The Internet Will Lead to Religion’s Downfall February 14, 2012

The Internet Will Lead to Religion’s Downfall

There’s this article at Salon about how magic shops are going by the wayside because, nowadays, it’s so easy to learn how magic tricks are performed. Magicians aren’t the sole possessors of knowledge anymore:

Today, any 10-year-old kid can type “magic tricks” into Google and gain access either via YouTube or other websites to the biggest trade secrets in a matter of minutes. He can watch a video or buy an expensive apparatus without leaving his house, seeing a live demonstration or talking to another human being.

As a result, magic stores are slowly vanishing across America. With their gradual disappearance, as Jamy Ian Swiss — a leading card-expert and magic historian recognized for his brilliant technique and for his outspoken column in Genii, a conjuring magazine — has argued, one of the foundations of this ancient art form is disappearing.

You could make a similar argument for religion. There was a time when pastors were the ones full of wisdom, the ones who could answer the toughest questions about life, the people you went to when you needed advice and answers.

Thankfully, the Internet has done away with so much of what they offer.

Want to know how we got here? Read some primers on evolution.

Want a daily dose of inspiration? Watch a TED Talk. Read Seth Godin.

Need some advice? Ask Reddit. Ask your friends on Facebook. Search for your problems on Google and read what other people who have gone through the same thing had to say about it on their blogs.

More than anything, the Internet has opened the curtain to reveal that the basis of their sermons — the book they derive all their “knowledge” from — really isn’t the sort of foundation you want to build your life around.

If you’re religious, then you might want to turn to a pastor during difficult times, but there are secular counselors who provide the same services. Just like Humanist celebrants are available to officiate weddings, I’m having a tough time finding a service Christian pastors (or any religious leaders) offer that can’t be found elsewhere these days.

Even if there is something I’m overlooking, the Internet has helped with the rise of atheism and I suspect it’ll eventually help lead to a rapid decline in religiosity.

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  • Discobisc

    The same can be said of doctors. Of course, I’m not suggesting medical practitioners are charlatans like religious leaders, not at all. But before the internet, they were revered and respected more and their special skills were put up on a pedestal. Now people go to the doctor usually having googled all their symptoms, and come ready with the right questions. And often they know what they want prescribed too. Sometimes doctors google during consultations too, at first I found this not very confidence inspiring, but not I just think why not, they should use the best information available to them to help their patient.

  • Michael

    Freakonomics dedicates a whole chapter to this. They compare it to the decline of the KKK after their secrets were published at dinner time on Superman.

    Though they don’t talk about religion, admittedly.

  • Nordog

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Annie

    I hope you are right.  I think there will always be a place for the community that churches offer to some people, but if the internet makes just a handful of moms google their kids’ questions instead of answering, “because god made it that way”, we are going in the right direction.

  • I have occasionally considered getting one of my ex-catholic relatives to write to the Pope about how dangerous the internet is to the faithful; to see if he denounces the internet (like what happened when the German lady wrote to him about how bad Harry Potter is…) Probably won’t, but it’d be an interesting experiment…

  • Careful, that’s what skeptics say.

  • Wintermute

    Frankly I’m a bit more upset about the magic shops than the churches.

  • It’s all Gutenberg’s fault.

    He made printing books including the Bible much cheaper, thereby making them available to more people. People were no longer completely dependent upon hearing a very few learned men give their interpretations of extremely rare books. People could read them and interpret them for themselves. Dispersing knowledge decentralizes the power that goes with hoarded, centralized knowledge, and so began the steady process of religious hierarchies fracturing again and again. They’ve been losing power ever since, and it’s now accelerating.

    The internet is just the latest step in the same process of dispersing knowledge and the power that goes with it.

    All sorts of power structures that were based on hoarded and centralized knowledge are having to adapt to the instant information age. Lying politicians can’t keep up with the speed with which the old paradigms are changing. They used to rely on the public’s inability to remember something they said a few years ago, or the long time it took to check up on them. Now anyone can use a cell phone to look up a politician’s record and challenge him on his hypocrisy before he even finishes telling his latest lie.

    Thanks, Johann.

  • TCC

    When I came out as a nonbeliever to my mom a few days back, she blamed the Internet specifically, calling it a “tool of the devil.” What she doesn’t realize is that I started out on the Internet trying to engage my beliefs, even going into atheist chat rooms at 16 and overconfidently trying to propose arguments against atheism. (I continued to do this, but the forums and sophistication [sophistry?] of my arguments changed somewhat.) One of the best things the Internet did for me was to expose me to different views, not only with atheism but with a wide range of issues (like homosexuality and evolution). I obviously consider this a net gain, but if your primary goal is the conservation of ideology, then the Internet will not always be your best friend.

  • Latin.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    And their special skills should still be placed on a pedestal. While you might be able to Google your syndrome and how complicated it is to perform a complex surgery it still takes a highly skilled doctor to perform the operation.

    If I visit a doctor and he is using Google to figure out what is wrong with me I’m going to go find a new doctor.

  • Damn the printed word! It came back to bite religion on the ass!

