God Online

With everything from books to brokers, auctions to elections online these days, it was only a matter of time before religion found its place on the Web. CBS Early Show Co-Anchor Jane Clayson took a closer look Monday morning at the comfort many worshippers are finding from others on the Internet:

Judy Spiegel was looking for hope for her father. She found it on her computer at beliefnet.com , a multifaith Website that offers articles, information and prayers.

The Website helped Judy's father with a prayer circle, a special sort of message board. You elaborate about what kind of prayer you're seeking, provide a little detail about the person you're praying for and ask for assistance.

"Within a couple of days I had a tremendous response and quality, beautiful prayers from an enormous number of faiths and I was just warmed by it," says Spiegel.

Other religious Websites include ibelieve.com , and crosswalk.com .

Steve Waldman, co-founder of beliefnet.com, and Reverend Canon Susan Harriss of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, have different views about these new resources for the faithful.

Waldman says his goal is not to replace bricks and mortar sanctuaries. "We want to enhance and supplement and give you new experiences that you can't get in the physical world."

He says the parts of the site that have the most effect on people are the prayer circles and the memorials.

"You can create a multimedia eulogy with text, music, pictures, audio, and then you invite friends and family to add their thoughts to the memorial, so it's very moving," he says.

Waldman's site has columnists who are rabbis and priests, a grief counselor and an ethicist. People can e-mail questions to any or all of these specialists.

But he points out that, "If at the end of the day everyone stayed home from church to sit in front of their computer screens, we'll have failed miserably."

Rev. Harriss says she has mixed feelings about religion on the Web.

"People are playing on the Net, and they aren't as serious as when they come in person. I don't think anyone thinks the computer is as friendly as a discussion in person."

She's also wary of people sharing personal information over the Internet, "not knowing who is going to receive that information and what kind of use will be made of it. You wouldn't do that with someone on the street. So to me, there's just a big gap between the way we're operating online and the way we are in the real world."

She also wonders how provocative the web can be. "You can always turn it of, and at church you can't do that. Like family, you have to put up with it."

She adds that religious websites might be a substitute for omeone who is shut in and can't get to church. And she can see that it might be helpful for someone in a desperate situation.

"Maybe it's a first step, like calling a help line, but the healing process really starts in person," Harriss says.

Waldman counters that "being anonymous is part of the value. People do open up to each other online in a way they don't in a physical situation."

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