Religion may not survive the Internet

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As we head into a new year, the guardians of traditional religion are ramping up efforts to keep their flocks—or, in crass economic terms, to retain market share.  Some Christians have turned to soul searching while others have turned to marketing. Last fall, the LDS church spent millions on billboards, bus banners, and Facebook ads touting “I’m a Mormon.”  In Canada, the Catholic Church has launched a “Come Home” marketing campaign.  The Southern Baptists Convention voted to rebrand themselves. A hipster mega-church in Seattle combines smart advertising with sales force training for members and a strategy the Catholics have emphasized for centuries: competitive breeding.


In October of 2012 the Pew Research Center announced that for the first time ever Protestant Christians had fallen below 50 percent of the American population. Atheists cheered and evangelicals beat their breasts and lamented the end of the world as we know it. Historian of religion, Molly Worthen, has since offered big picture insights that may dampen the most extreme hopes and fears.  Anthropologist Jennifer James, on the other hand, has called fundamentalism the “death rattle” of the Abrahamic traditions.

In all of the frenzy, few seem to give any recognition to the player that I see as the primary hero, or, if you prefer, culprit—and I’m not talking about science populizer and atheist superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson. Then again, maybe Iam talking about Tyson in a sense, because in his various viral guises—as a talk show host and tweeter and as the face on scores of smartass Facebook memes—Tyson is an incarnation of the biggest threat that organized religion has ever faced: the internet.

A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden to marry nonbelievers. It is why Quiverfull moms home school their kids from carefully screened text books. It is why, when you get sucked into conversations with your fundamentalist uncle George from Florida, you sometimes wonder if he has some superpower that allows him to magically close down all avenues into his mind. (He does!)

Religions have spent eons honing defenses that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.

Written By: Valerie Tarico
continue to source article at salon.com

70 COMMENTS

  1. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    In spite of the title, I don’t think the argument is that the internet kills belief so much as it reduces the believing population. When the respective community of believers reaches a certain critical minimum, the religion becomes…well, a minority cult. Like Druids, I suppose. (No offense to Druids, of course.)
    Or like careful hygiene ‘kills’ germs.

  2. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    If Jos’s question is meant to indicate some scepticism, I’m inclined to agree. It might not be a perfect analogy, but take the example of the invention of the printing press. This probably helped spread the ‘Word’. Why not accept that the web might be just as useful a tool for spreading religious nuttery in a modern world?

    I’d like to agree with the article, but I’m not convinced. And the last quote doesn’t help the author’s case –
    “God is just what happens when humanity is connected.” Sheesh!

  3. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    The internet is not in the business of killing off beliefs, that is for the individual to kill within him or herself. However, without the internet, the spread of information and potential enlightenment would be inhibited, as it has been in the past, when religion had a free hand to spread and reinforce delusion among the masses, with little or no challenge.

  4. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    I feel that skepticism is premature. A little more time should do it, say few more decades, against the millennia of religious spread ans consolidation.

  5. Like you stated,
    “But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.”

    While I agree with that statement, theists are striving to convince people who are ‘single’ for example, to sign up for http://www.christianmingle.com that has over 8 MILLION registered users. It appears god is learning new skills as the world changes, he is a matchmaker, uses WiFi, and because he has specific plans for each person, the only way he could keep up with everyone would be to create an online community with his presets for matchmaking. ~ Even computers/science can make errors, god. ;)

  6. This is a good article.Surely the biggest threat to any supernatural belief system is twofold:alternative information and the ability to access that information.It is no secret that many religious communities will do all they can to prevent alternative theories being examined, quite simply because they do not have confidence that their own theories will stand up to examination and comparison!

  7. The Internet is a useful source of education as it is a comprehensive encyclopaedia.
    Education and the belief in imaginary manufactured deities are to some extent incompatible.
    There is no doubt that atheism an agnosticism are gaining ground these days.

  8. The Internet is a beautiful thing. As long as it remains free and uninhibited. I can take all the garbage and nonsense, the benefits far out-weight the costs.

    Good education and free flow of information. That’s all that is required, the rest will follow their course.

  9. Many urban legends

    At last, an attempt at an example. (justinesaracen suggested we should be happy with examples of beliefs being made less common by the Internet; I’ll take examples of that, too, though s/he didn’t give it.) Not a specific example, but still. Do we have any sociological evidence suggesting the Internet successfully contributes to a significant decline in the prevalence of any specific urban legend beliefs? It would be very illuminating if we do, not simply because my “scepticism” will be undermined but because, if we want to achieve the same thing in any quarters, studying the most successful examples may well help us.

  10. In reply to #5 by AtheistButt:

    It might not be a perfect analogy, but take the example of the invention of the printing press. This probably helped spread the ‘Word’.

