Folk Catholicism in the Cyber Philippines
The Philippines is currently undergoing its third major conversion. The
first was the rapid Christianisation of the islands by Spanish friars during
the 16th century; the second was its assimilation of Yankee values as taught
by enthusiastic American teachers; and the third has been the cellphone
Cell phones were introduced into the Philippines2 only in 1999;3 the
country is now heralded as the texting capital of the world, with one hun-
dred million texts being sent around the archipelago daily.4 Although the
ratio of cell phones to population in the Philippines is low by international
standards, the number of text messages sent by SMS users is double the
world average. A recent national survey5 found that one in three Filipinos
use mobile phones, including 17% of the poorest sector. Colloquially,
texting is described as the “national pastime”. The popularity of texting
is directly related to the inadequate infrastructure, notorious unreliability
of traditional landlines6 and the low cost of SMS. Sending one text mes-
sage costs a mere peso (approximately US$ 0.02), compared with the rel-
atively expensive rates of voice calls made directly from one’s cell phone
R. Pertierra and E. Ugarte, Cultures and Texts: Representations of Philippine Society,
Diliman, Quezon City: University of Philippines Press, 1994, p. 125.
Readers, please forgive me if my position or language herein is more partial than
standard anthropological writings. I acknowledge that the work is at times rather tongue
and cheek, but I hope not offensive in any way.
3 Texting became possible in the Philippines in 1999 via Globe Telecoms’ introduc-
tion of prepaid calling cards (Pertierra and Ugarte, op. cit., p. 87).
The Pulse Asia survey was conducted from March 29th to April 12th, 2003, with
12,000 persons, see Martin Marfill, “One in 3 Filipinos Uses Cell Phones, Says Survey”,
Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 21, 2003, pp. A 1, A 14.
G. Strøm, “The Telephone Comes to a Filipino Village”, in James E. Katz and
Mark Aakhus (eds.), Perpetual Contact: Mobile Communication, Private Talk, Public Performance,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 274–283.
Locally, users are commonly referred to as “generation texters”. They
are usually urban or semi-urban dwellers, from lower-middle economic
brackets and up, and are often students. A texter can be conceptualized
as a regular participant in text exchange with other cell phone owners. Be-
coming a texter involves the development of texter-textee relationships,
or general reliance on mobile communication in the fulfilment of one’s com-
The Philippines is Asia’s only predominantly Catholic country, with
83% of the population adhering to Roman Catholicism.8 Fieldwork was
conducted over the period of 2000–2003 in a semi-urban town (Kalibo,
population 63,000) on Panay Island, the central Philippines. Panay is
celebrated for its great festivity, hospitality and religiosity (i.e. rich religious
sentiments and practices).9 Kalibo is situated near Boracay, the leading
(sex) tourist destination in the country, and annually hosts Ati-Atihan, a three-
week Mardi-Gras festival. Undergoing rapid social change, Kalibo pro-
vided an apt site to examine competing desires among young people; par-
ticularly dialectics of tradition and modernity, remnants of the Spanish colo-
nial experience and notions of Cannell’s10 “imagined America”.11
Although my study focused on young women’s sexual health, I could
not help but respond to the prevalence of the texting phenomena. Through
7 Young people often receive their cell phones as a gift from their parents, extended
family member, or an elder sibling. Occasionally women acquire cell phones from a boy-
friend, signifying an ultimate romantic gift within the Filipino context due to the rela-
tionship between texting and romance. It is also customary to buy oneself a cell phone
from a retail outlet or, less commonly, the black market. Other forms of acquisition include
purchasing a second-hand cell phone or acquiring a phone through pamilia (family) net-
works. In addition, people may purchase their cell phone through remittances received
from family members living overseas, and are able to keep in touch with that family
8 According to the CIA - The World Factbook - Philippines, Filipino religious affiliations
are categorized as such: Roman Catholic 83%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 5%, Buddhist
and other 3%. See http://www.geoplace.com/hottopics/CIAwfb/factbook/geos/rp.html,
9 M. Reyes-Tinagan, Viva! Kay Senor Santo Nino. Viva! Manila: National Commission for
10 F. Cannell, “The Power of Appearances: Beauty, Mimicry, and the Transformation
in Bicol”, in V. Rafael (ed.), Discrepant Histories: Translocal Essays on Filipino Culture, Manila:
Temple University Press, 1995, pp. 223–258.
