent ICANN over 150 objections to proposed internet domain names, for a variety of reasons. It objected to any group being put in charge of web addresses based on religious terms. It complained about bids to create top-level domains for .islam, .halal and .ummah on similar grounds.They  also made moral complaints about an array of planned new suffixes. It objected to .gay because it “will be offensive” to societies where homosexuality is “contrary to their culture, morality or religion”, to .tattoo as tattooing is prohibited in Islam and Judaism and to .bar on grounds that because of its association with alcohol the term.

Facebook & Status Anxiety


This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments when I finish (14th)

Thumbs down.It was reported last week that Facebook spreads unhappiness (examples here and here).  Research in Michigan, US,  suggested using the site makes people less satisfied with their lives. This resonates with other research that claims Facebook usage increases feelings of isolation, jealousy and depression. It is not clear whether this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation… i.e. it is not facebook that causes isolation but rather those who feel isolated who are more likely to spend more time on facebook. However let’s remember the genesis of facebook, dreamed up in the dorms of Harvard, a high-pressure tank of adolescent insecurity, competitiveness and astronomical expectations. This was portrayed warts and all in the film The Social Network – and perhaps explains why  the architecture of Facebook Pages are often carefully designed to suggest a great and exciting life and therefore can be misleading.

status anxietyCould it be that Facebook is hyper-charging ‘status anxiety’. This idea came from a fascinating book of the same title by (atheist) philosopher Alain de Botton. Most unhappiness comes from this status anxiety and explains why the rich are often unhappier than those with much more modest lifestyles. Because we are always comparing ourselves to those who are one step above us on the wealth ladder. Rather than being satisfied with what we have, we become anxious because we don’t have as nice a car, as big a house etc as this or that friend. You can see how that works on facebook – X’s status updates/ photos indicate they are having a more exciting life than me. Look at his photo in a club surrounded by those beautiful girls whilst I am stuck at home (probably doing something much more interesting or fulfilling). Why has she got twice as many friends as me. So if you want to be happy – don’t fall into the trap of Facebook Status Anxiety!

By the way if you have read this through my facebook link and think it’s a bit hypocritical – my blog posts go onto facebook and twitter automatically. My policy with facebook is to ‘raid’ every week – get in and get out as quickly as I can – and do my business before I get sucked in…(honest) !!


Pope Francis spoke with great freedom and compassion in the now famous ‘no limits’ interview to the press-corps with him.  Whilst the ‘Who am I to judge a gay person?’ has rippled around the world –  for most Catholics this is no great surprise.  However there was a more subtle point that has been missed by many – In the Pope’s own words (translated from Italian)

I see that so many times in the Church, apart from this case and also in this case, one  looks for the “sins of youth,” for example, is it not thus?, And then these things are published.  These things are not crimes.  The crimes are something else: child abuse is a crime.  But sins, if a person, or secular priest or a nun, has committed a sin and then that person experienced conversion, the Lord forgives and when the Lord forgives, the Lord forgets and this is very important for our lives.  When we go to confession and we truly say “I have sinned in this matter,” the Lord forgets and we do not have the right to not forget because we run the risk that the Lord will not forget our sins, eh?  This is a danger.  This is what is important: a theology of sin.  So many times I think of St. Peter: he committed one of the worst sins denying Christ.  And with this sin they made him Pope.  We must think about fact often.

This link between forgetting and forgiveness is a massive point for me in the digital age.  As Andrew Keen makes out in his excellent book Digital Vertigo, the internet has not yet learnt to forget and thus cannot forget.  We all make mistakes as we are growing up, in fact I am convinced that we grow more through our failures rather than our successes.  That is when we really learn about ourselves.  However today’s ‘Digital Natives‘ are making many of their mistakes on-line.  This makes them vulnerable, as pictures and words are all up there available to all,  to future employers and media outlets.  Their mistakes are being made in public – and they are particularly vulnerable because of this.   One day we will have a Pope who is a digital native, I hope by then the internet will have learnt how to forget, then it may become a more forgiving and compassionate place.

