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Creating Patheos's second layer involved bringing in established bloggers from multiple religions — and their readers. Site staffers identified the ten to twenty most-read bloggers in various traditions, starting with Catholic and evangelical and progressive Christians, but soon branching out to pagans and humanists (a catch-all for atheists, agnostics and other forms of spiritual but not religious belief). Then they courted those bloggers, asking them to join Patheos — not so much for the princely sum of around $200 a month (the pay depends on page views), but also for free hosting and tech support.

"They seemed to contact everyone I knew in the field," says John Shore, a progressive Christian blogger who's proclaimed himself Dan Savage's favorite Christian.

Today, the five most-visited named "portals" on Patheos are Catholicism, Evangelical Christian, Progressive Christian, Pagan and Humanist (though the most popular blog in that category is ardently Atheist); they also happened to be the ones with the most developed blogger communities. Currently, Patheos has eight Catholic, nineteen Evangelical, eighteen Progressive Christian, five Pagan, two Humanist, two Muslim, one Mormon, one Scientology and one Buddhist blogs.

Leo and Cathie Frazzini Brunnick see the Internet as a path to religious understanding.
anthony camera
Leo and Cathie Frazzini Brunnick see the Internet as a path to religious understanding.
Warren Cole Smith learned the power of Patheos with his post on Mormonism.
Warren Cole Smith learned the power of Patheos with his post on Mormonism.

Patheos has a full-time staff of seventeen, many of them hired right out of Harvard Divinity School; while some are continuing to add content to the site, others are marketing it.

Most of the company's income comes from advertising. About 10 percent of the ads result from direct sales — mostly seminaries, religious publishers and the like. The rest comes from four ad pools, including Google Ads, which populates slots based on the key words on the page and previous web behaviors of the user. On the Warren Cole Smith story, "Vote for Romney" ads frequently popped up.

"I think it's kind of funny when I get ads for Christian dating services," says Patheos Pagan blogger Jason Pitzl-Waters, but the off-point ads have been a point of conflict with others. "Many people feel like they need to create a safe space when they talk about religion," Pitzl-Waters notes. And ads, or money in general, destroy that sacred space for them.

But the Brunnicks aren't doing Patheos just as a labor of love. Brunnick estimates that the company will need another $2 million before it is profitable, at three million unique monthly visitors, probably in late 2012. Right now, Patheos is getting about three million page views a month, with a million unique monthly visitors.

Cathie, who started out as Patheos's chief operating officer, left that post early this year to take an executive job with a Denver-based tech company. "At my new work, they had to get to know me before they realized I wasn't 'crazy religious girl,'" she says.

Not everyone appreciates Patheos's growing profile. Several times a year, the Brunnicks get letters at their home address — which is not listed on the site — that inform them of their eternal damnation. "Today I know that mail," Cathie says. "I don't open it."

******

By placing religions side by side, Patheos puts the religions it features there — Buddhist, Catholic, Evangelical, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Pagan, Progressive Christian — on an equal footing, says Stewart Hoover, professor of media studies at the University of Colorado and head of the school's Center for Media, Religion and Culture. That center is one of only four such facilities in the world, and the only one that does research; Hoover is halfway through a two-year-long project looking into how twelve religious and purportedly secular websites — with Patheos one of the former, PostSecret one of the latter — are changing religion.

"We see these online journals as just that," Hoover says. "They're replacing magazines and religious newsletters." The people going to sites such as Patheos are interested in religion intellectually but aren't necessarily "pious," he notes; they're using these sites for information rather than as a "site of religious experience."

Hoover describes a "horizontalization" of religion that's creating an atmosphere where beliefs are different but equally valid. "They see even their own religion as a horizontal marketplace of religious supply and less as this unique and particular kind of belief," he explains. That allows people to pick and choose ideas, and also makes them less likely to follow religious edicts. "People don't want to be seen as submitting themselves to authority," Hoover says. "They want to make decisions for themselves, and digital media really encourages that idea."

Sociologists refer to eschewing traditional sources of spiritual authority as "seeking." And while Hoover notes that people have been swaying away from authority — in government, education and religion — for the past twenty-some years, he says the Internet is speeding up the process.

Blogger Shore has a far less charitable view of Internet searching. People don't go to church because they're bored in church, he says, and Patheos is just as boring: filled with stories written by theologians and other religious wonks, not writers and thought leaders. He calls Patheos "the loser zoo," a place where blogs that couldn't cut it on their own seek refuge. "It's the wrong paradigm for the times. You have to be with people, you don't talk down to people," he says. "Who are the best writers? Those are the guys who get the most views. Patheos is collecting dead people."

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18 comments
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mma fight

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diesel-benz
diesel-benz

All religions are based completely on ignorance. "I don't know/understand, so God must be responsible".

Scientology doesn't even mention Overlord Xenu until you've invested thousands of dollars, simply because of how outlandishly stupid the story is.

Mormons actually believe Smith pulled the story out of a hat, instead of his ass.

Christians believe their god is "loving", despite the Bible's story of him murdering thousands of innocent people (twice).

It goes on and on and on, all beliefs based on made up stories, assumptions and ignorance.

Jonathan van der Berg
Jonathan van der Berg

I don't see how scientology can be classed as anything spiritual. One only needs to read a little of the history of that "religion" to quickly realise that it is nothing more than a pyramid style business scheme posing as a religion (and behaving like a cult).

D_erford
D_erford

Atheism is based on irrationality. "I cannot see, touch, smell or hear something that is, by definition of being supernatural, beyond that which can be seen, touched, smelt, or heard, so it must not exist."

It is also based on a similar unprovable assumption: "Only matter and energy exist."

Then add the fact that most atheists do not follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions. If they did, they would have to admit they consider rape, murder, stealing, etc 'wrong' only out of personal preference or because they believe 'might makes right', not because those acts are objectively immoral.

Atheism - 'irrationality in the name of reason'.

Hidden One
Hidden One

You are an expert on all religions? How many are there, then?

diesel-benz
diesel-benz

D_erford, You don't know anything about atheism. To correct you: "I cannot see, touch, smell or hear something that is, by definition unknown, beyond which can not currently be seen, touched, smelt, or heard. I don't know/understand, so I need to try to find out more before I can come to a conclusion."

Please answer the following questions: If your God exists, who or what created your God and why do you not worship that being instead? What existed before your God? If nothing existed, how did your God come into existence with no external input?

Belief in ANY religion is pure arrogance. What proof do you have that YOUR religion, out of the thousands that came around before it, is the right one? Is a man-written storybook all you need to believe with absolute certainty there is an invisible sky daddy? That, is the very definition of ignorance and you are a prefect example of it.

FYI, morality is purely a human social development.

Atheism - 'Asking questions in the name of learning'.Christians- 'I know the answer, God.'

diesel-benz
diesel-benz

Hidden One,I never claimed to be an expert on anything. You are making an assumption.

To answer your second question: Its impossible to know how many religions there are because anyone can believe what they want. Currently there are 22 "major" religions (Including the "religion" scientology"), but that doesn't count the individual sub-religions.

Example: The descriptive name "Christian" is an extreme generalization. There are over 38,000 denominations that call themselves "Christian". Which is the "right" one? Why?

 
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