11 Cannell, op. cit. p. 224, posits that Filipinos commonly compare the Philippines to
America, as a place of distinct power, wealth, beauty, glamour and enjoyment.
standard anthropological methodologies (participant observation,12 focus
group discussions, and in-depth interviews13), I worked to gain an in-depth
understanding of young women’s (aged 15–29) lives. Data was also in-
formed by young men’s experiences and in light of salient themes within
Cell discourse has infiltrated Filipino social life as a powerful, far-reaching
communication device. A strong example of this is its instrumental role
in the overthrowing of Philippine president Joseph Estrada in January
2001. Text messaging was used to propagate anti-Estrada sentiments,
organize massive demonstrations against the President, and during these
protests, in response to riot police, to redirect crowds.15 My work, how-
ever, as presented elsewhere,16 focuses on the emotional, particularly the
romantic and erotic aspects of text exchange. I examined how texting en-
ables young women to side-step traditional gender constraints and ex-
periment with their desires; the transformation of “anonymous texters”
into embodied couples; how texting increases strife among friends and
lovers in terms of privacy and in regard to what Kenneth Gergen has
termed as absent presence.17 In this paper, I contrast these findings with an-
12 During fieldwork I attended many social events under a religious banner. These in-
cluded official church services (e.g. Sunday Mass, novenas), life cycle rituals (baptisms, mar-
riages and funerals) and festivals (e.g. All Saint’s Day, Ati-Atihan, and St. John Baptist Day).
Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 50 young women, and
approximately 30 prominent community players (e.g. health practitioners, religious heads,
14 Specifically this included careful consideration of media (newspapers, magazines,
radio, television and film), advertising, and primary health related material.
James E. Katz and Mark Aakhus (eds.), Perpetual Contact, p. 3. For further discus-
sion see Pertierra, op. cit., or F. Paragas, “Dramatextism: Mobile Telephony and People
Power in the Philippines”, in Kristóf Nyíri (ed.), Mobile Democracy: Essays on Society, Selfand Politics, Vienna: Passagen Verlag, 2003, pp. 259–283.
16 See B. Ellwood-Clayton, “Virtual Strangers: Young Love and Texting in the Filipino
Archipelago of Cyberspace”, in Kristóf Nyíri (ed.), Mobile Democracy, pp. 225–235; B.
Ellwood-Clayton, “Desire and Loathing in the Cyber Philippines”, in R. Harper, L.
Palen and A. Taylor (eds.), The Inside Text: Social, Cultural and Design Perspectives on SMS,
17 Katz and Aakhus (Perpetual Contact, p. xxi) discuss how ownership of a mobile phone
creates “the internal psychological feeling of being accessible or having access”. As a con-
sequence, social relationships are changing due to new pressures and obligations. Gergen
specifically addresses this in terms of the notion “absent presence” whereby “[o]ne is
physically present but is absorbed by a technologically mediated world of elsewhere”
(Kenneth J. Gergen, “The Challenge of Absent Presence”, in James E. Katz and Mark Aakhus,
eds., Perpetual Contact, p. 227). This “pervasive state” (ibid., p. 240) is further defined in terms
other significant domain of the texting phenomena in the Philippines – sa-
cred love: the relationship between SMS and God.
Herein I argue that local appropriation of religiosity is enacted through
folk text Catholicism. This is demonstrated through users’ communiqué,
which I refer to as “barkada gospel”, and in commercial avenues catering to
the pious, which I refer to as “evangelical gospel” (e.g. text how-to books
such as “The Lord is my Textmate”, ringtones such as “Amazing Grace”).
