NEWARK — The woman who has become an online sensation among young Catholics told a group gathered Nov. 10 for the “Catholic Conversations” program at St. Thomas Oratory that social media is a big concern for those in search of the truth.
Amber Rose Schneider — known online as “The Religious Hippie” — is a social media influencer who has tens of thousands of followers on platforms including YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. She described an early childhood of being raised Catholic before falling away from her faith and returning in her late teens.
Schneider calls herself a “Catholic revert” and is a student at Liberty University. She considers herself a devout Catholic.
Now in her early 20s, she describes social media as addictive and says it can harm a person’s mental health and physical well-being in addition to having a positive impact by providing a platform for messages such as hers. It wasn’t an instant success.
“If I had known the struggles I would have gone through because of these apps, I probably would’ve avoided them altogether,” she said, “but God definitely had other plans. It took about a month, but then my sleep began deteriorating. I became more moody and irritable. I felt drained all the time.”
She said she felt “used and discarded” and became bullied. “This ended up taking a toll on me mentally and I became anxious in social situations. I started experiencing symptoms of depression and eventually it escalated to self-harm and body dysmorphia. I felt like I had no one to talk to.”
“I never felt so alone as when I only had my friends on social media. I had little-to-no willpower. I felt angry at God. I thought everything that happened to me was his fault. How could it not be?”
At 19, she says something compelled her to pray again and she returned to church. She began praying at night and during lunch breaks. Still, she wanted more healing and says she lost her purpose.
One Sunday, she decided to go to Mass.
“Truly, God had plans for me. I didn’t know them at the time, but he really did. I remember being really nervous. I sat in the back, thinking people are going to know that I’m an imposter, know that I’m faking.”
During Mass, she felt peace during consecration of the Eucharist.
“At that moment, I felt Jesus speak into my heart. He said, ‘Do you trust me?’ I was confused, so I told him no. But he consistently kept saying ‘Do you trust me? Do you trust me?’ And at that moment, I couldn’t say no any longer. I decided to change my life that day. It involved a lot of change. And one of the things that had to change was the way I used social media.”
She began following people she wanted to be like, and blocked people who were doing her no good. She decided she could be a good influence for other people.
“There was so much love and so many kind people. God began opening doors for me that I did not think were possible. And that’s when I decided this is what God wanted to do. He wanted me to use social media and spread Catholicism to people like me, who were fallen away. And I took that very seriously.”
The Religious Hippie – a moniker she got from a friend because of her penchant for crazy hair and colorful clothes — said social media switched from being toxic to a healing mechanism.
“The more I came into my faith, the more I felt purpose and meaning in my life. I was doing something greater than myself for the glory of God. I’ve had wonderful, lifelong friends who have helped me, and I will forever be grateful for them for their guidance and support.”
She said she still is wary of the pitfalls of social media and is careful to be watchful of how much time she dedicates to it. She finds her YouTube channel to be a useful platform to help teach people about her faith and produces a podcast that enables her to better build upon her faith.
“The feedback has been incredible. I want to help those who have fallen away and are poorly cathechized. I am not a saint, but we are all called to sainthood. And by using social media to spread Catholicism and the love of God, we could be helping future saints find God and their calling.”