How the Internet is killing religion — Part 1

Internet use

This chart comes from a study by Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. The two charts show the correlation between the rise in the use of the Internet (the blue line on the top) and the percentage of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation. As you can see, as more and more people use the Internet, more and more people have become less religious. Using data from the University of Chicago, Downey determined that the biggest influence on religious affiliation is religious upbringing. That is, people tend to believe what they were raised to believe. Similarly, college-level education correlates with the drop in religious affiliation. That is, people who go to college are less likely to be religious.

Damn you to hell, higher learning!

Here’s the kicker: Downey went on to say that 25 percent of the drop in religious affiliation can be correlated with the increase in Internet use.

Acknowledging that “correlation does not imply causation,” Downey goes on to say it’s a reasonable conclusion to say that Internet use decreases the chance of religious affiliation.

I think he’s right. The Internet is killing religion—starting with the Mormon Church. The others will follow in course.

The reason’s plain. Religions that insist on “right belief” rely on a closed information system. The power structure must have some level of control over the information the faithful receive.

The Internet has broken that closed information system.

So religion will be done in by its Enemy of Old. No, not Satan. Knowledge. (For all I know, Satan’s religious.) The church has always resisted the advance of knowledge. Consider Copernicus. This time, though, knowledge really has religion on the ropes, and I don’t think it’s going to survive. What will take its place? I will give my thoughts in part 2 of this post.

Right now, let’s pick on the Mormons. As I said, they’ll be the first to fold.

I mean, really, they were asking for it. At first blush, their doctrine is so harebrained. But from Day One, they’ve been insistent they are The One True Church. And from Day One, which—remember—was only 186 years ago, people have been pointing out the farces and fallacies in what they’ve preached. The Latter day-Saints’ response has always been some form of “I don’t care about your facts; I know it’s true.”

Like I said, they were asking for it.

Now there was nothing new about churches setting themselves up as The One True Church, but the difference is that for most of the major religions—I’ll argue in a bit that Mormonism is actually not that major of a religion—their founding events are obscured by the mists of time. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Who’s to say?

Meanwhile, the Mormon Church has a paper trail. We can fact check Mormonism. That’s what you get when you found a religion after the invention of the printing press. Something’s going to come back and bite you in the butt.

Consider the case of the Book of Abraham, one of Mormonism’s sacred texts. Joseph Smith translated the book from some papyrus he purchased, along with two mummified former Egyptians, from a traveling salesman in 1835, saying they were scratched out by the hand of Abraham himself while in was in ancient Egypt. None of Smith’s followers blinked when he unveiled the book’s revelations that God lives on a planet near a star called Kolob—why would a star have a name?—and that He parades around in a body of flesh and bone, just like you and me. Check it out: God could sport an erection. God could be influenced. Think of the cosmic implications. See what I mean by harebrained?

There’s more. This God, as hopelessly prone to hard-ons as you or me, used to be a regular guy, on another planet somewhere. He advanced to godhood by following the dictums of Mormonism. Then once he became a God, he was given his own planet. Of course. From this base of operations, his job, into eternity, is to produce “spirit children” with his polygamous godwives. These spirit children are sent down into bodies on earth to see if they can live righteously enough to become gods and earn their own planets and their own bevy of godwives and produce their own spirit children, who will be sent down to other planets, where they will be given the chance to advance to godhood and keep the whole system chugging along. It never ends. Fiction is stranger than truth. (You can tell this was a religion fabricated by a horny male. The men get to spend eternity having sex, and the women get to spend eternity being pregnant.)

Unbelievers pointed out how inane this whole thing sounded, but Smith and his cronies were able to change the subject. After all, no one knew how to read Egyptian hieroglyphics, so who could gainsay Smith’s harebrained assertions?

Besides, people wanted to believe.

After Smith’s death at the hands of righteously indignant townsfolk, the scrolls got passed around until they were lost from history and assumed destroyed. However, they resurfaced in 1966 in the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. By 1966, of course, Egyptology had come a long way and Egyptologists all over the country had the expertise to decipher their meaning.

