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Does the Internet Spell Doom For Organized Religion?

Here's one theory why religion is in decline in many places around the world.

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It should be no surprise that so many fundamentalists are determined to take down the whole scientific endeavor. They see in science not only a critique of their outdated theories but a competitor for their very best product, a sense of transcendent exuberance.  For millennia, each religion has made an exclusive claim, that it alone had the power to draw people into a grand vision worth a lifetime of devotion. Each offered the assurance that our brief lives matter and that, in some small way, we might live on. Now we are getting glimpses of a reality so beautiful and intricate that it offers some of the same promise.

2. Curated collections of ridiculous beliefs. 

Religious beliefs that aren’t yours often sound silly, and the later in life you encounter them the more laughable they are likely to sound. Web writers are after eyeballs, which means that if there’s something ridiculous to showcase, one is guaranteed to write about it. It may be a nuanced exposé or a snarky list or a flaming meme, but the point, invariably, is to call attention to the  stuff that makes you roll your eyes, shake your head in disbelief, laugh, and then hit Share.  

3. The kinky, exploitative, oppressive, opportunistic and violent sides of religion. 

Of course, the case against religion doesn’t stop at weird and wacky. It gets nasty, sometimes in ways that are titillating and sometimes in ways that are simply dark. The Bible is full of  sex slavery, polygamy and incest, and these are catalogued at places like  Evilbible.com. Alternately, a student writing about holidays can find a  proclamation in which Puritans give thanks to God for the burning of Indian villages or an interview on the mythic origins of the Christmas story. And if the Catholic come-home plea sounds a little desperate, it may well be because the  sins of the bishops are getting hard to cover up. On the net, whatever the story may be, someone will be more than willing to expose it. 

4. Supportive communities for people coming out of religion.

With or without the net (but especially with it) believers sometimes find their worldview in pieces. Before the Internet existed most people who lost their faith kept their doubts to themselves. There was no way to figure out who else might be thinking forbidden thoughts. In some sects, a doubting member may be shunned, excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” to ensure that doubts don’t spread. So, doubters used to keep silent and then disappear into the surrounding culture. Now they can create Web sites, and today there are as many communities of former believers as there are kinds of belief. These communities range from therapeutic to  political, and they cover the range of sects: EvangelicalMormonJehovah’s Witness, and  Muslim. There’s even a web home for  recovering clergy. Heaven help the unsuspecting believer who wanders into one of these sites and tries to tell members in recovery that they’re all bound for hell.

5. Lifestyles of the fine and faithless. 

When they emerge from the recovery process former Christians and Muslims and whatnot find that there’s a whole secular world waiting for them on the web. This can be a lifesaver, literally, for folks who are trapped in closed religious communities on the outside.  On the web, they can explore lifestyles in which people stay surprisingly decent and kind without a sacred text or authority figures telling them what to do. In actuality, since so much of religion is about social support (and social control) lots of people skip the intellectual arguments and exposes, and go straight to building a new identity based in a new social network. Some web resources are specifically aimed at creating alternatives to theism, like Good without GodParenting Beyond Belief or the Foundation Beyond Belief.  

 
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