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Against The Instavangelists

Glennon Doyle is an Instagram influencer who serves as a pseudo-religious guide for many (Marie Forleo interview screenshot)


Here’s a surprising NYT op-ed from Leigh Stein, who writes about how Instagram influencers like Glennon Doyle serve as substitute religious figures for women in this culture. Stein writes:

Many millennials who have turned their backs on religious tradition because it isn’t diverse, or inclusive enough, have found alternative scripture online. Our new belief system is a blend of left-wing political orthodoxy, intersectional feminism, self-optimization, therapy, wellness, astrology and Dolly Parton.

And we’ve found a different kind of clergy: personal growth influencers. Women like Ms. Doyle, who offer nones like us permission, validation and community on-demand at a time when it’s nearly impossible to share communion in person. We don’t even have to put down our phones.

But Stein has been thinking about it, and thinks these influencers are like TV evangelists were in an earlier generation. Stein started talking to her mother, who is a psychotherapist and a lay minister in her church.

I told her that I find myself craving role models my age who are not only righteous crusaders, but also humble and merciful, and that I’m not finding them where I live (online). Referring to the influencers who have filled the void religious faith has left for people like me, she said, “They might inspire you to live your best life but not make the best use of your life.”

I thought of Ms. Ciano, who has been following Ms. Doyle for solace during this dark period. Even though Ms. Ciano doesn’t see Ms. Doyle as a neo-religious leader, I was struck by the vulnerable comment she left on one of Ms. Doyle’s Instagram posts in which she unloaded the litany of hardships she’d experienced last year. I noticed it went unanswered. A confession without a confessor.

There is a chasm between the vast scope of our needs and what influencers can possibly provide. We’re looking for guidance in the wrong places. Instead of helping us to engage with our most important questions, our screens might be distracting us from them. Maybe we actually need to go to something like church?

Contrary to what you might have seen on Instagram, our purpose is not to optimize our one wild and precious life. It’s time to search for meaning beyond the electric church that keeps us addicted to our phones and alienated from our closest kin.

Read it all. 

It’s not just about going to church. It’s about going to a church that calls you out of yourself. My former priest Father Matthew Harrington likes to say that people come to church in pain, but not everybody wants to do what is necessary to be healed. You may be searching for a pain reliever to cover the agony, but are unwilling to undergo the pain of surgery, which is the only thing that can fix the problem. Or you might be willing to do the surgery, but have ended up in a clinic that believes in treating you by homeopathy: that is, by watering down the faith as much as possible (I got that analogy from an English vicar). That won’t work.

We are coming up on the start of Orthodox Christian Lent (March 15). Lent is a great time to come to Orthodox churches to see how we worship. During this penitential period, the chanting and the Scripture readings are deeply lamentational. It’s serious stuff, not chirpy uplift. Keep in mind that Lenten services are not how Orthodoxy is during the rest of the year, but you do get exposed to how deeply the Orthodox take repentance and fasting.

(H/T: Caroline Jarboe)

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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