  • “…eventually help lead to a rapid decline…”
    Speeding up an existing erosion, surely?

  • Kitchengardener

    My docs occasionally Google something they probably haven’t seen/read anything on since medical school. They can’t exactly memorize the entire contents of the Merck Manual, for instance. I find it reassuring that they are willing to look up something if they aren’t absolutely certain!

  • I’d be a large part of what a Dr. does could be done with Google.  It’s the part that can’t that they get paid for.

  • I too am more concerned about the magic shops… That’s sad.

  • Anonymous

    I could see a show like “The Masked Magician” called “The Masked Theologian,” where a theologian shows how the illusions of religion work. 

  • Bruce wright

    I’m a magician myself, and I only buy from my local magic shop.

    You can learn some things from the internet, but magic shops are gathering places for magicians.  It’s not the magic shop per se, but rather the experience of other magicians that’s key.

    Lucky for me I have a great magicians club in town.

  • If you want to read an interesting take on this, read Clive Barker’s “Mister B. Gone”…

  • CharlesInSoCal

    Check out thunderf00t’s video  “The Internet: Where religions come to die”


  • Also, to further your point, secular counselors who hold licenses and/or certain certificates have peer-review and the scientific method as well as decades of theoretical frameworks and best-practices on their side.

  • NickDB

    I just find it interesting that a tool (The internet) that whilst we have to admit has a lot of negative to it (YouTube commenter’s as an e.g.) has had a overwhelming positive impact to the human race, such as improved medical care in rural Africa, helped over throw despots in the middle east and Africa.

    Shared and grown information and knowledge, advanced communication and relationships, is called the tool of the devil.

    Just goes to show that churches and religion have nothing to do with advancing us as a species and everything to do with sowing discord and intolerance.

  • Ndonnan

    wishful thinking people,the internet will cause an explosion to christianity.the more it becomes available to the poor,the billions in china and india,the crushed by islam in the middle east,when they discover the love of christ,lookout….the internet is brilliant and we will be using it to its maximum potential.booyeh

  • Marguerite

    “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

    Unfortunately for Christianity, it isn’t the truth. Hopefully the internet will help people discover that for themselves.

  • Michael

    The internet has certainly caused a rise in paganism as people discover that religion is a multiple-choice question.

  • TCC

    I wouldn’t hold your breath expecting the Internet to help the expansion of Christianity in China, what with mitigating factors and all.

  • I disagree, and the reason has been stated by others.  The printing press didn’t do away with religion because people still fundamentally prefer to be told what to think than to suss it out for themselves.  The internet, as we all know, is maddeningly awash in contradictory claims of truth, and its democratic openness means that anyone can confirm just about any belief since there will be a page/forum/community to defend it online.

    And as Bruce Wright stated, even if on the decline, magic shops still serve a minimal function as a meeting space for like-minded people.  Even if non-belief is on the rise, people still need to congregate, and churches still serve that function in society.

  • Bryan

    Too late.  The Pope is already saddened by the glut of information readily available to everyone on the internet:

    “People today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware.”

    Oh dear.  Save us from the answers!

  • KrGuest

    I too am incredibly optimistic about the spreading of more freely available knowledge, and the good results that must ensue.  But let’s not forget that churches and organized religions are extremely crafty and they know the Internet can be a tool for them as well. 

    Rest assured there are millions of believers currently going all-out to engage their congregations and like-minded friends via web pages, blogs, tweets, Facebook pages, shared calendars, e-cards, online annotated Bibles, and any other tool that has been dreamed up.  From their perspective, it’s a competition for souls, and let’s not fool ourselves that they’re just sitting around going “well shucks, now people can Google up competing viewpoints, we might as well throw in the towel.”

  • Alex

    It’s funny how a virtual “world” helps us get closer to reality, which has long been distorted by elements of the physical world itself.

  • T-Rex

    Religion is a mental health issue and a plague. Knowledge and education are the cure. I didn’t need to Google that to know it either. I just wish more theists could “step back” from their belief system and see it for what it really is. Fear of death and punishment or hope of eternal happiness is no reason to live by the rules and laws from a 2,000+ year old manual that was written by scientifically ignorant people with little to no understanding of the natural world. Just boggles my mind why seemingly rational people can’t reason this out.

  • Nordog

     Boggles your mind?  That’s because you are wrong and your bigotry prevents you from questioning yourself.

  • Nordog

     LOL.  I was hoping someone would pick up on that.  I’m glad it was you.  Believe it or not, I am rather skeptical.

  • boo

    Would be cool if you told him why he was wrong instead of just calling him a bigot

  • Nordog

    Wouldn’t it be cooler if he weren’t a bigot?

    Besides, I didn’t know that turning a blind eye towards hate was the cool thing these days.

  • Katje van Loon

    Except that “religion” doesn’t mean “Christianity”, which is the specific religion you’re describing in a hateful way. 

    I’d be able to take atheists more seriously if more of them could actually distinguish between Christianity and other religions. 