    I’m not sure it’s even a good analogy. The ‘word’ in print was highly censored for centuries. Illiteracy was very high a until relevantly recently among the religious masses. And of course when folk started to get an education, those that bothered to read their scriptures found them difficult to understand. Regulars on this site are all well aware of the lack of knowledge many apologists have, when debating their texts and it’s origins. As Bart Ehrman said, most of his students have read the ‘Da Vinci Code’ while very few, if any, have read the Bible, and they are young folk intent on Bible study.

    Tyndale’s was the first printed Bible in English, it was the first ‘authorised’ text, but certainly wasn’t readily available to anyone outside the church. In fact, less than a century before Tyndale’s translation, possessing a Bible other than in Latin, was not allowed. How many in Britain could read Latin, if they could read at all?

    “It is dangerous, as St. Jerome declares, to translate the text of Holy Scriptures out of one idiom into another, since it is not easy in translations to preserve exactly the same meaning in all things. We therefore command and ordain that henceforth no one translate the text of Holy Scripture into English or any other language as a book, booklet, or tract, of this kind lately made in the time of the said John Wyclif or since, or that hereafter may be made, either in part or wholly, either publicly or privately, under pain of excommunication, until such translation shall have been approved and allowed by the Provincial Council. He who shall act otherwise let him be punished as an abettor of heresy and error.”

    Taken from the third synod of Oxford, England, 1408.

    It was nearly two centuries after the printing press was invented that the first ‘mass’ produced Bible was available for all, but at a cost of around 10 shillings, it was really only available to the elite. The KJV version that is popular was the construct of a number of committees and it was a political sop by the King to get the bickering churches into line, seeing as there was that many versions of the Bible about at the time and no one could agree on which version was thee version to preach from.

    Still, at about the same time the Bible was becoming accessible to the man-on-the-street, we see the first big names in Bible criticism appearing with rationalists like that of Thomas Hobbes, Benedict Spinoza, Richard Simon and François-Marie Arouet. The free thinking had begun and the critics came thick and fast in the 18th century with those of the German schools of higher criticism.

    Bible reading and Bible societies were condemned by many Pope’s and with the Gutenberg printing press, Protestant scholars were able to get there hands on copies of the Latin Vulgate.

    “With this new printing technology books could now be printed faster and cheaper than ever before, a fact that Protestants soon took advantage of. Within a hundred years there was a virtual explosion of Protestant Bibles coming off the new presses.”

    Some would say that the printing press was the beginning of the end for Christianity, a snails pace slow beginning, but it certainly opened up all the ‘bad stuff’ to those outside the clique.

    Why not accept that the web might be just as useful a tool for spreading religious nuttery in a modern world?

    Certainly it could and it does. The nutter’s that clever enough to use the Web, will be using it for just such things. The info they will be finding will be no more than they will be getting from scripture and their theologians, and no more less contradictory and daft. But anyone that has been a regular visitor to this place over the past five years will say things are certainly changing in the right direction and it is through the WWW.

    I’d like to agree with the article, but I’m not convinced.

    Well the evidence appears to support the article’s assertion to a reasonable degree. It is probably because no one owns the internet, so it’s very hard to control what is posted on it, and more people are becoming more educated generally, so they are thinking more and more for themselves. People are less likely to take another persons word for it these days and the best quickest place to suss things out these days is the Web, not just on the subject of religion, but across a whole plethora of disciplines.

    I agree with the point that there is much mumbo jumbo and dross to wade through, but even the dross can be very useful when engaging the believer. A particular favourite observation I like to use when refuting the Exodus as an historical event, is this comment from eminent Rabbi Wolpe, who is seen as an authority in some circles of Judaism…

    “Three years ago on Passover, I explained to my congregation that according to archeologists, there was no reliable evidence that the Exodus took place–and that it almost certainly did not take place the way the Bible recounts it.”

    These are gems in the fight against the delusion of religion. There are plenty more to be found.

  11. If only learning were this simple! Information alone is not sufficient to acount for a net change in consciousness. The individual has to have information to be sure but the cogntive (reasoning) conative (impulse and volition) and affective (emotional) mechanisms must all be in place for the change to happen. You can bombard the fundamentalist with as much info as you like but their affective mental state will enable them to defend their core values in the teeth of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Only when the individual begins to see that the meaning they attach to the real world is insufficient will they begin to look for alternative explanations

  12. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    I believed I had a rock solid marriage until I read some emails on our ISP server that my wife thought she had deleted.
    Do I win anything?

  13. As long as there are gullible idiots, religion will be just fine. As long as people live trough confirmation bias, it doesn’t matter how much truth there is, they will continue to find “support” for their side of the issue. It is a nice article with nice sentiment…but, the deck is stacked against honesty and integrity.

