Religion May Not Survive the Internet

Religion in Decline - Please come backIn what looks to be a declining market, the guardians of traditional religion are ramping up efforts to keep their flocks—or, in crass economic terms, to retain market share. Some Christians have turned to soul searching while others have turned to marketing. Last fall, the LDS church spent millions on billboards, bus banners, and Facebook ads touting “I’m a Mormon.” In Canada, the Catholic Church has launched a “Come Home” marketing campaign. The Southern Baptists Convention voted to rebrand themselves. A hipster mega-church in Seattle combines smart advertising with sales force training for members and a strategy the Catholics have emphasized for centuries: competitive breeding.

In October of 2012 the Pew Research Center announced that for the first time ever Protestant Christians had fallen below 50 percent of the American population. Atheists cheered and evangelicals beat their breasts and lamented the end of the world as we know it. Historian of religion, Molly Worthen, has since offered big picture insights that may dampen the most extreme hopes and fears. Anthropologist Jennifer James, on the other hand, has called fundamentalism the “death rattle” of the Abrahamic traditions.

In all of the frenzy, few seem to give any recognition to the player that I see as the primary hero, or, if you prefer, culprit—and I’m not talking about science populizer and atheist superstar Neil deGrasse Tyson. Then again, maybe I am talking about Tyson in a sense, because in his various viral guises—as a talk show host and tweeter and as the face on scores of smartass Facebook memes—Tyson is an incarnation of the biggest threat that organized religion has ever faced: the internet.

A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system. That is why the Catholic Church put an official seal of approval on some ancient texts and banned or burned others. It is why Bible-believing Christians are forbidden to marry nonbelievers and Muslims are warned not to socialize outside the faith. It is why Quiverfull moms home school their kids from carefully screened text books. It is why, when you get sucked into conversations with your fundamentalist uncle George from Florida, you sometimes wonder if he has some superpower that allows him to magically close down all avenues into his mind. (He does!)

Religions have spent eons honing defenses that keep outside information away from insiders. The innermost ring wall is a set of certainties and associated emotions like anxiety and disgust and righteous indignation that block curiosity. The outer wall is a set of behaviors aimed at insulating believers from contradictory evidence and from heretics like you who are potential transmitters of dangerous ideas. These behaviors range from memorizing sacred texts to wearing distinctive undergarments to killing infidels. Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. They still work well for a child raised in an Afghani village and educated in a madrassa. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.

Tech-savvy mega-churches may have twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling. Here are five kinds of web content that are like, well, like electrolysis on religion’s hairy toes.

Religion in Decline - RSA - EmpathyRadically cool science videos and articles. Religion evokes some of our most deeply satisfying emotions: joy, for example, and transcendence, and wonder. This is what Einstein was talking about when he said that “science without religion is lame.” If scientific inquiry doesn’t fill us at times with delight and even speechless awe at new discoveries or the mysteries that remain, then we are missing out on the richest part of the experience. Fortunately, science can provide all of the above, and certain masters of the trade and sectors of the internet are remarkably effective at evoking the wonder—the spirituality if you will—of the natural world unveiled. Some of my own favorites include Symphony of science, NOVA, TED, RSA Animate, and Birdnote.

Religion in Decline - Symphony of ScienceIt should be no surprise that so many fundamentalists are determined to take down the whole scientific endeavor. They see in science not only a critic 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 so intricate that it offers some of the same promise. Where will the old tribal religions be if, in words of Tracy Chapman, we all decide that Heaven’s here on earth?

Religion in Decline - Joseph Smith's HatCurated 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 like me are after eyeballs. We are attention whores, which means that if there’s something ridiculous to showcase then one of us is guaranteed to write about it. We may post 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—out loud, rolling on the floor even—and then hit Share. Mega-church ministers, televangelists, Mormon missionaries, and Scientologists hate that.

Religion in Decline - Pedophile PriestsThe 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, but those verses used to be hard to find. Now they 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. Just-make-nicers who claim that Islam is a religion of peace have to deal with not only with articulate former Muslims like Ayan Hirsi Ali, Wafa Sultan, and Maryam Namazie, but also the many murderous commands of the Koran itself. 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.

Religion in Decline - ExChristian.netSupportive 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 keep silent and then disappear into the surrounding culture. Now they can create websites, 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: Evangelical, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, and (despite the threat) 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.

Religion in Decline - FBBLifestyles 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 creating alternatives to theism, for example, Good without God, Parenting Beyond Belief, or The Foundation Beyond Belief. Others are simply feisty or funky communities that leave tribal theism in the dustbin of history.