Of particular interest are priests’ use of texts both socially and in their
sermons and the emergence of commercial markets whereby texters are
Until the late 14th century, Filipinos generally believed in the domi-
nance of one supreme deity, other lesser gods and an active spirit world.18
Anito deities19 were considered good and came in the form of spirits of the
deceased, or lived in special nature spots of power (e.g. majestic trees), while
nocturnal creatures called asuangs were responsible for evil activities,20
and often came in the form of vampire.21 Despite implantation of the col-
onizers’ religion in the modern day Philippines, numerous people have
reported seeing asuangs. The island where I conducted my fieldwork, for
example, is commonly believed to be the breeding ground for such vam-
pire spirits. This demonstrates how local beliefs have persisted despite
foreign ideologies and religious conversions.
Catholicism was brought to the Philippines when it was conquered in
the 16th century.22 “The church building became the representation of
authority, with the [male] priest as the spokesperson and the human medi-
of interrelationship: “the continuous presence at hand of family, friends and colleagues
who are physically absent” (see Kenneth J. Gergen, “Self and Community in the New Float-
ing Worlds”, in Kristóf Nyíri, ed., Mobile Democracy, p. 105).
P. Rodell, Culture and Customs of the Philippines, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press,
19 Sacrifices were made to anitos in order to ward off any angry influences and to gain
These are activities such as attacking pregnant women, ill people, or those out in
the evening alone (Rodell, ibid.). Asuangs could take different forms: vampire, ghoul, witch, or a beautiful woman
ready to trick men to their demise. Unlike anitos, offering or prayer could not placate asuangs;
those inflicted sought the service of a shaman (Rodell, op. cit., p. 31).
22 For more literature about religion in the Philippines see Reyes-Tinagan, op. cit., and
T. Agoncillo and M. Guerrero, History of the Filipino People, Quezon City: R. P. Garcia, 1977.
um to the spiritual world.” 23 Missionary priests spread throughout the
archipelago and although monastic orders grew to have a great deal of
political importance at the local level, as Rodell asserts, priests’ religious
conversion of the local population was weak. Many Filipinos converted
without an adequate understanding of Christian doctrine. Thus, the peas-
ant majority interpreted Catholic beliefs through their own perspectives
of worship, resulting in different forms of folk Catholicism. Folk Catholi-
cism has been characterized by Lynch 24 as the “unique blend of official
Catholic ritual and belief, peninsular Spanish and Mexican additives,
and the pre-existent Malay base”. The merging of orthodox and folk-
religious customs is demonstrated in contemporary religious practices,
for example All Saint’s Day and Ati-Atihan. Lynch argues that folk-religious
customs such as these provide members’ faith “a physical form which theyrecognize as their own, communicating the Good News in language and other symbolsthat are distinctly theirs”.25 We will see how richly this notion is manifested
Barkada Gospel: Love Thy Neighbour
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the
The Catholic message is twofold: love of God and love of thy neighbour
(as well as ideals of kindness, respect and compassion for those in need).26
These values surface into personalized text expression, which I refer to, in
general, as “text gospel”, and in the particular context of the Philippines:
“barkada gospel”. Barkada refers to a long-term group of close friends who
act almost as extended family to one another.27 I argue that regular religious-
supplemented text communication creates an independent form of com-
munity religiosity that is more or less autonomous from the Catholic Church.
Within egalitarian power structures, individuals text other individuals: friend
to friend, sister to sister, lover to lover. This complements Anderson’s 28 con-
Aram A. Yengoyan and Perla Q. Makil (eds.), Philippine Society and the Individual:Selected Essays of Frank Lynch, 1949–1976, Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press,
Lynch, op. cit., p. 206, my emphasis.
Less commonly, barkada also refers to the negative influence of a group (e.g. men
drinking too much due to peer pressure).