  14. In reply to #16 by Vorlund:

    If only learning were this simple! Information alone is not sufficient to acount for a net change in consciousness. The individual has to have information to be sure but the cogntive (reasoning) conative (impulse and volition) and affective (emotional) mechanisms must all be in place for the change to happen. You can bombard the fundamentalist with as much info as you like but their affective mental state will enable them to defend their core values in the teeth of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Only when the individual begins to see that the meaning they attach to the real world is insufficient will they begin to look for alternative explanations.

    Still, It makes it harder for their values to spread when constantly questioned, and the lies and the consequence of their actions exposed. The goal is not really the die-hard fundamentalist minority, but the uninformed majority listening in.

    So yeah, given enough time, the trend will persist, until hopefully hard-lined views are but reactionary oddities and irrelevant.

    I don’t think the complete eradication is realistic, not by a long shot. There will always be people attracted to religions, woo-woo and nonsense. After all, these themes play on the desires, hopes and wishful thinking, so they’ll always have some appeal to a large portion of the population.

  15. We should all create social media pages, dedicated to rational beliefs, reason and humanism, we need to all then add each other to the respective pages, forming one massive Atheist extended network so to speak, we need to flush the stupidity from newsfeeds and twitter trends, one page with a thousand or so members isn’t enough, we need thousands of pages, thousands of members, we need to create a safety net to shield people from the murky waters of idiocy, and show the world that Atheism is not something to hide, be shamed over or lacking evidence. Just my thoughts, also, we should collectively, challenge the church to launch a space-mission of sorts, as a good gesture, the refusal will only for some believers, cause them to be massively let down, maybe awakening a religious persons interest in space would provoke them to seek their cosmic hunger elsewhere?

  16. The point is, the internet is a place you can go to if you are being spun a very tall tale. For that reason, less of us are being sucked in by tall tales. I find myself taking a lot of suspect nonsense along to http://www.snopes.com/ in order to check out some of the stuff I confront on the Web….especially the crap that gets bounded about on Bakebook.

    Now turn that around.

    Debating the ignorant Christian apologist on such details as the earliest existing text of any gospel is a credit card sized piece of papyrus called Rylands Papyrus 457 (a.k.a. P52) found in Egypt, and is dated to the second century….don’t believe me, I’m not lying, go look for yourself… http://www.abu.nb.ca/courses/NewTestament/Gospels/RylandsPap.htm

    Having such access and information might be enough to get someone thinking. Especially if they have been brainwashed with something other yarn entirely.

    I wonder how many have been influenced by what they’ve found out on RDFRS? Me certainly.

    I know at least one person I convinced that Constantine didn’t invent Christianity, of course he was an nun-believer already, but still, he took some convincing and it was the tool of the internet that enabled me to convince him of his error.

    All things considered, things have come along way in 20 years…some might say, ‘exponentially’.

    As for the Web being a crutch for those unsure of their non-belief, or those living in dangerous surroundings and using it as a sanctuary or place of solace they wouldn’t have had a few years back, it can only be a good thing. Without the internet family, how many would have gave up and succumbed to pressure from their surroundings?

  17. I’m not that convinced. Internet carries a lot of religious propaganda as well.

    As a matter of fact, I don’t see that much of the Internet. I check regularly at most 5 websites. On Youtube, I mainly watch always the same speakers. Sometimes a new one, for a while, that leads me to affiliated ones. I bet believers do the same.

    There is also the language barrier. Not much atheist information is in Arabic. Not much of it is in French, for that matter. I know a lot of people that I can’t share the pleasure of a good Daniel Dennet lecture with, because they don’t understand English well enough.

    And let’s not forget that governments can lock websites out of their countries, and that the one you are currently visiting was banned from Turkey for a long time.

  18. The gist of the article must surely be right? In theory the free exchange of ideas will result in inferior stuff being discarded. Yes there are lots of vested interests in maintaining religion and other nonsense as “vital” to our well being, but for all their clamming up on opposition and silencing contrary views, the more apparent it becomes that they have no defence against reason and science. Now the ostrich approach to reality may suit some of religion’s followers, but not all of them. There is always room for argument and discussion.

    IMO, religion is a dying force in the more advanced countries, including the USA. It may take a while, and it may be replaced with other nonsense, but dying all the same. .

  19. I think the issue boils down to “Religion may not survive its members hearing a second opinion”. Open-minded people looking for a second opinion will find it on the internet. For close-minded people looking to reinforce existing views, it depends on how quickly the christian and muslim web sites, forums and discussion groups can delete controversial or opposing points of view, the way that they do now.

