Speaking of the Godsbody correspondents, The Manhattan Lawyer sent this one along. Thinks me it’s worth fisking:
A woman kept her secret for nearly two decades. Finally ready to confess, she turned not to a minister, but to her computer.
[I'm thinking that's cuz her minister has never asked to hear her confession. Maybe because he would refer her directly to the Mercy Seat of Jesus. Also, maybe, because her minister can't offer absolution - the forgiveness of sins through action in persona Christi.]
”I am sorry God for not keeping that baby,” her anonymous confession reads. “I had an abortion and had kept that secret for over 18 years. I feel so ashamed. Please forgive me!”
[Can I just say that there is no small amount of comfort in Jesus' promise about holding sins bound and loosing them (at least in this instance)? If the priest tells me I'm forgiven, I don't need the pleading note of "Please!" Not trying to sound all Catholic triumphalist here, just grateful. It's almost like Catholicism makes a certain amount of psychological sense.]
The confession appears at ivescrewedup.com, a website launched by the Flamingo Road Church in Cooper City. It’s one of a growing number of such sites across the country — some secular and others church-sponsored — that offer a place to spill out ugly secrets or just make peccadilloes public.
[Of course, the desire to spill out ugly secrets is hardly restricted to the religiously minded. Post Secret knows this - and while we're mentioning Post Secret, here's a particularly chilling entry. Confessing doesn't always have more of a point than simply getting something off your chest, but in a religious context, perhaps, just maybe, it ought to?]
”I think it helps people understand . . . that we’re not here to point out people’s screw-ups, that we’re here to help them,” said lead Pastor Troy Gramling, whose nondenominational church launched the site on Easter weekend. “The church is made of skin and flesh and people that have made mistakes.”
[Just as an aside, and not at all snidely - isn't it amazing that this has to be pointed out?]
The 6,500-member church created the site as part of a 10-week series on the ways people mess up — in marriage, parenting, finances and more. The goal of the series is to help congregants learn from their mistakes.
[And anonymous online confession helps congregants learn from their mistakes how? Again, not trying to be Catholic triumphal, but it sounds a little like trying to give meaning to confession without granting the meaning proposed by the Church - the meaning that endured for not a little while. "No, no - it can't mean that. But it clearly had some worth. Maybe as a teaching tool? Yes! Helping folks learn from their mistakes!"]
So far, more people are reading the confessions than posting them.
The site gets about 1,000 hits a day, with about 200 online admissions.
Lust, pornography and a litany of sexual transgressions top the sinners’ hit parade. Theft, lying and alcohol abuse also make frequent appearances.
[No! Alert the Today in Porn people! Oh, wait.]
One person confesses: ”I have done enough drugs to make Keith Richards envious!!!!!” Another admits wishing death on her enemies. The posts are poignant and heartbreaking and occasionally frightening, like the accounts of teenagers ravaged by eating disorders and others who have contemplated suicide. A 23-year-old man who posted on the site told a reporter in a telephone interview that he was struck by how many people wanted to spill their “dirty little secret. I think there’s a feeling that you’re not the only one that’s out there that has messed up before and there’s other people,” said the man, who declined to reveal anything about himself or his confession.
[Ah, human solidarity. The final title for Book Two, just before it got axed, was The Communion of Sinners.]
The Miami Herald contacted the church, seeking confessors, but found none willing to be identified in print. The 23-year-old who gave the interview said he is a Protestant who doesn’t belong to the church but was turned on to the website by a friend who is a member. ”It was very cathartic,” he said.
[Which cartharsis, of course, need not have anything to do with anything religious.
The anonymity of the site is key to its appeal. He said he hadn't turned to anyone in his church about the confession he posted and wasn't sure whether he would feel comfortable. ''When you don't know someone, you can't trust them; it takes time,'' he said.
[That's why we have the screen! Sort of.]
Online confessionals are a natural outgrowth of Internet chat rooms ”where people have this habit of telling secrets to strangers,” as well as blogs and MySpace pages, said Janet Sternberg, associate chairwoman of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University in New York. ”Online was made for this stuff,” Sternberg said. “It’s the perfect environment for people telling secrets anonymously.”
[Where it doesn't really mean anything, because there's no real person-to-person contact. It's all just a bunch of ghosts. Confession emptied of significance. Online confessionals may be a natural outgrowth of this world, but they shouldn't be. There ought to be a point to telling someone this stuff. Something more than providing grist for the anthropologists. Or maybe I'm just being grumpy.]
LifeChurch.tv, an evangelical church that broadcasts services to 11 locations, including one in Palm Beach County, started the site mysecret.tv nearly a year ago. More than 6,000 people have posted confessions and millions more have logged on to read the stories, said Bobby Gruenewald, pastor and innovation leader at LifeChurch.tv. The church has received some criticism, Gruenewald said, from people who think that “we’re trying to encourage people to confess to a computer instead of God. We just believe it is a catalyst to have people open up to family and friends and God. I think sometimes it can be misunderstood.”
[Okay, now I'm being snide. Do these people really believe that it's a catalyst to get people to open up to family and friends? Do teens come to their parents with the same stuff they put on their MySpace blogs? Again, this just sounds like trying to lend significance to a thing once the original significance (absolution, etc.) has been rejected. Because if you're already forgiven, you don't need to seek absolution...]
The Catholic Church is among those who reject the idea of confessing online. Confession is ”the opportunity to confess sins to someone ordained as a priest who is a representative of Christ,” said Mary Ross Agosta, a spokeswoman for the Miami Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church.
[Well, thanks for that. The Catholic Church - bastion of human understanding and psychological sympathy. But you'd never know it from the newspaper.]
The websites, with their voyeuristic appeal, may fulfill people’s need to feel better about their own behavior or moral values.
[Love the honesty.]
“What makes it so popular is not so much the people confessing but people going to read all these things, saying, `My life’s not so bad,’ ” said Greg Fox, who runs the site dailyconfession.com.
[Again with the solidarity. Again, not criticizing. But is it enough?]
“It’s kind of the car wreck you’re driving by. You can’t help but watch. It’s kind of the car wreck of life.”
Fox started the site in 2000 while he was working as a writer, producer and director for The Walt Disney Co. The launch was ”my therapy,” he said. ”Everything was pixie dust and fun and nice and nothing bad ever happens,” he said. The site, which averages about 1.3 million hits a day, was ”my way of getting back in touch with reality,” he said. People have written on the site about contemplating suicide and abusive relationships, and Fox said he has tried to give those people the resources to get help. Others have threatened the president, prompting Fox to call the U.S. Secret Service.
[The Secret Service? We're a long way from I Confess.]
He reviews all of the posts before they make it to cyberspace and has a backlog of about 4,000 confessions. Fox said the confessions are completely anonymous and that he has no way of tracing them. “What I hear is it’s a lot easier to tell the `truth’ in complete anonymity. You can get feedback and find out you’re not so weird. You’re not the only one who feels that way or has this phobia.”