28 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nation-alism, rev. ed., London and New York: Verso, 1991, pp. 5–7.
cept of imagined communities, where the emergence of nationalism is related
to, for example, the strengthening of communication devices and move-
ments to abolish divine rule or monarchy.
Filipinos send two types of text messages to one another, what I have
termed “hallmark” 29 (forwarded) and personal (self-composed) texts. Per-
sonal text messages range from trivial social detailing to more intimate
dialogue, and often include the ubiquitous “ God bless” at the end of mes-
sages. Hallmark religious texts are passed across the archipelago like chain
letters;30 generally syrupy and corny, there seems to be no stigma or irony
God’s love is like the sunshine after the storm. Even when we get engulfed by life’s floods, we can be
assured that the sun will always shine 31
A typical morning greeting of such calibre would be: SACRED HEART of
JESUS CHRIST shower d person readn dis w ur blessings 2day & always. Gud am! 32
Messages such as these are frequently derived from commercially sold
text books, catering to a range of emotional themes, e.g. humour, love,
friendship, inspiration and religion. These books provide readers with
theme-associated texts, ringtones, and graphics. This highlights the sym-
bolic and cultural value of text messaging, whereby texts need not be nec-
essarily individualized, as meanings are derived from shared values that
Sometimes texters incorporate playful or humorous elements into their
texting repertoire even when the content has religious elements. For exam-
ple, a police officer sent my friend Antonio the following text; imagine
his surprise when reading the first screen:
Hallmark Cards is the world’s largest “social expressions” company.
Kasesniemi and Rautiainen also report that young people in Finland send texts
like chain letters. See E.-L. Kasesniemi and P. Rautiainen, “Mobile Culture of Children
and Teenagers in Finland”, in James E. Katz and Mark Aakhus (eds.), Perpetual Contact,
It is significant to note that texters sending religious sentiments to one another
often return to standard grammatical rules of spelling and punctuation, thus placing the
messages into a more formal and ceremonial domain.
Sacred heart of Jesus Christ shower the person reading this with your blessings
This second, 7-screen message is even more remarkable:
SMS provides users a financially solvent, endearing and particularly
rewarding form of adhesion in maintaining social relationships. Acting to
enrich and nurture relationships, text exchange keeps people feeling so-
cially connected and acts to abate loneliness and social alienation. This tech-
nology supports familial relationships, an intrinsically important component
of the Filipino social structure.34 Being able to communicate despite geo-
graphical distance is especially salient in light of the current economic sit-
uation, characterized by high relocation and migration. For example, accord-
ing to Tan et al. estimates of Filipinos living and working overseas range from
Many users find emotional solace or inspiration through text discourse.36
Text exchanges among barkada often act as reminders of faith, love and
friendship and reinforce enjoying the good life despite numerous exter-
nal hardships. Thus, barkada gospel can be understood as a form of emo-
33 Text this message to five of your friends and your wish will be granted in one day.
M. Tan, T. Batangan and H. Espanola (eds.), Love and Desire: Young Filipinos andSexual Risks, Manila: University of the Philippines, 2001.
It is difficult to determine absolute numbers of Filipinos living and working over-
seas due to the large number of individuals working abroad illegally. See M. Tan, K.
Cheng and J. Lamung, Living on the Edge: Case Study on Filipino Seafarers, Pasig City: Health
Action Information Network (HAIN), 2000, p. 1.
36 For example, as said by one respondent: “The messages my friends send me make
me feel better when I’m down. Sometimes it’s coincidental; they send me messages that
I need to hear. They can be significant in your daily life. It’s good to have someone re-
tional hospitality:37 as goodwill enacted on the micro level through cyber
means. It can also be likened to Mauss’s38 conceptions of gift-giving and
balanced reciprocity, where like is exchanged for like (text for text).39
Looking at the relationship between texting and religion in other Asian
contexts, I turn to journalist Sani’s40 unique account of the celebration
of Muslim Hari Raya festival in Kuala Lumpur:
While nothing could replace the actual noisy and chaotic atmosphere where
everyone will be talking a mile a minute, we could be part of the Hari Raya
gathering by sending notes and messages via SMS. We could even carry
out a text-based conversation without missing much. Even better, we
could also send out picture messaging through multimedia messaging
(MMS)-enabled mobile phones for that visual impact.
