How the Internet is killing religion — Part 1

John

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

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.

Amen.

 

Can you be spiritual but not religious?

Lotus

More and more, when you ask Americans what creed they profess, they check the box that says “Spiritual But Not Religious.” I think what people mean when they say they’re Spiritual But Not Religious, is they have an inner sense of the divine that they’d prefer to keep to themselves, thank you. I have my spirituality. You have yours. Don’t harsh my vibe with your . . . religion. Spirituality’s all about the inward person, following one’s beatific impulses, one’s true self—all that stuff that Jiminy Cricket talked about. Religion, Religion’s all about rules—white men in robes with hair growing out of their ears forcing you to do something that doesn’t come naturally.

I don’t get it.

Spirituality—whatever that means, it must mean connecting with our best self. And our best self focuses outward. Trouble is, we’re selfish sons of bitches. I’ll take a leap: Original Sin—the focus on one’s self and one’s benefit—is the only Christian doctrine that is empirically verifiable. Consider history. It’s our self-interest that causes our woes. James 4:1-3: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” (Surprised I quote scripture? Don’t be. Nuggets exist amidst the dross—as much as one would expect in any document written by humans. See Does God Speak Through Scripture? Yes and No.)

I’d posit you are the most spiritual when you’re being the most religious—when you’re forcing yourself to do something you’d rather not. The spiritual person isn’t the person who is empowered by God. The spiritual person is the person who swears under his breath about the particular pain in the ass who is monopolizing his study time yet puts down his book and engages in an encouraging conversation, lends a hand. A spiritual person is not the person who is removed from the “cares of this world.” The spiritual person is the person is sees the need and attends to it when they’d prefer not to.

Really what alternative do we have? If God gave you the power to sacrifice, it wouldn’t be a sacrifice. A sacrifice has to cost you something. Turns out, being selfless requires an extreme exertion of the self.

Fittingly—providentially?—that’s the way the universe works. We’re on our own. God doesn’t interact with the world/humans in any meaningful way. Me, I think He doesn’t because He can’t. That’s the nature of God. He is wholly other.

We are left to deal with the pains in the ass that wander into our lives with naught but own wits and gumption. Spiritual forces—if they exist—are unavailable to humankind. We aren’t tuned to that frequency. We are machines made out of meat. You can’t run a material machine on something other than matter—corn flakes and bean sprouts. Supplications and rainbows won’t do the trick. Get off your ass.

So don’t worry about being spiritual. Worry about being more human. But consider yourself warned: It’s damn hard work and God is no help whatsoever.

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

Photo: Meditating by Take back your health conference’s photostream CC BY 2.0

 

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A Danger to God Himself by John Draper

A Danger to God Himself

by John Draper

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John

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

Who lays claim to the true gospel?

John

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

gospel
Everyone says they bear the true gospel. Mormons say it. (They call it the Restored Gospel.) Pentecostals say it. (They call it the Full Gospel.) Holy Rollers say it. (They call it The Foursquare Gospel.)

And so on.

What they’re all saying when they make this claim is “We believe in the gospel that the first apostles believed in!” (For example, Mormons claim that after the last apostle died, there was a Great Apostasy—the gospel was lost and the priesthood power withdrawn from the faithful.)

Everyone wants to be like The First Christians.

The whole effort’s wrongheaded, as far as I’m concerned. I’m not even sure the First Christians were Christians. I think they thought they were Jews—Torah-observant Jews. The only difference between them and their fellow Jews was their devotion to Jesus, who was very adamant about observing the Torah. The early church was based in Jerusalem and headed up by James, the brother of Jesus, who wouldn’t let you in the club unless you got circumcised. Without anesthesia. Ouch. How’s that for being born again?

I believe that what is promoted as apostolic doctrine by most churches is not what the apostles taught. For example, what mainline Christians believe as “gospel” is the dogma introduced by Paul, which he called “my gospel”—I think to distinguish it from the pro-Torah “gospel” pushed by James and the apostles in Jerusalem.

Paul was the one who invented the whole “salvation by grace through faith” idea, not Jesus.

The First Christians weren’t about grace. They were about strict observance.

Problem is, strict observance sucks as a Rule of Life. Whether or not you believe in God, it’s best to give yourself grace. Allow screw ups. Have a fried egg sandwich now and then—with bacon. Realize that when you try to learn something new, you’re going to suck at it at first. Stop being your worst critic. Rules—enough with all the rules! Everyone who has found peace by following rules, raise your hand. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

Stop trying to be like the first-century church. They were just as lost as we are. If you want to have religion in your life, let your religion evolve—improve. Stop looking backward. Let’s keep learning and growing, throwing away the rules that don’t get us anywhere.

That’s my gospel.

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

 Photo: Prepare for the end of this world by Stephen McCulloch  CC BY 2.0

All Christians will accept homosexuals — and soon

John

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

Fag nation

Well, maybe not all Christians. Probably not the Westboro Baptist types and the snake handlers. But other than that, yes, I think everyone who believes, in some fashion, in Jesus and the Bible will come to embrace homosexuals. Oh, yeah, and the Mormons—they’ll probably never budge on homosexuality either. (Don’t be so sure, though. The LDS church is infamous for flip-flops on doctrine.)

Right now, it’s pretty much only progressive Christians who accept homosexuals. In my experience, they back up their acceptance with faulty interpretations of the Six Killer Verses About Homosexuality in the Bible—for example, “abomination” didn’t mean, well, “abomination;” it meant “taboo.”

More about biblical interpretation later, but first let me explain why I think all Christians will soon embrace homosexuals.

I think that eventually The Church will come to accept homosexuality, but it won’t be because they adopt progressive Christianity’s’ unorthodox biblical interpretations I mention above. Rather, it’s going to happen because, more and more, believers are encountering gays at work and elsewhere and they’re learning that they’re just normal people. They’re coming to find out that gays aren’t “wicked” or some such thing. They are moral and they just want what straight people want: happiness, healthy marriages, security, etc. It’s a Virtuous Circle, I think: As society becomes more accepting of gays, gays are emboldened to “come out” at work and in their neighborhoods. And as gays come out, their straight peers are finding that they are actually likable, which results in more societal acceptance, which results in gays being more emboldened to come out. You get the idea.

And that Virtuous Circle is going to force Christians to adopt a new attitude toward scripture. What do I mean? I mean the progressive Christians don’t go far enough. We don’t need new interpretations of scripture. We need a new understanding of what we mean when we call scripture “inspired.” The Bible—or the Koran or the book of Mormon or any “holy” book—isn’t the Word of God. It’s the word of humans, and, as such, it’s prone to all the limitations of the human authors.

The truth is the Bible is an adamantly heterosexual book. It assumes heterosexuality. That’s because it was written by ancient people—mainly men—who weren’t particularly enlightened. When the Westboro Baptist types insist that the Bible condemns homosexuality, they are right.

Let me be more plain. The Bible was wrong about homosexuality. Paul was wrong about homosexuality. Jesus was wrong about homosexuality.

In this coming gay-friendly Christianity, believers will still read the Bible but they’ll do so more cautiously. They’ll pick out the wisdom and disregard the nonsense. They’ll realize that all truth is God’s truth.

Or maybe they won’t. Who’s to say? But if the Church doesn’t change its stance on homosexuals and on scripture, it will die.

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

Photo: Westboro Baptist Church in Madison by Cometstarmoon CC BY 2.0