I’ll just put it bluntly. Brace yourselves, Mormons—as if there are still Mormons with us at this point. Smith’s translation of the scrolls couldn’t possibly be less correct. The scrolls date from the first century AD (some 2,000 years after Abraham’s time) and contain pretty standard Egyptian funerary texts. They were placed with the mummies to help usher the erstwhile Egyptians into the hereafter—a hall pass for heaven, if you will.

Finally, reluctantly, the Mormon Church responded, publishing a series of anonymously penned “essays” on their official website. The essays only muddied the waters. (For example, they quibbled over what Smith meant when he said he had “translated” the papyrus. Perhaps the papyrus just acted as a mnemonic device to inspire him. That’s “translation,” isn’t it?) What church members needed was the church coming out and saying, “OK, you caught us with our knickers at our knees! Can we move ahead together somehow and work this all out?” (One could sense the church’s desperation in these essays. They even pulled out Smith’s seer stone and offered a ham-handed explanation. This was the seer stone, it turns out, that he actually used to translate the Book of Mormon, sticking the stone in a hat and then shoving his face in the hat so he could see each successive word radiate out from the stone like a neon advertisement for shoe polish. The alleged golden plates? They were in another room, or out in the woods, hidden from prying eyes, which makes an unbiased observer wonder, “Why in the hell did he need the plates in the first place if he was just going to stick his head in a hat like a dope?” I must mention: This was the very same seer stone Smith used to defraud local villagers, saying he could use it—sticking it in a hat and sticking his head in the hat—to find buried treasure on their property. The mimeographed docket from the court case where old Smith was called to account as a “glass looker”—just months before he was to discover the Book of Mormon—is one of the many items now easily discoverable on the Internet.)

Such smokescreens don’t work anymore, now that we have the Internet. Before the Internet, when some Mormon leader would tell the faithful, in effect, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” it was all too easy for the faithful to shrug their shoulders and go on with their daily lives. To fact-check the preacher, one would have to find the car keys, get in the car, drive to the library, find the right microfiche—oh, hell, let’s just stay home and watch Father Knows Best.

Now, though, everyone in America has the Internet in their homes, and they can easily research religious claims. Consequently, the Mormon Church is hemorrhaging members. (The church likes to claim it’s one of the world’s fastest-growing religions, thanks to those armies of well-scrubbed missionaries. That’s horseshit, as is their wont.)

Damn you to hell, Internet!

Indeed, the game is up. The LDS church is going to go first because of the embarrassing facts like the Book of Abraham, but the others will follow. Knowledge will win.

Now if you’ve been following along until this point, you’re probably irreligious or formerly religious or finding your way out of religion. (The religious folks probably won’t have lasted until now, if they even would have started reading the post in the first place.) You probably assumed I was headed toward some kind of climactic slur against the Almighty. Silly human. Far be it from me to the slur the Almighty. Religion’s going to die, but God’s not going anywhere. He has nothing to fear from knowledge. All truth is God’s truth. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be truth. God is the author of reality. He holds it together. He’s the reason there’s something rather than nothing.

So when religion’s gone, what are we to do about God? Actually, I think we’ll be in a better position to deal with God without religion. Religion just gets in the way, deluding us into thinking that we can apprehend divine matters. (Think “hall pass for heaven.”) Finally, we won’t have religion clouding our judgment. We’ll be able to see clearly that we know next to nothing. The more knowledge we gain, the further we realize we are from the truth. Life is an obstinate mystery. Knowledge will help us kill religion, but knowledge is powerless against God, bottomless font of truth. The ladder of knowledge doesn’t lead to God. It leads to more questions.

Get used to it.




John Draper is the author of the novel A Danger to God Himself

5 thoughts on “How the Internet is killing religion — Part 1

  1. While the point you make about the availability of information is a good one and very valid, there is another very significant albeit indirect correlation between Internet and religion.