Here we have some reference point for future directions of the mobile
phone in terms of religious experiences. This indicates that SMS is alter-
ing important religious events – one does not have to be present in a
physical, traditional sense to practice religion. It highlights how the body
is technologically engaged and how postmodern technological embod-
iment is not a singularly discursive condition.41
What does it mean that individuals are passing on the Good Word
to one another, instead of through more standard [male] means of church,
bible and priest? Will texting act to subvert such institutions by its own
Catholic appropriation? Barkada gospel fosters virtual communities that
cut across temporal and geographic constraints and works to maintain
relationships and support community-based forms of religiosity. Aided
by cyberspace, religious communication, as a micro, daily social relation
occurring between individuals, has an alternative site of expression; it has
37 Hospitality is a highly honoured Filipino (Agoncillo and Guerrero, op. cit.) and cer-
tainly Kalibonhon trait (see Reyes-Tinagan, op. cit.).
38 M. Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies , London:
See also Ellwood-Clayton, “Desire and Loathing” (forthcoming), and A. Taylor
and R. Harper, “Age-Old Practices in the ‘New World’: A Study of Gift-Giving between
Teenage Mobile Phone Users”, CHI 2002, Minneapolis: ACM Press.
40 R. Sani, “Connecting Raya Spirit in Technological Ways”, New Straits Times, Nov-
A. Balsamo, “Forms of Technological Embodiment: Reading the Body in Con-
temporary Culture”, in J. Price and M. Shildrick (eds.), Feminist Theory and the Body: AReader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999, pp. 278–290, the quoted passage
literally become based in the hands of the people rather than primarily through
institutions. In addition, women are networking religious thought to one
another by text, and are thus key players in religious discourse.42 How-
ever, as we now turn to priests’ roles in texting relationships, and then to
commercial or evangelical gospel, women’s role is again inverted as sub-
The Priest Is My Textmate: Secular and Sacred Forms of the Good Word
Research findings indicate that priests in the Philippines, not removed
from modern living, often own a personal cell phone, which they use for
social purposes as well as general convenience. Linked also to pre-estab-
lished barkada networks, priests often engage in the passing of friendly,
inspirational, and humorous-based text messages among those with whom
they are acquainted. For example, I received the following inspirational
Prayer lifts our hearts above the battles of life and gives us a glimpse of God’s resources which spells
victory and hope. God bless YOU all the time. Gud am!
This SMS is similar to inspirational texts sent among barkada net-
works, with the theme of prayer or religious faith as providing a means
to transcend personal hardships. The essential difference is that receiv-
ing messages such as these from a Father can be perceived as a post-
modern form of cyber blessings. This verifies how words are often given
power through their delivery, i.e. by the source of the message sender.
However, research also suggests that it is not atypical for priests to
send bastos (rude) jokes to their male (and less frequently female) acquain-
A man asks a rabbi: Is sex work or play? Rabbi: My son, sex is def play. If sex were work, my wife would
42 Analysis of religion through feminist critique was specifically brought forth through
the deconstruction of the hierarchies of the major world religions. Feminists have exam-
ined religions in terms of androcentrism, sexism, and exclusive language, that is, the insti-
tutional exclusion and the marginalization of women in religious practices and writings,
see S. Andermahr, T. Lovell and C. Wolkowitz (eds.), A Glossary of Feminist Theory, London:
Oxford University Press, 2000, p. 231. Pointing to the immense significance of religion
in the lives of women around the world, Irigaray argues for the feminist necessity to bet-
ter understand women’s religious lives. See L. Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, transl.
by C. Porter, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1985.