  20. The only way it can, is if we lose our rights to free information. Mostly everyone on the internet is on Facebook, or some other site that collects data. We’re all micro-processed and categorized, and if we lose our freedoms(if we haven’t already), we’ll be restricted from certain groups of people, and certain information, that might lead believers out of their faith.

  21. There’s good reason, at least according to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, why catholics should fear heretics. While writing about the Gnostic Marcus in Against Heresies, the bishop opines:

    “Moreover, that this Marcus compounds philters and love-potions, in order to insult the persons of some of these women, if not of all, those of them who have returned to the Church of God, a thing which frequently occurs, have acknowledged, confessing, too, that they have been defiled by him, and that they were filled with a burning passion towards him.”

    Apparently, either Marcus was a serial date-rapist or St. Ireaneus’ stock was losing its value.

  22. In my opinion the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Communist system were brought down by the Internet. I believe that communication via the Internet showed them that the Soviet Union was lying to its own people.

    In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:*

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

  23. In reply to #31 by HolySchmidt:

    There’s good reason, at least according to St. Irenaeus of Lyons, why catholics should fear heretics. While writing about the Gnostic Marcus in Against Heresies, the bishop opines:

    “Moreover, that this Marcus compounds philters and love-potions, in order to insult the persons of some of these women, if not of all, those of them who have returned to the Church of God, a thing which frequently occurs, have acknowledged, confessing, too, that they have been defiled by him, and that they were filled with a burning passion towards him.”

    Apparently, either Marcus was a serial date-rapist or St. Ireaneus’ stock was losing its value.

  24. In reply to #14 by Jos Gibbons:

    Many urban legends

    At last, an attempt at an example. (justinesaracen suggested we should be happy with examples of beliefs being made less common by the Internet; I’ll take examples of that, too, though s/he didn’t give it.) Not a specific example, but still. Do we have any sociological evidence suggesting the Internet successfully contributes to a significant decline in the prevalence of any specific urban legend beliefs? It would be very illuminating if we do, not simply because my “scepticism” will be undermined but because, if we want to achieve the same thing in any quarters, studying the most successful examples may well help us.

    It’s a war of information. Anybody can use the Internet to put forth their ideas or to validate them. However, with regard to understanding which ideas are gaining in cultural currency the only thing we have to go on is poll data.
    Poll data on religious belief has consistently shown that disbelief and scepticism in religious matters has dramatically increased over the last ten years or so. This must be a reason for this given the dramatic change, and increased easy access to knowledge over the Internet seems a reasonable hypothesis for causation.
    There are probably lots of sociological studies to be done on the effect of digital communication to spread ideas before we can say with certainty that is the case.

    After all an absence of data into whether people are less susceptible to believing urban myths does not prove that is not the case it just means we don’t know the answer to that particular question ( and it would be an interesting research project if its not already done)

    Personally, my suspicion is that bad ideas can compete just as successfully as good ones. People take from the Internet what they want to; whether its an Atheist seeking arguments or a climate science denier looking for the same. Growing sceptism probably reflects people of a certain mindsets getting access to quality information that required more effort in the past ( and would be impossible in some parts of the world ) and importantly gaining confidence and support and a willingness to stand out from the herd by going to sites such as this.

  25. So, Interfaith Communities could turn out to be Trojan Horses; what a laugh!

    You only have to visit my Sauna to observe at first hand the glaring discrepancies between the faiths.

    For example, there’s a Catholic chap who thinks Islam is really weird and dangerous, and, would you believe it, a Muslim chap who thinks Catholicism is really weird and dangerous.

    Both are of course perfectly charming fellows, neither of whom is as far as I know aware of the others beliefs, and both being of Asian extraction may well take it for granted that they are of the same faith.

    And it’s because they’re both so pleasant that I’ve never quite had the heart or courage to bring up the subject of their individual “afflictions”.

    For example, by initiating a conversation with one of them when both are present, about what he has said about the faith of the other in the others absence, because I have a sneaking feeling that like quarrelling members of a family they would unite in redirecting the emnity they feel towards one anothers’ faiths, towards instead, a non famiily or out-group inividual, by which I mean yours truly.

    But, oh dear, I am sorely tempted.

  26. In reply to #29 by aquilacane:

    In reply to #2 by mmurray:

    Another apple logo photoshopped away. Also removed all the ports on the side. Weird.

    Michael

    It’s stock, no logos allowed.

    You can download your own copy at:

    http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-124709164/stock-photo-female-hands-writing-on-laptot-close-up.html

    Thanks, nice find. They don’t think we can’t pick the mouse design? I guess it’s all copyright and licensing. I like playing spot the mac on TV programmes. The good ones digitally remove the logo but the cheap ones just put stickers over it.

    Sorry back on topic. Does anyone else remember a time when the sum of human knowledge wasn’t in your pocket on your smart phone. It’s the most amazing change when you think about it.

