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An Introspection into St. Thomas Aquinas' Five Proofs

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God Texting:

Filipino Youth Response to Religious SMS

Anthony G. Roman

Cell phone use has extended beyond talk and keeping lines open between family members and friends. E-commerce today thrives via the mobile phone. A healthy synergy between the mobile phone and the other media - television, radio, film and print - also exists to widen audience share and extend marketing schemes. Politics and public service have also found expression via the mobile phone. And, similar to the Internet, the mobile phone offers possibilities for education, entertainment and relaxation.

Religion has also found expression in mobile communications, particularly SMS - that feature of the cell phone that Filipinos widely use way over voice communications. But unlike the Internet, religious space is limited. Mobile religious services are also observed to come and go. Those noted in an earlier study are alas defunct at the time of writing. What pervades is the quotes-forwarding service offered by mobile phone companies and part-of-the-day greetings from anonymous sources albeit with strong religious flavor.

Religion via SMS also differs with email, which, apart from its virtual postal service function, can accommodate the daily dispatch of religious news and group mails. The cell phone's capacity to hold bits of information curtails the exchange of lengthy religious discourses, and only allows short messages in several concatenations or segments of about 160 or so characters (including blank spaces); thus, the name short messaging system.

Such brevity and terseness seem ideal for religious text greeting such that from the time texting was introduced in late 1990s, it became the standard greeting among Filipinos. It then became customary to receive messages like this one, giving point(s) for reflection coupled with well-wishes for the relevant part of the day:

-Life nveR sEemS t0 bE dA wAy wE wAnt iT..buT wE sHud Live iT da bEsT wAy wE caN!.. dErS n0 peRfecT Life bUt wE cAn fiL it w/ pErFecT m0mEntS! GuD pM

Texting religious values can be said to respond to the demands of evangelization in modern times, particularly to what Pope John Paul II counsels as "integrating" the Christian message into the "new culture" created by modern means of communication (cf. Redemptoris Missio, 1990, no. 37c). The Pope says this culture is marked with "new languages, new techniques, and new psychology" As in the example above, religious thought is now expressed in SMS language - what academics see as an obliteration of English text and grammar. Later we shall also see how socio-cultural processes evolve thru mobile phone and texting.

By conveying religious thought, the cell phone is able to extend the pulpit's reach in a manner that is quite unique to the technology. It complements what other Catholic media do - preach, instruct and evangelize - for building God's Kingdom into the here and now of our times.

The Church has always posed itself as society's moral teacher and guardian, especially of young people. In recent times, Church leaders are noted to be particularly concerned about the fact that young people are growing in a media-saturated world. Children are assimilating values that are contrary to what the Church teaches as a result of unchecked media exposure.

A forum organized by the FABC - Office of Social Communication in 2004 sought to address this issue. Dubbed BISCOM IV (fourth Bishops' Institute for Social Communication) the forum had Asian bishops, youth representatives as well as experts in social communication and youth ministry. Among other things, they agree on the need to expand Church communications to include new media forms to reach and extend pastoral care to Asian youth. Those media include technologies which are part of today's youth culture, the Internet and in the case of Filipino youth, cell phones.

Religious thought has penetrated the so-called "messaging culture" introduced by cell phone (and instant messaging via Internet). But how do young Filipinos respond to this kind of messages? What is their first reaction when they read a religious SMS? Are they moved to spiritual heights by its content? Or do they trash them immediately as something irrelevant? Is religious SMS significant in the lives of young people? Do young people keep religious texts for re-sending at some later time to members of their own mobile network? These are some of the questions this study attempts to address.

The focus of this study is the cell phone because of its wide-spread use in the Philippines, especially by young people. Young people are observed to use the gadget beyond just voice calls and getting in touch. Cell phones are their constant companion, even an extension of the self as one scholar puts it. They too have access to religious thought communicated via SMS.

Therefore, a survey was conducted among young people. The aim is to solicit their initial reactions to religious text, and draw conclusions whether the cell phone can be effective purveyors of religious thought, God's Word and Church teachings. As we shall see, religious content is made available to mobile users alongside other matters of interest - downloadable ringtones, MP3s, games as well as promotional schemes with prizes at stake. Through the survey, we may be able to deduce whether or not religious SMS has the ability to influence the youth's belief systems in a manner that approximates that of religious media or even personal discourse.

The respondents are 600 university students in Metro Manila with a mean age of 18 years old. They were asked to accomplish a survey questionnaire listing their possible responses to religious text. Questions like "Do you remember God?" "Do you have the urge to pray?" and "Are you reminded of the Christian or Liturgical Season?" were included. To these questions, the students answered either "Yes," "No" or "Sometimes." The questions were then grouped into the categories shown below:

1. Faith

2. Prayer life

3. Information

4. Disposition/ Attitude

5. Relationship with others

6. Relationship with sender

7. Reception of the message

After which, the relative frequencies of the answers were tabulated. The responses



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