Angry-Tweets-poster-finalThe amount of anger and hatred on Social Media is a growing concern.  Its seems that under cover of internet pseudonyms and often with a couple of glasses down their neck – normal mild mannered reasonable people can be turned into ranting nutters.  There is a law called ‘Godwins Law‘ named after an American Lawyer called Mike Godwin which goes something like this  “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.”  this is otherwise known as Reductio ad Hitlerum. It seems that at times the relative anonymity of the internet is not conducive to rational debate.  A big news story in the UK is how the first paid ‘Youth Police and Crime Commissioner’ career has ended before it began because of the hate filled comments she posted on Twitter.



As Pope Emeritus Benedict said ‘ Believers who bear witness to their most profound convictions greatly help prevent the web from becoming an instrument which depersonalizes people, attempts to manipulate them emotionally or allows those who are powerful to monopolize the opinions of others‘ (World CommunicationsDay 2011).  It is sad therefore to see how the Catholic presence on the internet seems to be dominated by shrill, inward looking and judgmental voices.  Many students have come to see me slightly bewildered by the attack made on Jesuits since Pope Francis’s election – sadly many of the most vicious attacks come from supposedly ‘orthodox’ voices.   Pope Emeritus Benedict was aware of this when he warned of a ‘parallel’ magisterium being set up on the internet   There also seems to be a correlation between the amount of posts per day some of these bloggers put up and how ‘detached’ from the real world they are. Simply put – if they could only spend more time meeting real people, then maybe they would become more compassionate, instead of being fixated on an distorted view of orthodoxy that they often use to hit their own bishops and the Pope with.

We need more moderate voices on the internet – otherwise those who shout the loudest – often from a cowardly or paranoid anonymity are over influencing the debate.

As today’s Gospel says

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light
and does not come toward the light,
so that his works might not be exposed.
But whoever lives the truth comes to the light,
so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, Californ...

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 ………….

Digital Vertigo


The Internet needs ‘saving’ from its current direction or we are heading into a digital nightmare of radical transparency and exhibitionism.  This was the basic theme presented at a fascinating discussion at the Edinburgh Book Festival yesterday evening as Andrew Keen was promoting and discussing his new(ish) book ‘Digital Vertigo’ .  Keen, now in his early fifties, is one of the pioneering generation of digital entrepreneurs who is expressing alarm at the direction the internet is taking, with particular criticism for Facebook, he warns us that we are entering an age of unprecedented exhibitionism, which will be damaging for many. Most of us in the audience were Digital Immigrants (i.e. we remember life before the internet!) unlike the younger generation of Digital Natives who will feel the full force of the agenda to socialise the internet.  According to Keen, Silicon Valley  has written off privacy as being something archaic.  My experience in recent years of working as a chaplain and a teacher was how important it is to encourage my students to use Facebook / Twitter / You Tube prudently.   They need to realise that by putting, drunken, half-naked photos onto social network sites they are making themselves hostages to fortune.  The world is assessing our identity by what we leave online and the internet doesn’t forget!  Future employers will be very interested in finding out as much as they can about who they are about to invest in.


Andrew Keen – a weary wisdom

Reflecting on the stimulating evening, I couldn’t help thinking about the idea of ‘structural sin’.  Facebook / Google claim that they are providing a public good, they are trying to change the world and there is a lot of powerful evidence that there is some truth in that (Arab Spring, Charity Fundraising, Linking Isolated communities).  However there is a lie at  the heart of the agenda,  Facebook is making huge amounts of money at selling our private data to companies, it is a profit driven organisation not a public good.  It seems to me that this exploits the worst vulnerabilities of adolescents as they attempt to build a circle of friends,.  As we all know, as we are growing up we make mistakes, we experiment with who we are we, what we stand for.  My generation of Digital Natives are fortunate because those mistakes, the embarrassing things we did or said were done in private and are forgotten about.  The internet does not forget and therefore (as the point was made excellently yesterday) can’t forgive.  If the internet doesn’t learn to forgive it will be a dystopia – rather than the utopia that the first wave of internet entrepeneurs envisaged and hoped for.

Yes you can live without Facebook!