Religion in Decline - WisdomCommonsInterspiritual Okayness. This might sound odd, but one of the threats to traditional religion is interfaith communities that focus on shared spiritual values. Many religions make exclusive truth claims and see other religions as competitors. Without such claims, there is no need for evangelism, missionaries or a set of doctrines that I call donkey motivators (ie. carrots and sticks) like heaven and hell. The web showcases the fact that humanity’s bad and good qualities are universal, spread across cultures and regions, across both secular and religious wisdom traditions. It offers reassurance that we won’t lose the moral or spiritual dimension of life if we outgrow religion, while at the same time providing the means to glean what is truly timeless and wise from our old traditions. In doing so, it inevitably reveals the limitations of any single tradition alone. The Dalai Lama, who has lead interspiritual dialogue for many years made waves recently by saying as much: “All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.”

The power of interspiritual dialogue is analogous to the broader power of the web in that, at the very heart it is about people finding common ground, exchanging information, and breaking through walls to find a bigger community waiting outside. Last year, Jim Gilliam, founder of Nationbuilder, gave a talk titled, “The Internet is My Religion.” Gilliam is a former fundamentalist who has survived two bouts of cancer thanks to the power of science and the internet. His existence today has required a bone marrow transplant and a double lung transplant organized in part through social media. Looking back on the experience, he speaks with the same passion that drove him when he was on fire for Jesus:

Religion in Decline - Hands lifting earth

I owed every moment of my life to countless people I would never meet. Tomorrow, that interconnectedness would be represented in my own physical body. Three different DNAs. Individually they were useless, but together they would equal one functioning human.What an incredible debt to repay. I didn’t even know where to start. And that’s when I truly found God. God is just what happens when humanity is connected. Humanity connected is God.

The Vatican, and the Mormon Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Southern Baptist Convention should be very worried.

—–

This article was first published at Alternet and Salon.com.  Se encuentra en espanol aqui: http://pijamasurf.com/2013/09/por-las-siguientes-razones-es-muy-probable-que-la-religion-no-sobreviva-al-internet/

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Religion May Not Survive the Internet

    • :) It’s mine. I own the copyright. I do AlterNet the favor of giving them some lead time. That said, it might be wise to note that this one previously appeared at AlterNet and Salon given that it went viral there.

    • Well you could, in fairness ding me on linking excessively back to my own articles within the things I write, which is how you landed here in the first place. I do it for two reasons. One is that I’m lazy and when I know that I’ve already aggregated information and links in previous articles, it saves effort to link back to my prior work. Secondly, even though the same articles almost all exist on other sites (this one functions primarily as an archive for things I publish elsewhere), if I point here instead of, say Alternet or Huff Po or Truthout or Jezebel or Salon or wherever, then I can actually track analytics so that I can learn what people care about and what they don’t–what they find worth sharing as opposed to what gets clicks (but likely doesn’t get read).

    • TruthSurge says:

      Think much?

  1. phtasmagoria says:

    This is such a great article.

    I’m glad you’re a psychologist. When I answered a religiously geared post which attacked Susan Jacoby’s “The Blessings of Atheism,” an article about Atheists and the ability to console others in times of death, I reported that psychologists, many of whom are Atheist, console people in times of death all the time. I realize the attack simply adds to the fodder of the greater exchange at large, but that you’re a professional commenting on the phenomenon is noteworthy.

  2. Excellent article. And good to see you feature Wisdom Commons a bit! I agree that the Internet has been a “godsend” (:-0) in a number of ways in relation to religion. It has been helpful, plus a lot of fun for me, both as a blogger and a reader/commenter on blogs (like one of my fav’s — yours).

    You rightly point out that insulation from others (at least deeper interaction with them) and from facts, alternate views, etc. is a device of all authoritarian systems, most of religion included. The Inet has already changed that seriously, with more to come. The vast “liberalizing” and drifting away of youth is not doubt partly due to that… they have always questioned, challenged, but now they have access to a lot of support for that, and to alternate viewpoints aplenty. So I expect that the aging of ubiquitous Net access will parallel the Church’s (traditional, at least) aging. And that has just accelerated (iPhones, Smart Phones, etc.) in the last decade, not the first one of the Net. So the dynamic you describe is likely to pick up yet more steam.

