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Let’s pray for Zuckerberg, who is journeying into faith

John Burger - published on 01/04/17

Four little words, "Religion is very important," suggests a seismic shift in Facebook founder's thinking

Is he Jewish? Buddhist? Christian? It’s not entirely clear, but Mark Zuckerberg says that he’s not an atheist, at least.

In the same year he met Pope Francis and had words of praise for his wife’s Buddhist faith, the founder of Facebook has come out publicly saying he is no longer one who disbelieves the existence of God. Religion, in fact, is “very important,” Zuckerberg said in a recent Facebook post.

That’s a radical change from before, when his Facebook status for religion read “atheist”.

The revelation came about when Zuckerberg posted Christmas greetings on the social media site he founded.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from Priscilla, Max, Beast and me!” Zuckerberg wrote, referring to his wife, their daughter, Maxima, and their pet dog. “Seeing the moments of joy and family shared on Facebook today is one of my favorite things about our community. I hope you’re surrounded by friends and loved ones, and that you have a chance to reflect on all the meaningful things in your life. May the light of your friendships continue to brighten your life and our entire world.”

One of the first of some 27,000 comments his post generated asked point blank: “But aren’t you an atheist?”

Zuckerberg countered right away: “No. I was raised Jewish and then I went through a period where I questioned things, but now I believe religion is very important.”

That comment itself received over 7,100 “likes.”

Earlier in 2016, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, visited the Vatican and were received in a private audience with the Pope.

“It was a meeting we’ll never forget,” Zuckerberg said. “You can feel [the Pope’s] warmth and kindness, and how deeply he cares about helping people.”

“Together they spoke about how to use communications technology to alleviate poverty, encourage a culture of encounter, and to communicate a message of hope, especially to the most disadvantaged,” the Vatican Press Office said in a statement.

As one would expect, Zuckerberg wanted everyone to know about the meeting, so he posted a photo of himself with the Pope on Facebook.

“Priscilla and I had the honor of meeting Pope Francis at the Vatican,” he wrote. “We told him how much we admire his message of mercy and tenderness, and how he’s found new ways to communicate with people of every faith around the world. We also discussed the importance of connecting people, especially in parts of the world without internet access.”

Separately, when Pope Francis joined Instagram, Zuckerberg wrote: “I can’t wait to follow the Pope — and to see him continue his message of mercy, equality and justice with the world.”

Christianity, however, is not the only religion that seems to attract the 32-year-old multibillionaire. He’s taken an interest in Buddhism, his wife’s religion. During a 2015 visit to Xi’an, China, he said a prayer in front of the Wild Goose Pagoda.

“Priscilla is Buddhist and asked me to offer a prayer from her as well,” he wrote in a post that included a photo of him kneeling in front of the pagoda. “Buddhism is an amazing religion and philosophy, and I have been learning more about it over time. I hope to continue understanding the faith more deeply.”

Writing at the National Catholic Register, Kathy Schiffer points out other examples of Zuckerberg’s openness to religion. In 2010, for example, he attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference which is dedicated to “living mindfully in the digital age.” Afterward, he invited academics from Berkeley, Yale and Stanford to teach his company about the Buddhist-inspired concept of compassion.

Apparently, Zuckerberg is keeping an open mind about faith, and is interested in scoping out the field. In Summer 2015, he announced that his selection for his Facebook book club, which recommends a new book every two weeks, was William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience.

Faith is a journey, and every journey begins with a single step. Let’s pray for Mark Zuckerberg on his walk.

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