  • T-Rex

    Bigot shmigot. What’s to differentiate? All religions are messed up. I prefer to label myself an anti-theist because I despise all religions, not just Christianity. And since you can’t seem to take atheists seriously might I suggest that you too are a bigot. Have a great day!

  • T-Rex

    Please explain how my dislike of religion makes me a bigot? I also dislike pop music and don’t understand how anyone can listen to that garbage. So I guess I’m bigoted towards pop music, the people that make pop music and the people that listen to it, right? Go get a dictionary and improve your reading comprehension genius. Your flawed statement also boggles my mind. Religion sucks. That’s my opinion, deal with it.

  • Nordog

    I think you and FSq compare notes.

    So, you’re not a bigot.  You must be practicing a secular version of “hate the sin but love the sinner”.

    (Only, that approach is roundly decried around these parts.)

    However, if you hate the delusion but not the deluded one, then you shouldn’t have any problem with those who find homosexual acts sinful but still love the sinner.

    Got it.

    In any event being blinded by your bigotry, combined with your penchant for rationalization, I doubt that you could comprehend the facts of the matter in and of themselves.

    But please, stop the hate.

  • Actually, the specific religion he’s describing in his example is all three Abrahamic religions.  Does that make any difference?

    I’m not sure if you’re getting nit picky about his general use of ‘Religion’ followed by a slightly more specific example of a subset of religions, or if you feel it’s ok to attack ‘religion’ but not ‘Christianity’.

    Honestly question- is this about semantics, or you think Christianity is exempt?  Or am I totally missing the point?

  • I’m a little torn here.

    I actually agree with you that here in our echo chamber we egg each other on and our rhetoric gets more and more extreme.

    On the other hand, I don’t disagree in principle with anything T-Rex said.  I don’t think ‘plague’ is really an accurate word, and intentionally carries negative connotations.  And ‘mental health issue’ is also intentionally abrasive, but to be honest Nordog, I think ALL theists are just plain wrong about their theism.  And I don’t think it helps to sugar coat that.  I’ve jettisoned enough crazy beliefs in the past that I can only assume I still have some of my own.  I hope to discover them at some point.

    I’m struggling with ‘hate the sin but not the sinner’.  You may have a point, but I’m just not ready to accept it yet.  I think perhaps a difference is that I think your religious beliefs are harmless.  Not only do I not hate you, but I don’t hate your beliefs because they’re not making you do bad things to other people.  Maybe that’s a semantic distinction in my attempt to deflect, I dunno.  It’s hard for me to compare since I really don’t know what it’s like to hate homosexuality.  Let’s put it this way, I deep down feel no desire to make you change your mind.  Honestly.  I enjoy theological banter, but I really don’t expect you to change your mind, and I really have no stake in it.  I think an anti-gay Christian would always want a gay person to never have sex with a person of the same sex.  Does that make my version of ‘love the sinner’ any different?

    My beef with religion is that a) it does lead some people to do horrible things and b) the good that religion causes people to do could be done without religion.  With the minor caveat that I have met a few people who truly seem to need faith to keep doing good things.  Before they had faith, they were shitheads.  But most theists I’ve ever encountered, I honestly think would be doing the same good works with no belief in the supernatural involved.

  • I think that’s giving too much credit to the tool, much like saying easier access to education creates less violence, or lowers teen pregnancy, or lowers a country’s birth rate. There are too many factors to give so much credit to just the Internet.

    I love the Internet and love learning. Evolution is just common sense. Doesn’t change the fact that I’m a Pagan or Hawaiian. The Internet doesn’t make you an Atheist, Pagan, Jew, whatever, it just shows you many different things. Whether or not you make a choice afterwards will always be the choice you really wanted to make to begin with.

  • Nordog

    Been away, so this reponse comes late.

    Rich, thanks for your response, particularly I am struck by…

    “… but to be honest Nordog, I think ALL theists are just plain wrong about their theism.”

    You know, that is a perfectly respectful way of stating the truth.  And even if you think theism is “crazy” one can still mention that in a respectful way, “No offense, but I think what you believe is crazy.”

    You strike me as the type of person who can and does take the respectful route when discussing even the less pleasant aspects of a disagreement.

    Regarding religion and what makes people “good” I have a different approach.

    People do bad things, but no one wants to do bad things.  People either believe the bad thing they do is good, or they rationalize it.  Those who rationalize it will draw on what they have.  A theist will likely draw on some rationalized aspect of faith; an atheist will draw on something else.

    At one time I was an agnostic.  I couldn’t quite go so far as to say there was no creator or creative power to everything, but I was close.  I specifically and explicitly rejected the Bible, Christianity, and genrally rejected all other religions altogether.

    When I came to the faith it wasn’t because of some Bible verse, or the idea that I would be a better person.  I came to the faith because I came to be convinced, through a personal experience, that it was true.  This is why I still have faith despite the fact that some of the worst people I’ve run across are Christians (which is also why so many of the criticisms of Christians on thie blog have such power; they are true).

    In any event, if you make it out to Los Angeles, let me buy you a beer.  I would love to chat with you at length.

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