    Michael

  27. In reply to #37 by Stafford Gordon:

    So, Interfaith Communities could turn out to be Trojan Horses; what a laugh!

    You only have to visit my Sauna to observe at first hand the glaring discrepancies between the faiths.

    For example, there’s a Catholic chap who thinks Islam is really weird and dangerous, and, would you believe it, a Muslim chap who thinks Catholicism is really weird and dangerous.

    Both are of course perfectly charming fellows, neither of whom is as far as I know aware of the others beliefs, and both being of Asian extraction may well take it for granted that they are of the same faith.

    And it’s because they’re both so pleasant that I’ve never quite had the heart or courage to bring up the subject of their individual “afflictions”.

    For example, by initiating a conversation with one of them when both are present, about what he has said about the faith of the other in the others absence, because I have a sneaking feeling that like quarrelling members of a family they would unite in redirecting the emnity they feel towards one anothers’ faiths, towards instead, a non famiily or out-group inividual, by which I mean yours truly.

    But, oh dear, I am sorely tempted.

    That’s exactly what would happen – the woo merchants would conveniently forget their deep hatred of each other in order to attack the common enemy, the enemy who believes in only one less stupid faith than they do…

  28. In reply to #39 by Dr Bob:

    That’s exactly what would happen – the woo merchants would conveniently forget their deep hatred of each other in order to attack the common enemy, the enemy who believes in only one less stupid faith than they do…

    Well there might be some disagreement over whether it should be torture followed by burning at the stake or just chopping off his head.

    Michael

  29. In reply to #40 by mmurray:

    In reply to #39 by Dr Bob:

    Well there might be some disagreement over whether it should be torture followed by burning at the stake or just chopping off his head.

    Michael

    Absolutely, because they are all agreed that crucifixion’s a doddle…

  30. In reply to #32 by gerrybuddy:

    In my opinion the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Communist system were brought down by the Internet. I believe that communication via the Internet showed them that the Soviet Union was lying to its own people.

    I think the internet has broken state and media monopolies of propagandist information generally, ( except where it has been fenced out) but the nutter propagandists such as AIG, the “Creation museum”, and conspiracy theorists, are developing their new disinformation services.

  31. In reply to #42 by mmurray:

    In reply to #41 by Dr Bob:

    In reply to #40 by mmurray:

    Absolutely, because they are all agreed that crucifixion’s a doddle…

    (LOL) Don’t keep saying that.

    Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me! You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!

  32. Of itself the internet can do nothing except offer access to a great deal of stuff. With the advent of smart phones its access extends into younger and poorer segments of society.

    Religion is taking increasing advantage of this new channel for proselytising and given some initial youthful bias all the good stuff in there may remain un-accessed.

    What we must never forget is how much is hard wired through culture in pre-teens and most particularly in the first five years. Until some countervailing thoughts can be stumbled upon by the very young, hinting at other views than those of the parents and the smothering local religious community, there will be little inclination to look outside of your conditioned responses.

    The internet cannot provide this timely early hint of other world views. But decent education, decent broadcasting, chance viewing of poster campaigns and brave aunts and uncles prepared to come out of the atheist closet around the Christmas dinner table can sow the seed that will flourish later. The second wave of re-wiring post adolescence, when personal identities are being formed is the perfect time for the internet to nourish that little seed of doubt.

    Doubt + Internet = Self Enlightenment.

  33. The most wondrous thing about the Internet is not just that it allows the spread of information (let’s face it, how easy was it even twenty years ago to find out about different belief systems or scientific theories unless you had access to a full Encyclopedia set?), but that it makes the world a smaller place. People become more real and personal; the propaganda we hear is refuted by Youtube videos from the Middle East, or tweets, or compelling personal stories. There are faces on the people we’re told to hate and fear, and when you see a mother holding her dead child and sobbing, you wonder at the justifications you’ve heard for whatever war is fashionable at the moment. This is what the Internet does; it is MORE than passing information. It is elevating our awareness, our consciousness. THAT is the cure for fundamentalism; I’m sorry to break it to the more rabid anti-theists out there, but finding someone who’s yelling about how they read a book and they’re right, you’re wrong, and proceeding to tell them that you’ve read a book and that you’re right, they’re wrong, will not change their opinion. You must get them to start asking themselves questions. You must continue to ask questions of yourself. The Internet is forcing us to do this, and it’s forcing so much information into us now that we have to stop and ask these questions, because multiple paradigms are colliding. Religion alone isn’t being impacted; just look at politics, and the lengths to which politicians must go today in their smoke and mirrors games (at least in America, I can’t speak for other countries). The Internet is opening minds. THAT is what is killing fundamentalism; THAT is what is killing blind faith and unquestioning obedience. People are being confronted with too much not to stop and question it at some point.

