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

 

Did you like this blog post? Why not share it with friends? See social media icons below.

Also, you can subscribe to the blog by signing up on the home page sidebar.

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.