    Still, since INCREASED loneliness may well accompany (as some claim) the explosion of online social media, I think we will see some swing back to communities of “faith” (not necessarily traditional Christianity or other religions), and that may be both necessary and healthy. There are some of us involved in what increasingly is called “Progressive Christianity” who believe there already exists a good outline of theology pertinent to the best of science and what I consider the innate “spirituality” of people. (As you say, even hard-core scientists are prone to transcendent language and feelings often.) So, a quick plug: much of it has been deeply thought out and expressed in various writings and practices of “process theology”.

    So here’s what I see: Evangelicals (largest relatively identifiable Xn group, inter-denominational) will continue splitting off to the more fundamentalist (literalist, rigid) types and the more progressive (tho not fully “Progressive Christians” theologically). “Oldline liberalism” will continue to limp along and probably keep shrinking. The more progressive Evangelicals will interact increasingly with us more radically “Progressive” folks, and Progressive Xnty will continue to develop and probably grow at a faster rate than the other two extremes. I say “extremes” in that one is clearly supernaturalistic (thus developmentally blocked) and the other too closely attached to the pure naturalism of science (also developmentally blocked, tho at a more rationalistic level).

    Postmodernism doesn’t have a good way of helping people think through the unrealistic polarities of the two (God controls all and can intervene whenever/wherever, OR there is no Mind or guiding force whatever, beyond randomness and supposedly uniform “laws” of physics). But, fortunately the Integral movement (Ken Wilber et al) and Process thought do! The result is a kind of “integral” thought and “integral” living that we can LIVE with! (And the Internet will be key in spreading it, as it SEEKS further data, insights and changes… it’s in PROCESS. :)

  3. I appreciated your article very much. 14 years ago I became disillusioned with my religion (JW) and did not know what to do because I carried 40 years of indoctrination and was surrounded by family of the same faith. It took another 2 years before I dared to explore the Internet about them and what I was experiencing. What an eye-opener! I also enrolled in college when I was 49 and the most valuable lesson I learned was cultivating critical thinking skills. I do what I can to get people to learn to think, not just react, and to never be afraid to question anything– even the information they receive via the Internet.

  4. Pingback: Article: Religion Might Not Survive the Internet « An Open-Minded Journey

  5. Peter says:

    I can see this happening in the Islamic world as well as long as they have internet access. I believe slowly, ever so slowly, there is an awaking in the Islamic world, an Islamic Reformation. Reformation in the sense ordinary, tolerant Muslims are beginning to resist the extremism of Muslim fundamentalists. The recent “long march” organized by Tahirul Qadri in Pakistan is symbolic of the changes taking place. Perhaps it started when the Taliban shot fifteen year-old Malala Yousafzai who only wanted educational opportunities for young women. Following that horrendous act there were marches in the streets by men, women and children, unheard of in a strict, misogynist Muslim country like Pakistan.
    For example, there’s the only female taxi driver in Pakistan who ignores the Islamic probation about a women being alone with a man. hysterical virulent
    Pakistan’s only female taxi driver.
    Muslim Men who want equality for their daughters;
    I Am With the Uprising of Arab Women
    Even the Muslim clerics are involved.
    Afghan Clerics Issue Fatwa Against Taliban Suicide Bombings
    They are even discussing science.
    Muslims engage in quest to understand evolution
    Then, even more startling is a gay mosque in France.
    Gay Friendly Mosque opens in France
    There’s more, but this is just a few stories you seldom hear about in the mainstream media, online news outlets or among bloggers. In fact, they usually just cover the atrocities but never positive stories. You have to search but there is something positive taking place in the Islamic world. I find MEMRI , BBC and The Guardian are good sources for reporting both the good and the bad. It will take time but it is happening. The next logical step is a rejection of the harsh, fundamentalist version of the faith itself. Like what is happening with Christianity, there will emerge a group of “nones” or even agnostics/atheists groups. But it will take time and patience and we should encourage it.

  6. Peter, thanks for the encouraging words and specific examples. I’ve not taken time to search as you have re. Islam. I do listen a lot to BBC radio, and indeed they present things in much more depth and sometimes I hear the positives, the hopeful developments.

    I fully agree that a maturing (or attaining of higher developmental levels, as I like to put it) is going on and probably accelerating within Islam…. It happened long ago for one branch — Sufism, altho I’m not sure that branch will grow much for a while, until many more Muslims move from pre-modern THROUGH “modern” (as a stage) rationalism so they can appreciate the more mystical orientation of Sufism… I’m assuming without knowing much, that it is NOT really pre-modern or “magical-mythical” in nature. Correct me if I’m wrong. And, of course, many will just become, as you say, a Muslim version of our “nones” or humanists, etc. I’m fine with that, BTW.