  34. Valerie could not be more wrong, in my opinion.
    Religion will thrive on the Internet, because the place is a ghetto where like-minded lunatics from all over the planet can cluster in bunches and pretend the rest of the world, and sanity, does not exist.
    Sad, but true.

  35. In reply to #47 by GospelofJudas:

    The Internet is forcing us to do this, and it’s forcing so much information into us now that we have to stop and ask these questions, because multiple paradigms are colliding. Religion alone isn’t being impacted; just look at politics, and the lengths to which politicians must go today in their smoke and mirrors games (at least in America, I can’t speak for other countries). The Internet is opening minds. THAT is what is killing fundamentalism; THAT is what is killing blind faith and unquestioning obedience. People are being confronted with too much not to stop and question it at some point.

    The internet is not like a decent education. You are not forced to confront anything if you don’t wish it. Fundementalist, creationist, sites etc. are thriving.

    Answers in Genesis, US rank 10,390

    This site, US rank 23,017

    It would be folly to think this alone will fix things when the age at which people first freely access the internet is only after they have already been groomed by their parents and local culture, and given life long thinking habits.

    More is needed

  36. The internet is not like a decent education. You are not forced to confront anything if you don’t wish it. Fundementalist, creationist, sites etc. are thriving.

    Answers in Genesis, US rank 10,390

    This site, US rank 23,017

    It would be folly to think this alone will fix things when the age at which people first freely access the internet is only after they have already been groomed by their parents and local culture, and given life long thinking habits.

    More is needed

    Decent educations come at a premium in many places, especially where the status quo controls them. The United States education system is woefully inadequate for a number of reasons, not just religious. However, controlling what people can access online is tougher. You can keep books out of the school library or even burn them, but at best you can block a site, and there are still workarounds.

    I don’t believe that raising peoples’ awareness will come by the Internet alone, but it is a tremendous vehicle for the spread of information.

  37. In reply to #50 by GospelofJudas:

    I don’t believe that raising peoples’ awareness will come by the Internet alone, but it is a tremendous vehicle for the spread of information.

    We agree on that.

    We must, though, find ways of planting that seed of doubt to encourage the first tentative peek into the world of evidenced rationalism now freely accessible. But without that the Internet can become the very worst nightmare for us. It readily facilitates people finding their “own kind”. It creates worlds within worlds. Keeping to the hypertext linked path will keep you on the straight and narrow. That is why the “Out” campaign, for instance, is so important. Brave openly atheist relatives can show young kids there is another way to live and think.

  38. I believed I had a rock solid marriage until I read some emails on our ISP server that my wife thought she had deleted.

    Scary! SAME situation with me. And the object of her affections? The pastor of the last church we attended before I de-converted!

  39. In reply to #10 by sunbeamforjeebus:

    This is a good article.Surely the biggest threat to any supernatural belief system is twofold:alternative information and the ability to access that information.It is no secret that many religious communities will do all they can to prevent alternative theories being examined, quite simply because they do not have confidence that their own theories will stand up to examination and comparison!

    As John Morley stated (more concisely)-
    ‘All religions die of one disease; that of being found out’

  40. In reply to #49 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #47 by GospelofJudas:

    Answers in Genesis, US rank 10,390

    This site, US rank 23,017

    Yeah, but so what….I visit AiG regularly enough just to keep up-to-date on the bollocks the loonies are spouting, but how many of them are visiting here?

    The rankings are still not bad if ya consider the proportions of Atheists to believer ratio’s.

  41. In reply to #55 by Ignorant Amos:

    In reply to #49 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #47 by GospelofJudas:

    Answers in Genesis, US rank 10,390

    This site, US rank 23,017

    Yeah, but so what….I visit AiG regularly enough just to keep up-to-date on the bollocks the loonies are spouting, but how many cretins are visiting here?

    The rankings are still not bad if ya consider the proportions of Atheists to believer ratio’s.

    Hi Amos. I agree on the rankings.

    Counting up all the Faithist vs Atheist internet visits in the past 15 years, recall that previously the ratio was skewed far more in favour of the Religions – via captive congregations, indoctrination, dogmas, and social pressures.

    The availability (openly or secretly) of non-theist options, rational thinking, self-education, scientific data and news, has expanded exponentially, which can only help the long-term spread of non-theism.

    Also, the fewer folk who attend wealth-collecting religious services – which depend on community pressure and unquestioning, hypnotic physical and mental methodologies to infiltrate, infect and dull captive minds – the more likely people are to think for themselves, throw off the chains, and investigate better methods of thought and pathways to understanding reality.

    It is certainly much easier, less mentally (and physically in many places) risky, and less costly, to have a ‘just a wee look’ on-line at some of the information now only a click or two away.

