Social networks can’t replace religion: The object of going to church isn’t mental wellbeing, but it happens to be a side-product of ‘doing’ religion

Social networks can’t replace religion: The object of going to church isn’t mental wellbeing, but it happens to be a side-product of ‘doing’ religion. By Melanie McDonagh.

Mark Zuckerberg says that Facebook could be to its users what churches are to congregations: it could help them feel part of ‘a more connected world’. That got a dusty response. Facebook as church, eh? So the man who helped an entire generation to replace real friends with virtual ones and online communities is sounding off about people feeling unconnected? Cause and effect or what? …

It’s interesting that Zuckerberg identified the function of a church, specifically, as something that needs replicating. Churches were once the most obvious centre of any community, and at times of crisis, like after the Grenfell Tower fire, people still congregate there.

But what’s now evident is that churches have other benefits. Specifically, churchgoing seems to have a bearing on the very contemporary problem of mental health. The object of going to church isn’t mental wellbeing, but it happens to be a documented side-product of ‘doing’ religion. …

A persistent finding in the field of mental health research for some years is that there is a beneficial effect of church attendance; religious practice, per se. It’s not about affiliation or spirituality, but about actually going to church. Including, I suppose, going to church all by yourself. …

At its simplest, going to church is a way of being communal, and as Mark Zuckerberg points out, lots of us aren’t nowadays. A Sunday service means you get to see people and it involves simple routine, but being in a parish can also include taking the collection, helping out at a food bank, doing the church cleaning, whatever. That brings us back to the Facebook approach: anything that makes you part of a bigger group and a bigger picture is all to the good. …

It’s interesting because for a long time secularists have tried to portray religious belief as a form of mental illness, yet the evidence suggests it might be the cure.

hat-tip Stephen Neil