  7. Perry Bulwer says:

    Excellent analysis, Valerie. I experienced this personally in the Children of God (COG) christian evangelical cult, which is now known as The Family International (TFI). They had a very closed system of belief, denying regular members access to any media of any kind except for leadership pre-approved movies. Worldly news was censored by leadership, who instead produced a regular news digest where they only included ‘news’ that fit or confirmed their ideology and eschatology. It was far easier to keep isolated members ignorant and uninformed in the pre-Internet era.

    Then, as the personal computer came along, but before the Internet, the leadership had computers and began to communicate with each other around the globe with modems. I was one of their servant/slaves in a secret cell in Hong Kong, and I was often sent out to use a public phone to send encrypted messages via modem to the group’s financial center in Switzerland. Members from all over the world would send in their tithes to that cell in Hong Kong, and the cult’s money launderers would send the money to Switzerland.

    In a 1994 child custody decision involving that cult, the UK judge called TFI highly sophisticated when it comes to computer technology. By then the Internet was beginning to change things for the TFI internally as it became ever more difficult to keep regular members off the Internet. In fact, the leadership was extremely worried about that court decision because it exposed much vileness within the inner circles of the cult, so they urged members not to read that decision, which became and still is available on line. The current cult leader Karen Zerby, aka Maria, wrote to her followers before that decision was released publicly, trying to do damage control and explain away all of the high criticisms and concerns the judge had about children’s safety in that group. In an article in Cultic Studies Review I discussed that case:

    “… Maria makes the false claim that Ward [the judge] “…officially stated in his written judgment that the Family is a safe place for children.” She could make such a statement because she knew very few of her followers would ever likely read that judgment. However, nowhere in that 295-page decision does Ward say unequivocally that The Family is a safe place for children, or any words to that effect. After having read an advanced copy that was given to both parties, Maria described it as “…certainly not complimentary, and it is my prayer that the judge will not release it to the public in its entirety….” If Ward gave The Family a clean bill of health regarding the welfare of its children, as Maria claimed to her followers, then why did she fear the release of the judgment to the public? In addition, why does Chancellor make no pertinent comments about that judgment? The answer to both questions is obvious to anyone who reads it, for Ward repeatedly censures Family leadership, doctrines, and practices.” http://perry-bulwer.blogspot.ca/p/response-to-james-d-chancellors-life-in.html

    But Justice Ward did release that decision to the public, and a link to it can be found at that link above. Cult leaders attempted after that to continue censoring members, which I also wrote about in that 2007 Cultic Studies article:

    “In 2004, Maria did just that, directing Family members to “fast worldly input” for a six-month period, which she called the Renewal and claimed was directly ordained by Jesus. The renewal period was to begin June 15 and end November 30, 2004, and it was required for all Family Disciple (FD) and Missionary Member (MM) Homes. Instructions for the renewal included the following: “All FD and MM Homes will fast worldly input for the duration of the renewal period. This includes movie watching, TV/sports watching, System music, novel reading, computer games, or Internet browsing (except for business purposes).” [note: I escaped in 1991. None of those activities except for approved movies were allowed at all when I was a member]

    “If anything can facilitate democracy within The Family, it is the Internet, which enables regular members to surreptitiously communicate with each other and with former members. It also allows them to access unfiltered information otherwise unavailable to them, some of which is highly critical of Family leadership, doctrines, and practices. Unfortunately, just as totalitarian regimes do, The Family’s leadership severely constrains members’ access to outside information, which is considered untrustworthy or harmful. Only information that conforms to The Family’s worldview is acceptable; and in the totalitarian milieu of Family life, self-censorship becomes an ingrained habit. That self-censorship is helped along by frequent reminders and suggestions from Maria or Peter, which in The Family are as good as orders, that members are “…not going to find out the truth via the news media or the Internet.” 71 And when that self-censoring habit becomes too relaxed, Maria simply pulls on her chains of control, as with that six-month fasting period. The true intent of censorship policies regarding information from any unapproved source is to keep members in ignorance, and thus easier to control. Clearly, the Charter does not provide true autonomy for members.”

    TFI still operates unethically, immorally and sometimes illegally around the world, but they now prefer areas where computers and Internet are not yet so common, where most or many people are still not connected, such as certain places in Africa. The Internet really hampered their ability to spread their vile dogma that is now so accessible online.

