Last month, popular Christian apologist Josh McDowell made news (at least in the atheist world) when he called the Internet a threat to Christianity:
“The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,” said McDowell…
“Now here is the problem,” said McDowell, “going all the way back, when Al Gore invented the Internet [he said jokingly], I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”
So, to paraphrase: When people have access to knowledge, they start asking questions… and that’s bad for Christianity.
At least he admits it.
Brandon Peach at RELEVANT — it’s a Christian magazine, so I assume they use ALL CAPS to fit in with their readership — has a really fascinating article in which he explores whether there’s any truth to what McDowell said.
Turns out there’s a lot of truth to it. Just looks at the numbers:
While Christianity enjoys a robust online presence, the edge still seems to belong to its unbelievers. ChristianForums.com, online since 1998, boasts a quarter-million members. But with an Alexa ranking of almost 12,000 in the U.S. and only 68,000 unique page views per month, it lags behind the most popular forums for the irreligious. The web’s largest atheist forum is a subcommunity of the social media site Reddit, launched in 2005. Its Alexa traffic ranking puts it in the top 50 sites in the United States with 2 million unique visitors per month, many of those to its “Atheist” subcommunity of 154,000. The Christian “subreddit,” a devoted group comprised largely of recovering evangelicals with a zeitgeist-oriented view of Scripture, enjoys less than a tenth of the atheists’ readership.
Peach hits the target when he explains why the Internet has been so good for atheists. For so long, Christians have had a place to discuss and share their views — church. Until the Internet came along, we didn’t have our version of that . Now that we have a space where we can talk about our (lack of) religious beliefs, it’s that much easier to communicate our views.
And because there are so many of us, in so many different Internet mediums, it’s hard to ignore us. (Of course, it helps that the facts are all on our side.)
It’s not just that atheists control the Internet, though. It turns out that the Internet is full of people who are willing to question your beliefs, whatever they may be. As atheists, we’re used to that. We know how to defend ourselves. For Christians, it might be a jarring experience for someone to question what you’ve always believed to be true.
One commenter on RELEVANT‘s website makes another valid point: “Holy robes and Doctorate degrees mean little online. The facts and arguments must stand by themselves.”
As Peach writes:
It’s safe to say the majority of voices [Christians] encounter in web forums, news blogs and Facebook timelines will not echo those heard in their church foyer.
Not surprisingly, the Christian response to all this has been to shelter people from our views, not tackle them head on. Instead of engaging with us in a battle of ideas — a battle they’re always reluctant to take on — they’ve basically raised the white flag and built their own little Jesus-y enclaves online:
YouTube is too dangerous; try GodTube. Wikipedia is too liberal; use Conservapedia. Church remains the bubble in which rhetoric is exchanged; the bubble merely now extends to the web. The net result allows Christians to be “in the world but not of the world” and secularists to control the traffic flow on the largest thoroughfares of the information superhighway.
While Peach doesn’t mention this, the whole article is just a testament to the importance of atheists coming out and sharing our views, whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a blog, comment threads, forums, or — dare I say it — real life.
The more we do that, the harder it is for Christians to keep pace. All the evidence is in our favor and, unless they completely isolate fellow Christians from the real world forever, it’s inevitable that they’re going to be exposed to the truth one way or the other. It may have been possible to “protect” Christians from opposing viewpoints before the Internet but it’s hard as hell to do that now.
We’re the ones who tell Christians the emperor’s not wearing any clothes. We’re the ones that question the dogma they’ve just accepted their entire lives. We expose the religious frauds. We expose the horrific consequences of blindly following faith. We’re the faith’s worst nightmare because we shed light on all the lies pastors tell in church.