    As a life-long non-theist, I certainly know far more about religions than I did before the Internet allowed me to read and see so much about them at minimal cost – I certainly wouldn’t have spent a bag of loot to go find and buy their books before the electronic versions became freely available.

  42. In reply to #55 by Ignorant Amos:

    In reply to #49 by phil rimmer:

    In reply to #47 by GospelofJudas:

    Answers in Genesis, US rank 10,390

    This site, US rank 23,017

    Yeah, but so what….I visit AiG regularly enough just to keep up-to-date on the bollocks the loonies are spouting, but how many cretins are visiting here?

    The rankings are still not bad if ya consider the proportions of Atheists to believer ratio’s.

    I think we’re doing fantastically well in the circumstances. But the bulk of our lot have a three figure IQ and an embattled feeling, in the US at least. The drive by preachings we get are rarely sustained and we see few religious engaging, but we really have no idea how many of the two digit visitors come and look and then simply run back to AiG for consolation. The proportion of time we collectively spend over there is probably very low as the bollocks doesn’t really change. (Besides, we rather depend on you to do our homework for us!)

    I put no great store in these numbers (and won’t defend them here in regard of relative rank apart from pointing out that both figure very low in the rankings) but merely wish to suggest the internet has no innate ability to direct attention and much more importantly sustained attention. Fox viewing figures are much more to the point.

  43. Valerie, ‘ ramping up their efforts to keep the flock, using internet, banners, and billboards’. In december this billboard appeared in a local church. ‘ Feeling lost?, find your way with jesus, better than SAT-NAV. Well i dont have SAT-NAV, but if you were to punch in ‘Jesus’ as a destination i wonder where you would end up! Last week this was replaced by ” Trespassers will be forgiven”. Sounds like a get out of jail free card to me.Back in the 60′s a not uncommon crime was ‘stealing lead off church roofs’, i must admit to taking part on one occasion. I don’t think anyone caught doing that or a similar offence could plead not guilty and quote the billboard as evidence, nope,it would be the slammer fo you m’boy.

  44. Enjoyable article, because I like a bit of optimism. However, it may take a while. An analogy I thought of was the demise of the sailing ship. Windjammers threw up more masts and sails, but they couldn’t compete, in the end, with the steamship. I’d like to think the same is true of religions, and technology such as the internet. Without the book we would have neither science or religion, but remember that western texts were once written in Latin, excluding them from being understood by the vast majority of people. The internet is an incentive to people to learn to read and write, and a brilliantly engaging learning tool, so perhaps the spread of inquisitive knowledge engendered by the book may have an accelerated kinship in that of the internet. Here’s hoping.
    The Dalai Lama’s quote was the most significant statement by a religious leader, ever. Bhuddism, or at least it’s current leader, has conscience. That is very encouraging, given the number of eastern mystic hippy baby boomers who must still be out there, possibly christians again by now, but still a bit skeptical.

  45. In reply to #3 by Jos Gibbons:

    Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.

    I think “killed” is hyperbole. However, there’re a lot of urban legends and myths on snopes.com that used to be just passed around uncritically (I realise they still are, but it would seem reasonable to suppose less so– I’m not sure how you’d check). Wikipedia, for its inaccuracies and susceptibility to a certain amount of deliberate subversion, also makes it easier to dismiss false beliefs. And frankly, most of the TV show QI is premised on refutation of commonly believed falsehoods. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    Secondly, whilst there are reasonably open discussion fora, there will be valid criticism of religion of a kind it wouldn’t have previously had to deal with. That’s not really characterizable by a particular belief being “killed”, though I think transubstantiation, emperor Xenu and Noah’s ark have all taken a beating recently.

    Conversely, I think it’s right that the article ignores relevant negative uses of the web: the ability of well-funded advocacy groups, the T.E.A. party, birthers, truthers, denialists, anti-vaxxers, etc to organize and distribute their ideas in ways they couldn’t before. It may be that some of these form the kernel of new kinds of religion, whilst the older institutions fade. Or it could be that they are able to form a symbiosis with one of those institutions. I think it’s deeply premature to declare religion in terminal decline, except over the very long run. And as Keynes pointed out, over the very long run we’re all dead.

  46. In reply to #43 by Alan4discussion:

    In reply to #32 by gerrybuddy:

    In my opinion the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Communist system were brought down by the Internet. I believe that communication via the Internet showed them that the Soviet Union was lying to its own people.

    I think the internet has broken state and media monopolies of propagandist information generally, ( except where it has been fenced out) but the nutter propagandists such as AIG, the “Creation museum”, and conspiracy theorists, are developing their new disinformation services.