    As we all know, the Internet is full of scams. On one page we read “Just click on this button to win £500”. On the next page we read that all you need to do is pay a small (ever-increasing) fee to a complete stranger in return for a sum greater than the gross national product of many third world countries. On the next we read the story of how somebody paid $1 for a product worth thousands. In this modern, Internet, age people have to learn to be more aware of scams. We are learning to spot a scam! With that practice we are no more suspicious than we used to be and nothing is more obviously a scam than tales of how a young boy was visited by supernatural beings and told secret things which everybody has to believe without any evidence. Mormonism requires belief in several incredible tales, and in the modern age people are simply not as gullible as they once used to be.

    There once was a time when Mormon leaders would say “If Joseph Smith was not a prophet he had to be a fraud” in the knowledge that people who had been brought up to love Joseph would not bear to see him as the fraud that he was. However, as the unpalatable truth unravels, the rhetoric changes to “Even if the church is not true it still teaches good principles”. Perhaps the so-called church will one day soon have to justify those so-called good principles. Which are they? Hatred for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community? White supremacy? The standards on morality which forbid pre-marital sex and contraception? The principle that women should obey their husbands? All very nineteenth century and completely out of touch!

    • Paul, great thoughts. People WANT to believe. I some times wonder how in the hell Joseph Smith got started. I mean, plenty of people could clearly see he was a fraud — even his own father-in-law. Others were sucked in. i don’t understand that. I find it amazing.

      Joseph Smith was highly intelligent and highly charismatic. However, I have nothing but contempt for the man. Praise to the man? Not so much.

  2. This is another great post from you. i would add that Mormons also think that two Jewish civilizations came to America from Israel before the birth of Jesus and Jesus then appeared to these civilizations after His death. They also believe that elephants once roamed what is not the U.S. and that the Garden of Eden was in Missouri. For those who think that Christianity must be true for it to have grown the way it has grown, a book by Rodney Stark, “The Rise of Christianity, suggests that Mormonism has grown just as fast.

    • Thanks, Ron. The Mormon church is actually shrinking. What happens is that people get baptized and then they leave a few months later after they hear about all the whacky doctrines. They leave but it’s very hard to get your name removed from their member list. The LDS church wants to impressive people with these inflated number. And, yes, I consider that lying

  3. John, Thank you very much for your excellent article. Your standalone paragraph “Besides, people wanted to believe.” gave me a long pause for thought…

    It is very much easier to believe in something (almost anything) than it is to learn [to educate oneself] about that something. The Internet is a fountain of knowledge for those who wish to learn facts [evidence-based information]; conversely, it is also a haven for communities of believers who much prefer dogma to the hard graft of learning some basic: science, statistics, and critical thinking skills.

    Although many nations are becoming less affiliated to religious belief systems, it seems to me that their affiliations are not largely changing to science and evidence, but to new belief systems, such as: New Age beliefs; pop-psychology; pop-neuroscience; alt-med; pseudoscience (especially its methods); and by far the worst of all, I think, is the vast number of people jumping on the bandwagon of outright science denialism.

    Satan was a necessary invention in ancient times: creating a hate object serves the useful purpose of social binding and bonding. “Better the devil you know” is a very apt idiom: we are inherently afraid of the unknown and this fear weakens social bonding. It is therefore sensible for a society to invent a terrifying enemy, who is more fearsome than the unknown, and to document the terrifying attributes and behaviour of this fictitious enemy.

    The statement “If you follow satan, you will spend an eternity being tortured in hell.” forms a much stronger social bond than “If you pray to god, you might go to heaven.” The former statement is also a much more powerful weapon of control. Here’s a 21st Century equivalent based on science denialism: “If you vaccinate your children, you are likely to cause them to develop autism and other serious health problems.” is a much more powerful weapon than “If you vaccinate your children, you reduce their chances of developing, and spreading to others, various diseases.”

    The new ‘evil’ for the masses to detest with a vengeance seems to be any/all of: science, evidence, logic, critical thinking skills, and the freedom of speech.

    Best wishes and thanks again for your insightful article,

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