“At what time should I stop fasting? “: on YouTube, the spiritual quest of young Catholics

During Lent, the question most often asked of Brother Paul Adrien d’Hardemare, a Dominican brother and youtuber whose account is close to 100,000 subscribers, was: “At what time should I stop fasting? » In comment or private message, he is also regularly asked: “Am I allowed to listen to music? »or even : “Do I have the right to pray when I have my period? » As many questions as the Dominican had “never heard” before starting to make videos with Christian content on YouTube, an activity that became his “main apostolate”in agreement with his provincial.

It is difficult to accurately identify the profile of the authors of these questions that are so frequent on social networks, in particular YouTube and TikTok – network in even shorter video format – as this public is young, even very young, virtual and, by definition, elusive and volatile. They differ, in any case, from their “elders”, more present on Twitter or even Facebook, and whose questions and debates testify to their frequent attendance of the Catholic Church and a better mastery of its theology.

The “Catholic influencers” of YouTube and TikTok, such as Brother Paul Adrien d’Hardemare, or Father Matthieu Jasseron – a million subscribers on TikTok -, are therefore aimed at “followers” most often neophytes, some of whom claim to have discovered or rediscovered the Christian faith thanks to their videos, to the point of calling themselves Catholics today. Having received no religious education, these new converts express a quest for spirituality through new questions, asking for moral references and clear rules of conduct.

“The loss of religious knowledge”

“The questions are never about the conscience, but only about the norm and the sin”, regrets brother Marc, Dominican in charge of answering questions from Internet users on the social network Discord. For sociologist specializing in online religions Isabelle Jonveaux, this is the sign of a public that has not received religious education from parents..“This is called exculturation, does she develop. That is to say the loss of the religious knowledge that underpins our culture. »

Despite this lack of religious culture, “there is a broader thirst for spirituality, and younger generations are going online to find answers to their questions,” explains the researcher. In this absence of benchmarks, the standard would have something easy. “Unlike injunctions like ‘love your neighbour’, the concrete rules are identifiable, we know what they are about. »

Arthur (1), 17, began to wonder when his grandmother died, then said he converted with the videos of Brother Paul Adrien, and assumes he needed “clear directions”. “At the beginning, it was vague, I was afraid of doing stupid things”, does he remember. “I knew that in Catholicism there were rules and customs that I could not guess. »

He therefore greatly appreciated the video in which the Dominican gives a method of prayer using the five fingers of his hand, and applies it in the evening in his bed. “You just have to follow the instructions, you tell your day to God, and you feel great”, describes the teenager, who feels that “people are too free” and “It helps to have a path to follow, a direction”.

The prism of Islam and evangelical Protestantism

“Can I eat animal blood? » we again asked Brother Marc, who noted that “this question clearly refers to halal or kosher meat”. In fact, the prism of Islam and evangelical Protestantism often shines through in the very normative questions of Internet users. “What we hear in the media about Islam will influence the way these Internet users question the Christian religion”, analyzes Isabelle Jonveaux. Saïd, 50, a former gardener from a Muslim culture, has just entered the catechumenate after a spiritual journey. Tattooed, he often wondered if “Tattoos were a sin”, he confides.“I made the link because in Islam it is forbidden,” he justifies himself.

The many questions surrounding fasting also express “a need to rediscover a form of religious practice that passes through the body”, analyzes the researcher. Matthieu (1), 17, in a vocational school in Belgium, says he converted during Lent by watching videos, and started fasting regularly. “Fasting is a good way to stop certain sins”, believes the teenager whose mother is a non-believer and the Muslim stepfather. He also bought himself a Bible, stopped “to drink too much alcohol” and of “hit his brother” since his conversion.

He assumes to be ” radical ” and recounts arguing with his mother about the fast, who assured him “that no Christian did that”. Julien, 25, of atheist parents, had the idea of ​​fasting through evangelical videos, which he watches alongside Catholic videos.

Highlighting the permissive side of Christianity

Summoned to respond to these demands for strict standards, Brother Paul Adrien believes that a “converted needs a frame” : “Otherwise, we lose it. » In his videos, he tries to respond by setting limits, “without confining” Nevertheless. “Christianity is not a religion of rule, it is a religion of faith, he explains. But for this to be understandable, pedagogy is needed, and this requires certain rules. » Then it is for him ” to lift “, by explaining the deep meaning of these, for “return to Christ”.

Fearing that Catholics “sitting in a tradition” not “look down” these young people, he encourages them to listen to them, especially since their questions allow, he says, to highlight, for once, the permissive side of Christianity, “very moderate on these issues”. “It gives the Church the opportunity to be able to authorize. I can tell them: ‘You have the right to have your life, we trust you. he concludes.

A response that resembles that of Father Matthieu, who chose to recount his successful digital apostolate in a book published on September 21 (2). Even if the method may differ – in his short videos, he chooses to respond by immediately inviting reflection and nuance – he too invites his “ followers to go further. “Whatever the time, the Christian tradition, and especially Catholic, has always been to explain, to question the texts, not to be content to receive them as they are”he wrote.

The Internet users questioned are also well aware that the rules are not an end in themselves. Oscar, 19, with a law degree, takes advantage of the benevolence of the social network Discord to ask all his questions: “What I like is that by understanding the meaning of the rule, we know more about religion, and about the important texts. » A first step towards deepening.


Young users on TikTok and Instagram

With nearly three billion users, Facebook remains the most widely used social network in the world. Next is YouTube, then Instagram in fourth position and TikTok in seventh. Twitter is only in fifteenth place.

In France, in 2021, 84% of young people aged 16 to 25 were registered on Instagram and 52% on TikTok, according to Statista.

Twitter, on the other hand, is more popular with 25-34 year olds who represent nearly 40% of total users worldwide. According to a study by the American think tank Pew Research Center, its users are also more educated and have a higher level of income than the general population.

“At what time should I stop fasting? “: on YouTube, the spiritual quest of young Catholics