The final thing I have found myself reflecting on is what was said about ‘confessional’ culture.  Little did Andrew Keen know that sitting in the audience was a Catholic Priest who had spent nearly 2 hours in the confessional this weekend. It seems that as we are a city-centre church people come from all over Edinburgh to use the confessional here, I have found it a vibrant and very consoling ministry.  But that private confession, one to one, with the inviolability of the seal, has a profoundly healthy and healing dynamic. The confessional, ‘all out there’ culture, cheered (and jeered) on by reality TV, Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle, is damaging and exploitative, and as more of us live ‘on’ line there is a danger that we become more self-revelatory.  This pressure towards inappropriate self-disclosure must be resisted, otherwise we are ultimately being made fools of (like Scotty in Hitchcock’s Vertigo hence the title of the book). So thank you Andrew Keen –  I found him full of a weary wisdom, but feel his analysis is important, pragmatic, and he probably wouldn’t like this but redolent with a disguised and reluctant compassion.  I am going to buy his book!





Solitude (Photo credit: Lady-bug)

I put my mobile phone (cheap model)  in the washing machine yesterday!  My first reaction when I realized - was curiously one of slight relief. Hopefully it will dry out – but for a while I have an good excuse for not replying to texts!  It is something I am not great at the best of times – but whilst here it is not unusual to get more than 20 a day – which for me is a lot! Pinoys send 1.7bn texts a day – according to comscore – In Europe and the US email is still the primary mode of communication, wheras in the Pacific Rim it is Direct Messaging. Up till fairly recently - click here - more texts were sent in the Philippines than in the whole of Europe.

The Philippines claims to be the most socially connected country in the world with a staggering 94% facebook usage.  I think that figure must reflect multiple accounts rather than population penetration. When I remember my time in the Mountains or the ‘squatter areas’ of Manila all the youngsters wanted to ‘friend’ you on facebook – even in the places where the nearest internet facility was more than a days walk away (in the mountains).  For me there is something unsettling about this intensity.

People often ask me – being celibate – are you not lonely?  And I answer – sometimes – of course!  But the gift of faith is such that you never really feel alone.  As Jesuits we are often immersed in the world with others – sometimes I really look forward to and treasure time alone!  Why this cultural fear?  Maybe we mix up being alone with feeling lonely.  Loneliness (the worlds greatest disease according to Mother Teresa) is a sickness of the soul that we can often experience when we are not alone. Everyone has experienced feeling lonely in a crowd, sometimes sadly being lonely in a community or a marriage.  But I think we only really can listen to our deepest desires – and maybe encounter God if we are alone, still and silent, at least once in a while!

So thanks to the chaplain here at the Ateneo High School I discovered this beautiful video.  It is like a poem / meditation by the Canadian storyteller / singer / poet Tanya Davis. I think (most of it!) is very beautiful. The lyrics are below.

HOW TO BE ALONE by Tanya Davis

If you are at first lonely, be patient. If you’ve not been alone much, or if when you were, you weren’t okay with it, then just wait. You’ll find it’s fine to be alone once you’re embracing it.

We could start with the acceptable places, the bathroom, the coffee shop, the library. Where you can stall and read the paper, where you can get your caffeine fix and sit and stay there. Where you can browse the stacks and smell the books. You’re not supposed to talk much anyway so it’s safe there.

There’s also the gym. If you’re shy you could hang out with yourself in mirrors, you could put headphones in (guitar stroke).

And there’s public transportation, because we all gotta go places.

And there’s prayer and meditation. No one will think less if you’re hanging with your breath seeking peace and salvation.

Start simple. Things you may have previously (electric guitar plucking) based on your avoid being alone principals.

The lunch counter. Where you will be surrounded by chow-downers. Employees who only have an hour and their spouses work across town and so they — like you — will be alone.

Resist the urge to hang out with your cell phone.

When you are comfortable with eat lunch and run, take yourself out for dinner. A restaurant with linen and silverware. You’re no less intriguing a person when you’re eating solo dessert to cleaning the whipped cream from the dish with your finger. In fact some people at full tables will wish they were where you were.