Two sperm are swimming side by side, one says to the other: “How far till we reach the ovaries?” The
other says “Fucking miles, we’re just passed the tonsils.”
Perhaps priests use provincial SMS humour like this in order to build
trust and rapport with other men,44 or to a lesser extent women, believing
these exchanges illuminate their “human” or modern sides.
Preliminary research also points to some priests sending women roman-
tic-coded SMS messages, whereby Catholic norms are clearly breached:
I have had textmates who are priests, but they don’t always send reli-
gious messages. They often text just to say hello. One of my priest-friends
even made me feel uneasy by texting: “I miss you! I want to kiss and hug you! Mwah!
The examples (above) pertain to virtual communiqué. Priests, however,
are beginning to incorporate text messages into their lived worlds as
indisputably sacred, i.e. they are using them in their sermons. For exam-
ple, the following message was found in Texters Choice46 (a text how to/quote
book): I quote some text messages every time I preach. Its been a great help to me. Thank God and
more power to you (Kier of Cagayan de Oro). It will be interesting to see how
this trend plays out in future church services.
Addicted to God: Evangelical Gospel
New commercial markets have arisen in the Philippines whereby tex-
ters are encouraged to text religious corporations in order to access spir-
itual readings. Recent Philippine media discusses how the Catholic Church
In another example, according to one of my respondents, a priest sent her uncle
the following SMS joke: “There are different kinds of soap: For virgins, Tender Care;
for those who masturbate, Camay [the Tagalog word for “hand” is “kamay”; “kinakamay”
means to give a “hand job”]; for horny girls, Dial [“Dial” is a Filipino term for female
masturbation, specifically the rubbing of the clitoris]; for those who use condoms, Safe-
44 See for example P. Lyman, “The Fraternal Bond as a Joking Relationship: A Case
Study of the Role of Sexist Jokes in Male Group Bonding”, in M. Kimmel and M.
Messner (eds.), Men’s Lives, 2nd ed., New York/Toronto: Macmillan/Maxwell, 1992.
“Mwah” indicates the sound of smacking lips, i.e. a kiss.
See T. Edsel, Texters’ Choice: Text Thots Book 3, Paranaque City, The Philippines:
ERI Enterprises, 2001, pp. 105–106.
has tapped into the SMS phenomenon in order to spread its gospel.
Manila Auxiliary Bishop Socrates Villegas’s archdiocese, for example,
recently launched “Catextism”, a service that provides spiritual readings
and prayer through SMS transfer in cyberspace. The Bishop said, “Text-
ing is now undeniably a way of life for the largely Roman Catholic Philip-
pines.”47 The service works in collaboration with the Philippines’ two top
cellular phone companies. To access Catextism, texters key in the word
“Amen” on their cell phones and send it to a particular number, and
subsequently receive a menu of spiritual readings and prayers. Welcome
to the postmodern cyber bible. Below Honey (age 23, college graduate,
single), comments on her use of a similar evangelical service:
I have subscriptions on two SMS services that provide me with my daily
dose48 of religious quotes and Bible verses. One is from the Shepard’s
Voice. To get a subscription, you just have to type “GOD” and send to
463 if you’re using a Smart cell phone. The other is from 777; I just typed
“JESUS” and I have been receiving inspirational messages ever since.
The following two examples come from Honey’s collection:
From GOD (#463): There are some days when we do not feel like we belong. There are times
when we feel alone. In those days, God loves you more than you know.49
From JESUS (#777): When we get tangled up in our problems, be still. God wants us to be still
Note the central theme: God loves the said person, one is not alone.
Also, we can see how services such as these cater to those in the face of
problems and struggle. Serious concerns about people’s appropriation of
the Word, and issues pertaining to censorship arise (e.g. the content of
messages, who chooses these, what boundaries exist). Before SMS, priests
acted as the vehicle to God, now one can bypass the intermediary. The
commercial nature of such services is also salient.