  8. You know, I think religion is capable of bringing about it’s own doom. All the internet does is provide access to a wealth of research, studies and arguments that folks can weigh up for themselves to make up their own minds. It means churches and church leaders can no longer spin their typical bs or use their beloved fear tactics to keep people – and their wallets! – imprisoned within them. Great article :)

  9. Perry Bulwer says:

    I’ve put the following article on my archive blog so it remains available online, so the link below goes to that archive rather than the original publication.

    “Probe into strict Christian sect school that ‘shut up’ girl pupil for 37 days… for making Facebook page” By Mark Nicol UK Daily Mail January 20, 2013

    http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/04/totalitarian-control-of-exclusive.html?showComment=1358708630943#c4625107046517459178

    excerpt:

    “But this newspaper has uncovered allegations of a shocking regime inside Exclusive Brethren schools – including pupils being confined at home for using the internet, elders tearing pages from textbooks to remove material about gay rights or sexually transmitted diseases, and teenage boys and girls being banned from talking to each other.”

    “These claims include the punishments imposed upon six pupils for setting up a Facebook page.
    Elders from the church are said to have responded so harshly because of the Exclusive Brethren’s teachings on modern technology – laptops are considered instruments of evil and internet access is tightly controlled to protect followers from defiling material. Pupils are also banned from emailing each other because, according to a school memo, ‘such communications promote special friendships and are beneath the dignity of our calling’. The dossier states that, on the elders’ instruction, six pupils were withdrawn, confined to their homes and forbidden to have any communication with anyone outside their close families. Inside the Exclusive Brethren community these punishments are called ‘shutting up’.”

    • It truly sickens me, watching religion and politics behave like prize sluts in bed with each other, and then believing they have the right to screw the rest of the world over and abuse kids in the process.

      Not for too much longer, losers. Viva la revolución!

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        There is a revolution occurring at this moment. It’s called Idle No More (INM) and if you are on Twitter go to @IdleNoMore. Here is the main website: http://idlenomore.ca/ It is not just a revolution by and for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples, but a revolution that has the best interests of all Canadians at heart, and which has the best legal chance of protecting Canada’s environment. It is a wider, deeper and stronger movement than Occupy Wall Street was here in Canada, and it is now attracting support from across Canada and around the world, from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. I can see this spreading internationally where ever colonialists stole the land and kept the Indigenous inhabitants down with ‘boots on their necks’ and immoral, unjust legal systems that denied them the dignity of even the most basic human rights.

        Here’s a couple articles with numerous links at that archive I linked to above that help explain some of the impetus that sparked the Idle No More, namely abuses by those twin sluts religion and politics with their goal being to “beat the Indian out of the child” and assimilate all Indigenous Peoples:

        “Canadian Indian residential schools designed to assimilate natives traumatized individuals and generations”

        http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/02/canadian-indian-residential-schools.html

        “Nuns among worst perpetrators of horrific violence and sex abuse in Jesuit-run schools and missions on Indian reservations”

        http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/06/nuns-among-worst-perpetrators-of.html

        And if anyone interested in this issue wants to learn more, just ask me. I studied Indigenous rights and law at law school, so I understand most of the issues related to INM

      • Thank you so much for these links. I shall pour over them shortly!

  10. M. Rodriguez says:

    the internet is the place religion goes to die

  11. Reblogged this on Skeptic Griggsy and commented:
    Indeed! We full skeptics find no reasons for belief in the supernatural. This artignantlly article poignantly piquantly portrays why.

    • Another, shorter, angle on what I was saying above uses Ken Wilber’s terms…. Beware the level-line fallacy! (when being skeptical and rational). In this case, don’t cancel the entire line (of developmental levels) of spiritual experiences and attending beliefs because you have attained a higher level than magical or mythological thinking and you think ALL of spirituality exists there, or below.

  12. Reblogged this on Religious Experience and commented:
    The religious experience generally such pain that they cannot overcome their superstition. Dr.Tarico knows how.

  13. We need to learn how to assuage the believers in that superstition! You can certainly explain here and there how to do so. We naturalists do fathom the plight of the believers in the woo of religion.
    Thanks, Dr. Valerie!

  14. bruceewilson says:

    While I agree that the Internet may have the potential for eroding religious belief, there may also be troubling counter trends. For example, an October 2012 Public Policy Polling survey revealed that 63% of American adults 18-29 believed in the possibility of demon possession: a far greater percentage than the 44% of Americans over 65 who held that belief. In other words, American belief in demon possession seems to be growing.