    Hm. As I understand it, the USSR collapsed because of a corrupt and dysfunctional system of production. It wasn’t the Afghanistani Jihadis or increased US military expenditure. It was simply that centrally planned and (micro) managed economies don’t work.

  47. In reply to #58 by OLDMIKEY:

    In december this billboard appeared in a local church. ‘ Feeling lost?, find your way with jesus, better than SAT-NAV. Well i dont have SAT-NAV, but if you were to punch in ‘Jesus’ as a destination i wonder where you would end up!

    You’d end up very confused indeed….try Google maps in your area to see what I mean.

    http://maps.google.es/maps?q=jesus&oe=utf-8&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=fl_-UNjjCofLsgaww4DoAg&ved=0CAsQ_AUoAA

    Not really too surprising then?

  48. In reply to #62 by PERSON:

    In reply to #43 by Alan4discussion:

    Hm. As I understand it, the USSR collapsed because of a corrupt and dysfunctional system of production. It wasn’t the Afghanistani Jihadis or increased US military expenditure. It was simply that centrally planned and (micro) managed economies don’t work.

    Yep! – But the internet probably helped its later path, discouraging re-establishment of earlier systems based on censorship.

  49. In reply to #58 by OLDMIKEY:

    Valerie, ‘ ramping up their efforts to keep the flock, using internet, banners, and billboards’. In december this billboard appeared in a local church. ‘ Feeling lost?, find your way with jesus, better than SAT-NAV. Well i dont have SAT-NAV, but if you were to punch in ‘Jesus’ as a destination i wonder where you would end up!

    Maybe relying & depending on Jesus to help you drive & navigate could have unfortunate consequences. Better pay attention to the road and traffic instead!
    Alt Text

  50. Jos
    “Do we know of any beliefs the internet has already killed? Not just religious ones; I’ll take any example.”

    If one takes the recent ARIS polls in the US showing a somewhat significant rise in the “Nones” to around 20% of the population, it is a little hard to think the internet did not have some bearing on these numbers. While it may be difficult to tease the stats it seems a reasonable proposition that the internet [given the rise in non-religiosity seems to overlay quite comfortably the period that the internet really took off as a social media tool.

  51. In reply to #44 by Dr Bob:

    In reply to #42 by mmurray:

    In reply to #41 by Dr Bob:

    In reply to #40 by mmurray:

    Absolutely, because they are all agreed that crucifixion’s a doddle…

    (LOL) Don’t keep saying that.

    Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me! You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!

    I’m not.

  52. ‘Religion may not survive the internet’. Well too bad, how sad, never mind. I’ll be a tad sad though as i’l miss the entertainment in the comments. Astute, witty, and hilarious at times. The comment from Katy Cordeth on 24th Jan was very funny as i’ve never laughed so much since christ left Dumbarton. Lastly i would like to make a point about this idea that we are the progeny of Adam and Eve and put this baby to bed. All scots know full well that ‘ we are all Jock Tamsons bairns’. There, nighty night, tuck up.

  53. In reply to #68 by mysticjbyrd:

    Religion will never die.

    Mysticjbyrd is correct, though it’s important to take a look at the origins of religion. I don’t think that it evolved from a set of fairy tales that people started taking seriously. It has more to do with spiritual and cultural practices becoming codified, and then having enough people in power realize that they could take advantage of a whole lot of people by tweaking the system in their favor. If a man or woman wants to meditate somewhere and explore within themselves, there is nothing wrong with that at all. If said person wants to discuss their experiences over coffee with a few friends, perfectly fine. Somewhere however rules and cultural mores and hierarchy and a whole lot else seep in, and you get a massive organization like, say, the Catholic Church, wielding enormous power and decidedly far fallen from the spiritual aims of a few Jews meditating in the desert. The same is true of governments or any other system; the USA started with a strong liberty ethic (well, if you were a white male anyway), and believed in less government interference. Look at how much has been abdicated since, and what we make of civil liberties at home or how we (as a nation) respect them abroad?

    These organizations, whether empires or vast religions (may as well use them interchangeably in some cases) rise and fall cyclically. What’s the difference between a philosophy and a religion? I’d argue that it’s a matter of thinking vs. acceptance, but that one can become the other. The “Life of Brian” illustrates this perfectly. You have a man who says, ‘Go out there, and figure this stuff out!’ and… well, you all get my point.

    Bringing this back to the original topic, the Internet is wondrous because the likelihood that incompatible knowledge is going to seep in to someone’s life is much greater. If you can control information, you can control a people (North Korea).

  54. In reply to #70 by OLDMIKEY:

    The comment from Katy Cordeth on 24th Jan was very funny as i’ve never laughed so much since christ left Dumbarton.

    Yes, but she’s not the Messiah, she’s a very naughty girl…

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