“A Step Beyond: The Gospel according to SMS”, Independent Online, 2002, see
Note Honey’s reference to such services in terms of habit or dependence, i.e. re-
ceiving her “daily dose” of religious quotes.
Another SMS of a similar calibre is: “Feeling out of love? Look up to the sky, God made that for you.
The trees, bees, flowers, these are all for you! GOD LOVES YOU!”
Hotline to God?
Planning for your future? I am. :) --God50
Evangelical SMS services in the Philippines not only respond to tex-
ters by offering them spiritual prayers. In one’s darkest hour instead of
kneeling by pew and praying for spiritual guidance, one can merely key
in “Jesus” and within seconds will receive “Word” directly from God. Dur-
ing my last visit to the field (late 2003), I noticed a campaign in all of the main
newspapers: Addicted to God: Addict Mobile, get hooked. Here Filipinos are en-
couraged to text God. The ads “Passion” and “Devotion”51 read:
Here’s how you can get addicted to God through Addict Mobile: Simply
start a conversation with God by texting your thoughts, feelings and
prayers to 463. You’ll receive personal replies of God’s Word to guide
One of my younger respondents did just this:
When I feel like praying or when I feel down, I send my messages to
GOD at #463. A reply comes with a Bible verse related to my problem.
For instance, I texted: “Dear God, please help me. I am broken hearted.” The reply was:
“Mission Possible! :=) Isaiah 14:24 ‘Surely as I hav planned, so it wil b, & as I hav purposed, so it will
The individual implications of commercial ventures such as these are
multifold. As Bishop Villegas stated, “Catextism’s message is that God
is with us in all situations.”52 Indeed, this is perhaps the strongest rami-
fication of such an enterprise. Aided by cyberspace, God is with us in all
situations, and we can hear directly from “Him”53 at any given time. Does
this not irrevocably answer the question of God’s existence? Is there
need for existential pondering, if we already have proof of God’s mate-
Text relationships with God are less expensive and time consuming
than donations or church visits. Access to religious membership such as
This text was found in Edsel, op. cit., p. 105.
51 We can also see some evidence of the sexualization of God, through earlier jokes,
themes of addiction, “passion” and “devotion”. Independent Online, cf. note 47 above.
Here I am referring to local conceptions of God as a male entity.
Addicted to God is less costly than joining popular national organiza-
tions such as Couples for Christ. For the poor,54 the overburdened, the
outcast and sexual dissidents, for whom visiting the community church
is either not feasible or undesirable due to social stigmas, text services such
as these provide religious refuge, to one and all.55
The global implications of such services are considerable. Now God
can talk to people all over the world via cyberspace. Is Catholicism being
trivialized as a commodity? Is this an example of capitalistic venture or
evangelical gospel? As Bishop Villegas said, “Text messaging is a power-
ful force for shaping the minds and hearts of the children of God, all
over the world.”56 What can we expect in the future? Perhaps the follow-
ing excerpt found on the “Web Evangelism Bulletin”57 provides an indi-
The number of text messages sent to mobile phones each day is huge.
Is there potential for using texting evangelistically? The Catholic Church
in the Philippines has been using a new service called “Catextism” to
encourage young Catholics… Could there be a similar application to help
young people access very brief positive messages with an evangelistic
The Pope was expected to issue a message on World Communication
Day, May 12 (2004) that text messaging must be “embraced” by the
church.58 Although I could not find literature about this, I did uncover
the Pope’s 2002 message about the relationship between evangelicalism
The Internet causes billions of images to appear on millions of computer
monitors around the planet. From this galaxy of sight and sound will the
54 As already noted, any Filipinos classified as poor have access to a family cell phone,
acquire one from remittances received from family members living overseas, or purchase
Again, the benefits of texting in terms of anonymity arise. Independent Online, cf. note 47 above.
“Texting for God”, Web Evangelism Bulletin, 2002, see http://www.gospelcom.net/
This is according to Independent Online, cf. note 47 above.