    Now, the 18-29 demographic is the Internet generation, I think it’s fair to say. But — apparently — Internet exposure doesn’t counter in the slightest the belief that invisible entities can take partial or total control of human beings. I’m part of the trend — I can’t rule it out myself. But I can assure you that the idea would have seemed dubious at best to my (denominationally affiliated) parents.

    Which is preferable — religiously affiliated Americans with lower levels of belief in extreme charismatic manifestations, or younger non-affiliated Americans increasingly given to the more florid, “hard” varieties of magical thinking ?

    It’s my current belief that it’s an easier path from the latter than the former to, say, climate change denialism. If there weren’t some possible, very troubling policy implications to rising charismania, I wouldn’t worry about the phenomenon. But, I suspect there probably are.

    • Bruce, you raise some important, interesting points. To use demon possession and/or obsession (full or partial control over a human mind/body) as one potential “slice” of much broader spiritual phenomena is an important case-in-point. One the one hand naive and “magical” kinds of belief in demons and their powers often brings with it a lot of damage and unnecessary anxiety by well-meaning Christians (or others).

      On the other hand, the dismissal of any possibility that some kind of spirits (in this case, ones malevolent toward humans) exist and may at times interact with some aspects of our personalities, to our great detriment often, is a serious “rational level” reductionist move that goes against a whole lot of evidence compiled over centuries, much of it in the late 20th century to now. And recently, compiled by serious and not necessarily religious anthropologists, psychologists, psychiatrists as well as religious practitioners who sometimes ARE very savvy re. psychological diagnoses and work only in conjunction with psychiatrists.

      If you or others are not aware of such fascinating, often very sophisticated resources, it shouldn’t take too long to start finding high level ones, perhaps on the Internet. (I did a significant compilation before Internet days using some books and lots of professional journal articles.) Though an older source now, one place a person might start is the astounding book by the late psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck, “People of the Lie”, the latter chapters particularly.

      • bruceewilson says:

        Howard, I don’t dismiss the possibility of the spiritual realm at all ! Rather, I’m noting that the 2012 PPP survey seems to undermine one prevalent take on the Pew survey which Valerie cites, a take that mistakes “affiliation” with “belief” ; as the NYT piece by Molly Worthen that Valerie refers to discusses, America religious (denominational) affiliation has waxed and waned over the centuries, but Americans have remained a highly religious people nonetheless.

        My point is this; many who heard about the Pew survey seemed to think it indicated the imminent death of religious or spiritual belief. But the PPP survey indicates a very different likelihood, that while younger Americans are disaffiliating from organized, denominational religion, more and more of them are subscribing to spiritualist beliefs or non-affiliated religious beliefs.

        I don’t feel that belief in demon possession is necessarily bad except insofar as it precludes rational problem solving. But in my experience (from a number of years of intense study), there does seem to be a correlation between belief in demon possession and non-rational or irrational modes of thought. I don’t think policy approaches that look to supernatural mechanisms to solve worldly problems are currently in the best interest of humanity of the world.

    • Perry Bulwer says:

      Bruce, regarding your comment “I don’t feel that belief in demon possession is necessarily bad except insofar as it precludes rational problem solving.”

      I realize you are having an academic discussion here, so perhaps not focused on the ‘real world’, but the belief in demon possession is deadly serious for its victims. The belief in demon possession is not just merely bad, it is evil, not in the religious sense but in the psychological sense as discussed by Zimbardo. The Family International cult has an extreme ideology around demon possession that led to the horrific abuses of children, including the cult founder’s own granddaughter, who he first sexually abused and then accused of being demon possessed so subjected her to brutal exorcisms. see: http://www.xfamily.org/index.php/Category:Spirit_World

      Also see the numerous links at the end of the following article for more horror stories of children abducted, raped, tortured, maimed and murdered because of the belief in demon possession that you think is not so bad:

      http://religiouschildabuse.blogspot.ca/2011/05/ritual-abuse-of-children-accused-of.html

      • bruceewilson says:

        Perry, I’m aware of the abusive possibilities inherent to the demon-possession paradigm. Across Sub-Africa every year, thousands of children accused of witchcraft are driven from their families and ostracized, horribly abused, and even killed: Google “Africa”, “witch children”. And elderly women and men are lynched, burned alive.

        As a cultural and spiritual paradigm, belief in demon-possession can readily be used to “demonize” individuals or selected societal groups — non-productive members of society, LGBTQ people, people with the “wrong” religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs, ethnic groups, and so on.

        Re: Zimbardo — I’m aware of research into methods by which humans can be trained to commit violence against their fellows. I’d refer to you to psychologist James Waller’s landmark book “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing” (2002, Oxford University Press).