Go to the movies. Where it is dark and soothing. Alone in your seat amidst a fleeting community.
And then, take yourself out dancing to a club where no one knows you. Stand on the outside of the floor till the lights convince you more and more and the music shows you. Dance like no one’s watching…because, they’re probably not. And, if they are, assume it is with best of human intentions. The way bodies move genuinely to beats is, after all, gorgeous and affecting. Dance until you’re sweating, and beads of perspiration remind you of life’s best things, down your back like a brook of blessings.

Go to the woods alone, and the trees and squirrels will watch for you.
Go to an unfamiliar city, roam the streets, there’re always statues to talk to and benches made for sitting give strangers a shared existence if only for a minute and these moments can be so uplifting and the conversations you get in by sitting alone on benches might’ve never happened had you not been there by yourself

Society is afraid of alonedom, like lonely hearts are wasting away in basements, like people must have problems if, after a while, nobody is dating them. but lonely is a freedom that breaths easy and weightless and lonely is healing if you make it.

You could stand, swathed by groups and mobs or hold hands with your partner, look both further and farther for the endless quest for company. But no one’s in your head and by the time you translate your thoughts, some essence of them may be lost or perhaps it is just kept.

Perhaps in the interest of loving oneself, perhaps all those sappy slogans from preschool over to high school’s groaning were tokens for holding the lonely at bay. Cuz if you’re happy in your head than solitude is blessed and alone is okay.

It’s okay if no one believes like you. All experience is unique, no one has the same synapses, can’t think like you, for this be releived, keeps things interesting lifes magic things in reach.

And it doesn’t mean you’re not connected, that communitie’s not present, just take the perspective you get from being one person in one head and feel the effects of it. take silence and respect it. if you have an art that needs a practice, stop neglecting it. if your family doesn’t get you, or religious sect is not meant for you, don’t obsess about it.

you could be in an instant surrounded if you needed it
If your heart is bleeding make the best of it
There is heat in freezing, be a testament.


I remember doing my teacher training degree in the UK – and our course was being inspected by the government.  Part of the inspection was to observe us (the student-teachers) teaching in our placements.  I was observed teaching a religion lesson in a totally secular school in South London – where religion was at best a curiosity.  Of a student body of 1200 – the RE department had one teacher!!  Religious Education was tolerated – if not exactly encouraged. The student body generally matched the official apathy of the school – with one or two exceptions.  So my job was to win hearts and minds and stimulate interest.  I decided to teach a lesson on Religion on the Internet – asking the students to find out which ‘celebrity’ had the most listings on Google.  Beckham? No (159million).  Lady Gaga? No (500million). Obama (745million) – The answer was of course Jesus (847million).

I suppose the point is a serious one.  Religious believers (and fanatics! and bigots!) are very quick at adapting new technologies to promote their messages. It is easy to identify key moments in the development of communication technology.  Ancient writings moved from tablets – to scrolls – to books due to the invention of the Codex by Romans.  But it was the Early Christians spreading the Gospels and the Bible that made the Codex popular. Then of course came the Reformation and Gutenberg’s printing press – the innovation of movable type made mass printing of leaflets, pamphlets and of course the Gutenberg Bible feasible. Jump forward a few centuries and Marconi – the inventor of long distance radio – wanted to personally introduce in 1931 the first radio broadcast of a Pope, Pius XI, announcing at the microphone: “With the help of God, who places so many mysterious forces of nature at man’s disposal, I have been able to prepare this instrument which will give to the faithful of the entire world the joy of listening to the voice of the Holy Father”  And then Thomas Doherty claimed in an oft repeated phrase that Golden Age Hollywood was “a Jewish-owned business selling Catholic theology to Protestant America.”

So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by the proliferation of religious content (of varying quality and accuracy) on the internet.  I particularly enjoy some of the creative video clips – which are great for use in schools / assemblies  / talks or even introducing prayer. One I was sent via twitter today:

See it without the water mark at this external link

You may well have seen this already by the excellent Igniter Media (also check out their Social Media Christmas)

And finally how about this for lapsed Catholics


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