Some of those whose secrets don’t make it to the website interpret that as a signal to work harder on the faults or failings involved in the secret, says Warren. He believes others find relief in “the act of writing a secret on a postcard and letting it go.”
Paul Griffiths, William K. Warren professor of Catholic theology at Duke, says that PostSecret and the Catholic sacrament of penance are very different.
“The urge behind [sending the postcard] is the same as what developed the Catholic tradition, but with one fundamental difference,” Griffiths says. “For Catholics, it’s not about making public announcements, but firmly intending an amendment to one’s life. That second aspect is lacking in PostSecret.”
For his part, Warren thinks his site does provide healing as well as release. In his book PostSecret: Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives, Warren writes, “I like to believe that when a private secret ends its trip to my mailbox, a much longer personal journey of healing is beginning for all of us.”
Griffiths says Warren is “just a little optimistic about the opportunities for healing that come out of that.” He says his reading of the site finds it as much about venting as confessing.
“Some of what is going on is a forum for expression of anger or rage,” he says. “They’re not penitent. They’re pissed off.”
Indeed, Griffiths sees PostSecret not as a flowing outlet for confession, but as a measure of how many people feel there is no one in whom they can confide.
“I’ve been impressed by how many of the postcards have to do with feelings of inadequacy and shame. People feel they are weird, they’re different. These are feelings that are hard to express publicly, and if there is a place, it ought to be in the churches.”
As people spend more time communicating electronically, they may be getting less comfortable speaking face to face. The effect is more isolation and less willingness to seek personal counseling.
For Justin Snider D’06, Facebook has been a valuable tool as he ministers to two churches in a rural area of Illinois. It helps him communicate with his far-flung congregations, and it led at least one young man to seek his counsel.
“He began testing the waters with how much he could share,” Snider says of the teen with whom he communicated on Facebook for a month. “The discussions spanned everything from the Trinity to girls and pressures of school. All these things weighed on him.”
When Snider finally met his correspondent, the young man seemed reticent, and admitted later in a Facebook message that he found that medium more comfortable for deep discussions with his minister.