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        talking to academics is so frustrating. did you even read my comment Bruce, or check out the links, especially the second one. if you had you would not need to tell me to google off. I am well aware of that phenomenon, while you seemed not to be or at least downplayed it, which was the point of my comment.

      • bruceewilson says:

        Perry, Well, I apologize for not following your second link. I’d add this – I’m one of only a handful of people bothering to map out the Western and American evangelical movement ( some call it The New Apostolic Reformation ) that’s playing a major role inciting the witch craze the article you link to describes.

        Also, if you read the comment before the one of mine you refer to, you’ll note I was responding to someone who suggested I was being reductionist because I had supposedly questioned the existence of the spiritual realm. The position I want to sketch out is agnostic – but thanks for the emphatic reminder of where the demon possession paradigm can lead.

      • Perry Bulwer says:

        Bruce, I can’t help but react when I see what appears to me to be a dismissal of dangerous dogmas. I simply wanted to alert you to real world consequences of such beliefs that I have documented in over 4000 news articles on my blog I linked to that you did not seem to be aware of. The article at that link, by the way, links to dozen of related articles. That archive also has many news articles related to the New Apostolic Reformation and the danger it presents to children. I have read all the horrors stories, and have much personal experience dealing with those horrors. I admit I did not read thoroughly all of your conversations above, but I think we are on the same page.

      • Bruce, I appreciate your further conversation with Perry (and Perry’s contributions, also). I don’t have time to check much into current resources presently, but I wanted to clarify to you, Bruce, that in my earlier comment I wasn’t intending to charge you with reductionism. Probably could have been clearer. Without knowing much of your stance or anything of your work, I was merely springboarding from your comment to a general discussion of the reality that spiritual cosmology is a complex subject. It tends to be engaged, and often to great damage to many, in a “premodern” or magical developmental stage and NOT to be engaged (or unwisely dismissed and ignored) in the “modern” or rationalistic stage. It isn’t until one (or a group of people, say certain theologians and/or scientists) can operate and collect/analyze data from a yet “higher” (higher being defensible) stage, that “demonlogy” can be looked at in real depth and some helpful insights gained. That is my main point.

  15. Martin Gothberg says:

    Been reading your stuff for years and still enjoy the articles (especially this one) immensely! The ‘honing of defenses’ and (prior writing about) ‘how religion innoculates itself from criticism’ is priceless work.

  16. How it all began

    In ancient Israel , it came to pass that a trader by the name of Abraham Com did take unto himself a young wife by the name of Dorothy. And Dot Com was a comely woman, broad of shoulder and long of leg.

    Indeed, she was often called Amazon Dot Com.

    And she said unto Abraham, her husband, “Why dost thou travel so far from town to town with thy goods when thou canst trade without ever leaving thy tent?” And Abraham did look at her as though she were several saddle bags short of a camel load, but simply said, “How, dear?”

    And Dot replied, “I will place drums in all the towns and drums in between to send messages saying what you have for sale, and they will reply telling you who hath the best price. The sale can be made on the drums and delivery made by Uriah’s Pony Stable (UPS).”

    Abraham thought long and decided he would let Dot have her way with the drums. And the drums rang out and were an immediate success. Abraham sold all the goods he had at the top price, without ever having to move from his tent.

    To prevent neighbouring countries from overhearing what the drums were saying, Dot devised a system that only she and the drummers knew. It was known as Must Send Drum Over Sound (MSDOS), and she also developed a language to transmit ideas and pictures – Hebrew To The People (HTTP).

    And the young men did take to Dot Com’s trading as doth the greedy horsefly take to camel dung.

    They were called Nomadic Ecclesiastical Rich Dominican Sybarites, or NERDS.

    And lo, the land was so feverish with joy at the new riches and the deafening sound of drums that no one noticed that the real riches were going to that enterprising drum dealer, Brother William of Gates, who bought off every drum maker in the land. Indeed he did insist on drums to be made that would work only with Brother Gates’ drumheads and drumsticks.

    And Dot did say, “Oh, Abraham, what we have started is being taken over by others.” And Abraham looked out over the Bay of Ezekiel , or eBay as it came to be known.

    He said, “We need a name that reflects what we are.”

    And Dot replied, “Young Ambitious Hebrew Owner Operators.” “YAHOO,” said Abraham.

    And because it was Dot’s idea, they named it YAHOO Dot Com.