Message of the Holy Father for the 36th World Communications Day: “Internet: A New
Forum for Proclaiming the Gospel”, May 12, 2002, see http://www.vatican.va/holy_father
face of Christ emerge and the voice of Christ be heard? For it is only
when his face is seen and his voice heard that the world will know the
glad tidings of our redemption. This is the purpose of evangelization.
And this is what will make the Internet a genuinely human space, for if
there is no room for Christ, there is no room for man. Therefore, on
this World Communications Day, I dare to summon the whole Church
bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net,
so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and
culture may show to the world “the glory of God on the face of Christ”
(2 Cor 4:6). May the Lord bless all those who work for this aim.
Moreover, working with the Vatican and Italian wireless services
provider Acotel (situated in Rome), Verizon Wireless is launching a new
mobile service in America which provides texters to receive messages from
By offering the pope’s daily message, U.S. cell phone service providers
hope to find an audience among the growing number of people devel-
oping a taste for virtual religion and who want to get theirs on the go.
Religion now ranks as among the top three reasons why people use the
Internet, and religious options on the wired Web are nearly as vast as
the medium itself. However, very little of it is created for a cell phone’s
small screen and limited processing power.
The aim of this article was to generate ideas and imaginings of the
future in terms of religion and technology. I will conclude by posing some
questions. What will happen when Buddha starts texting people, when
Allah does? Will this lead to postmodern theomachy:61 holy wars in cyber-
space, such as what is already occurring through the internet medium?
I have discussed elsewhere62 that text-based confession is spreading through-
out the Philippines, most often in the form of married men disclosing
that they have been unfaithful due to relationships they have built with
women through texting. What’s next, confession by way of text, whereby
after texters disclose their sins and receive a response from cyberspace
60 B. Charny, “Pope to Ping the Faithful”, April 6, 2004, see http://news.zdnet.com/
Theomachy refers to battles among the Gods.
Ellwood-Clayton, “Desire and Loathing” (forthcoming).
Have Filipinos returned to a continuation of belief in the supernat-
ural? Does God reside in cyberspace such as spirits once resided in
trees? Is the cell phone a modern anito, or is it an asuang? Perhaps the
cell phone should be anointed as a patron saint. According to habit
three miracles must first be attributed to the potential saintee. Could not
the three miracles be the cell phone’s instrumental role in the over-
throwing of President Estrada, its enhancement of the religious experi-
ence (i.e. a technologically supplemented religious Viagra), and its sup-
port of family cohesion in the context of economic crisis?
The lord is my textmate, he leadth me to cyberspace…63
This is a bridge. When ur sad and lonely cross it.
God waits on the other side. If u are afraid just tell
I would like to thank Professor Manderson for her rapid fire of suggestions, Dr.
Markovic for her killer ability to point out the “gaps”, and the ever-comprehensive
editing and support of Kristóf Nyíri. Special appreciation is given to T-Mobile Hungary
for their financial support to attend the conference in Budapest, as well as the Popula-
tion Health Investigating in Research Students’ Training Grant, from The School of
Population Health, The University of Melbourne. Thanks also to Daniel, Andrew, Susan
This SMS was found in Texters’ Choice (Edsel, op. cit.).
El síncope, que se define como la pérdida brusca y con recuperación es-pontánea de la conciencia debida a caída de la perfusión cerebral. Es por lotanto una pérdida del estado conciencia y el tono postural transitorio que norequiere de maniobras especiales para su recuperación. Debido a la condi-ción de recuperación espontánea, el síncope no es mortal, pero si valor pro-nóstico con r
FIVE MINUTES WITH . JOHN T. WARD JR. Kentucky Derby-winning trainer John T. WardJr. assumed his new duties as executive direc-Ward, a central Kentucky native and a graduate oftor of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissionthe University of Kentucky, grew up immersed in thethis spring with an overflowing agenda of is-horse industry as his father, grandfather, and uncle allsues facing the regu