How the Internet is killing religion – Part 2

John

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

Network 500

 

In my last post, I said that the Internet is killing religion because of the profusion of information critical of the church. It works, whichever church is church to you. I went on to say that the church reeling most from the Internet was the Mormon Church, particularly because it had a paper trail not found in other monotheistic religions. You can fact-check the Mormon Church on the Internet, I said.

Now I want to move on to the most telling reason the Internet is killing religion—starting with the Mormon Church. The Internet isn’t just about information. It’s about connections. We’ve found truth doesn’t come from On High. It comes from the network.

Here’s how it used to work, pre-Internet:

You were in some religion, probably because you were raised to be part of that religion. (For example, the Pew Survey found that Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion, not because more people are converting to Islam but rather because Muslims have more babies than other religious folks. That means you’re going to have more and more children growing up with the default presumption that they’re Muslims.) And you encountered doubt, as religious folks will, surrounded by swirling enigma, as they find themselves to be. If you were lucky enough to have a fellow parishioner you could let down your happy mask with, you sought him out and you confessed your doubts. More than likely, you got one or more of these reactions:

  • Some things we’ll never understand until we get to heaven. His ways aren’t our ways.
  • I will pray for you.
  • You should pray and read your scriptures more.
  • Do you have some sin to confess?
  • Can I pray for you right now? (C’mon, we’ll go over to this corner where no one will see us.)

And then you walk away, shrug your shoulders, lay aside your cognitive dissonance, and get on with the chore of living. His ways aren’t our ways.

The Internet has changed all that. On the Internet, one thing leads to another. Online, you can express a doubt anonymously. You find countless people who experienced the same doubt you struggled with, persevered through their cognitive dissonance, and then came to an unorthodox answer. Some of them became ex-Mormons or ex-Christians or ex-Catholics or whatever.

Others became New Order Mormons or Progressive Christians or Liberal Muslims.

Yet others ash-canned the whole idea of God, usually not without a lot of huffing and puffing and kicking about of furniture.

Whichever, soon enough, you find you resonate with some of them. You find these people are as decent and well meaning as anyone in your congregation. You see they all have the same experience of the divine that you do—that is, a vague sense of peace and a bemused resignation that God Works In Mysterious Ways. All of them grow vertiginous upon considering the vastness of creation and our utter insignificance. Even atheists. (Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of atheists who said they felt a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis rose a full 17 points, from 37 percent to 54 percent.)

Finally, you see no religion is better than any other religion at producing good humans. We’re all just doing the best we can. No religion really works. Neither does atheism.

Suddenly, you realize how confining the four walls of your local congregation were.

You realize we can’t know the truth—and know that we know it. I mean, sure, some of us may have stumbled on to the Ultimate Truth. It’s about as likely as an army of chimps pounding out Hamlet, I suppose. But we won’t be able to prove it—beyond insisting that we feel really, really sure. Really.

Face it. We’re stuck in a universe of uncertainty, and the best way to navigate our way is not through dogma but by connecting with one another and learning from one another’s apprehensions of the Grand Mystery. That’s what the Internet does. That and porn.

We learn the best we can do is piece together whatever it is we choose to believe by taking pieces from the best of what we learn from the people in our network.

The point is, we don’t have to take the church’s word on anything anymore.

Churches are going to get out of the Telling You The Truth business. The transmogrified religions that survive the Internet age will be religions devoted to mystery, religions devoted to not knowing. We will see a flattening of traditional hierarchies, as it’s foolish to think anyone has a more direct line to God than anyone else. There will be more and more diversity, more and more openness, less credal exactitude. People’s religious affiliations will be more fluid.

This idea rankles orthodox folks. They think dogma is what is most important—because it was “revealed” by God. “Without correct doctrine,” they say, “you could just believe whatever you want.”

Exactly. I mean, if God was so concerned we believe a certain set of facts about Himself, He could have been a hell of a lot plainer.

But He wasn’t, so we’re left with mystery.

And really, it’s mystery that deserves worship, isn’t it? Something we have figured out . . . well, we have it figured out. Move on. But mystery . . . Mystery stirs us at our core.

The new religion is coming. Get ready.

Photo: Network by Rosmarie Voegtli CC BY 2.0

 

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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

What do people mean when they say, “I follow God”?

John

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

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Nestled at the core of every religion is the assumption that we are meant to give ourselves to God, join His “side,” if you will. Life lived right is a life oriented around God. “He must become greater. I must become less,” as the bushy bearded John the Baptist said. We must serve God.

Which begs the question, “How is it we are supposed to know what He wants us to do?”

I mean, He is silent and invisible, after all. It’s not like He leaves a sticky note on your bathroom mirror each morning so you’ll see “God’s To Do List For Today” while you’re shaving.

Let’s review our options.

One, we could hear the audible voice of God. Obviously, this is a non-starter. When someone tells us they hear the audible voice of God we think they only have one oar in the water, that they’re one taco shy of a combo platter.

Number two, we could lean on a sacred text. This really isn’t much better. Every sacred text out there leaks like a sieve. I mean, look at Christianity. Jesus never wrote down any instructions for his apostles. And the apostles never wrote down any instructions for us. Most Christian dogma comes from the writings of Paul, and he never even met Jesus. And the Book of Mormon—don’t get me started on the Book of Mormon! Really.

Three, God could speak to us through that Still, Small Voice that scripture speaks of—that inkling that we’re headed in the right or wrong direction. “I feel a peace about this,” so many believers say when explaining their decision to take a particular course. Here’s the problem with the Still, Small Voice. It’s always what we would have decided left to our own intuition. In fact, I’d go further: It is our intuition—and it’s usually over trifling matters. When the problem’s really thorny, we just end up throwing our hands in the air and taking our best guess.

(I’m sorry, but I must throw out Mormon tidbit. I read about 50 books on Mormonism to research my novel, so I’m just chock full of these things. When the Mormon prophet Spencer Kimball was personally troubled by the church’s long-held doctrine of excluding black men from the priesthood in the late 70s, he sought out the will of God by entering into earnest prayer. He had the other apostles join in. No word, though—neither audible nor of the Still, Small variety. So here’s what Kimball did. He told Heavenly Father that he was going to go ahead and remove the ban unless Heavenly Father interceded and told him not to. Heavenly Father didn’t, and Kimball lifted the ban on black men. It was a Revelation of Omission. There’s the Still, Small Voice in action for you.)

Four, God could speak to us through other people. This one doesn’t go anywhere, either. Turns out everyone else is as in the dark about what God wants as we are, so they’re no help.

So . . . how in the world do we know what God wants us to do? Turns out, believers are just doing the same thing non-believers do when it comes to making life choices: making it up as they go along and hoping for the best.

What more could you possibly expect from the God Who Hides?

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

Photo: For God, follow signs to Salt Lake City by Quinn Dombrowski CC By-SA 2.0