    Abraham’s cousin, Joshua, being the young Gregarious Energetic Educated Kid (GEEK) that he was, soon started using Dot’s drums to locate things around the countryside.

    It soon became known as God’s Own Official Guide to Locating Everything (GOOGLE).

    That is how it all began.

    And that’s the truth….

  17. WilliamStephen, if you wrote this, kudo’s… you are a clever man! If not, and you merely posted it, thanks! As others say, nice to get a belly-laugh via otherwise generally serious subjects!

  18. Anita says:

    Good, thoughtful article – found it on Salon. A more appropriate title might be “Organized Religion Will Get Re-Shuffled by the Internet”. I liked Jim Gilliam’s quote, “God is just what happens when humanity is connected.” God is always there. We just notice him more when we’re inclusive. Jesus was inclusive – it’s what made religious leaders hate him. He connected people. The problem is, we people seem to want or need to organize, making rules that bind us ever more tightly until they break and we burst apart. And our human organizations, always leave someone out.

    • Perry Bulwer says:

      “Jesus was inclusive – it’s what made religious leaders hate him. He connected people.”

      No he wasn’t, and no he didn’t. That’s not why religious leaders hated him, they hated him because he challenged their authority. Jesus himself said (if we are to believe red letter bibles, or any bible for that matter) that he came not to bring peace but a sword, and the bible also says of him that “there was a division among the people because of him”. He also encouraged followers to leave their families, which many modern cults such as the Children of God, now The Family International, played up big time. Then there are those scriptures where Jesus talks of ever lasting torment in hell. So how can you say Jesus promoted an inclusive ideology?

    • I’m not sure under whose comment mine here is going to appear (procedurally), but it references both Anita’s and Perry’s response to Anita:

      As is recognized by many of us who’ve been observing for quite a while, and know some of how the human mind/heart works, people tend to project onto Jesus their own idealized images of humanity and/or divinity (or the combination, as in the “dual natures” of Jesus concept). That all started before and was “codified” by the Gospel writers themselves. That is why we have a sometimes-contradictory picture of Jesus and his followers in the Gospels and Acts… Was he a pacifist or a rebel against Rome who may not have directly taken up arms, but might have under different developments? Was he a promoter of “family values” or greater individualism, etc., etc.?

  19. Pingback: From This Week’s Talk at Crosswind Church: Some Foundational Beliefs and the Importance of Articulating Faith For Ourselves | Musings and Philosophizings

  20. mriana says:

    This is funny. When I read “I’m a Mormon” I heard those annoying little Xian kids on the Pimpsons… er… Simpsons saying it. Then later in your article, you had a pic of a Pimpson scene. lol Even funnier “evangelicals beat their breasts”… I knew they were gorillas! “Tyson is an incarnation of the biggest threat that organized religion has ever faced: the internet.” Yeah, but WHAT A HUNK! And brains too. Attention whore? Well, then… we need to be paid more than what we’re getting paid. :D “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.” Oo! Thank you for sending me to the oven where it’s nice and warm. Now close the door. You’re letting in cold air. (That one could get me in trouble with the ADL. No offence guys.)

    But you know, in all seriousness, if the Xians and Jews followed their book, esp the OT, as literally as many Islamists do, then they’d be killing a lot of women and children too.

    That and there are many Fundamngelicals, like my mother, my aunt (with a brain slowly dying from strokes), and my late grandmother, who refuse to even touch a computer. Demons and all you know. Those are the ones who will linger, much like my aunt’s brain that has suffered too many small strokes in part because she refused treatment. They will painfully linger as their non-believing relatives and friends watch them suffer as they slip further away from reality and making little sense. Seems like horrible comparison, but most often true.

    Last time my mother talked to my aunt, she, according to my mother, made no sense at all, and my mother was sadden that her sister’s brain is slowly dying, yet her body goes on living. That will probably be the fate of many Fundamngelicals too. Not strokes, but their minds slipping farther away from reality and making little sense to the rest of the world, causing the same sort of sadness in their non-believing friends and relatives. However, it was those beliefs that killed many people in the past and present- ie the Jews and more recently women.

  21. Here is a discussion of some correlational data that suggest the internet accounts for about 25% of the drop in unbelief. http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-americans-are-losing-their-religion-startling-rate?page=0%2C0

  22. Sid says:

    I always thought religion was strange but I kept it to myself. With the internet I was able to back up my thoughts. I agree – the internet is exposing religion for what it is.

  23. postorthodox says:

    Reblogged this on biblicalresistance and commented:
    A great blog article well worth reading. Much to process here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s