10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
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11-09-2013, 11:54 AM (This post was last modified: 11-09-2013 02:20 PM by Reltzik.)
10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
In last week's show (3 Sep 2013, starting at about 0:37:30 and continuing until about 0:46:50), Seth mentioned the affect that the rise of the internet has had on atheism and religion. I quote the relevant part of the broadcast in full. It in turn featured quotations from a magazine article, which I have quoted directly from that article rather than track down the few (very minor) discrepencies in Seth's reading. ((Warning, this is a long transcript, and you don't really need to read it to follow my post below.))

Quote:There's an article in a Christian publication called Relevant Magazine, August 22 of 2011 by a guy named Brandon Peach, and the article was called, "Will the Internet Kill Christianity?" From the article:

Quote:In his April 2009 Newsweek article, “The End of Christian America,” Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jon Meacham suggested America had begun its encounter with an “old term with new urgency: post-Christian.”

“What has changed everything?” Christian apologist Josh McDowell asked his audience on July 15 at the Billy Graham Center in Asheville, N.C. His talk, titled “Unshakeable Truth, Relevant Faith,” had detailed a certain uncomfortable fact in anticipation of the question: that young Christians in America are rejecting Christian fundamentalism—and doctrinaire concepts such as absolute truth and biblical infallibility—in droves. Why is faith in God being supplanted, earlier and earlier, by relativism, secularism and skepticism? McDowell’s answer was simple: the Internet.

The article continues:

Quote:Can the explosive growth of irreligion—that amorphous term comprising deism, agnosticism and atheism as well as relative neologisms like antitheism and ignosticism—really be linked to the Internet? Some atheists on the web seem to think so. A question in the forums for The Friendly Atheist, a popular blog among non-theists, asked whether ex-theists would have shed their religion if the Internet didn’t exist. Many felt they wouldn’t. A post on Unreasonable Faith ... surmised that the Internet was crucial to the success of the “New Atheists.”

... 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.

Now watch this. Watch where the article goes, by the way.

Quote:The Internet may be helping to facilitate deconversion among evangelical youth, but it is not because of an “abundance of information” that challenges their faith.

(Remember, this is a Christian publication.)

Quote:...it is because the place where they spend much of their lives is where non-theists often control the discourse. It’s safe to say the majority of voices they encounter in web forums, news blogs and Facebook timelines will not echo those heard in their church foyer.

What have you been smoking? People who are religious perform, hourly, on Facebook! People who are religious have websites out the Ying-Yang! People are using the internet as an evangelical tool, a weapon in the war against Beelzebub! And you assert, at Relevant Magazine, that the reason people are becoming more non-religious in the age of the internet is because "the internet is not the domain of the church". They've got stuff like Conservapedia, and God-Tube. Answers In Genesis. The Discovery Institute. And every church -- every church, pretty much, in the United States at least, I'm guessing mostly around the world too -- they have a website. And often a slick one, an expensive one, one that is designed as a marketing tool to bring people in. Trust me, the church is using the internet! This idea that the church is not really there, to have a presence, so people get a one-sided view, is bogus! Total crap!

No, it's beautiful! It's beautiful! The more Ken Ham posts on Answers in Genesis, the more we win. Right? The more the apologist says that the reason that the earthquakes kill thousands is because human beings have dark hearts, we win. Any time someone says that the Earth is younger than the Sumerian civilization, we win! Any time someone says that the human eye is too complex to have evolved, we win! Every time someone says that there was obviously a global flood 4000 years ago that created the Grand Canyon, we win!

You know, I'll be searching for atheist stuff sometimes on the web, doing some show prep, or, or just trying to learn something. I'll be looking, finding out what's happening in atheist communities, maybe trying to connect, maybe I'm going to be in an area and want to go out and I want to connect with some local groups, and I'll put something, even "atheist", into a search engine, and God stuff comes up! The idea that they are not plugged into the, to the web is crap! It's so, so disingenuous to assert, "Oh, the reason that the atheists are winning online is that the church isn't there." It's horrible.

No, no, the reason that, the reason that, that non-belief -- and not even just atheism, the "nones", the non-religious, and we're going to get into the stats here in a minute -- the reason that that number is skyrocketing is because when you stand behind a podium, and you tell me that people used to live to be 969 years old, I can, I can then go and talk to people who are experts in various fields, who have studied, who have made that time period their life's work, who have done various forms of radiometric dating on human remains or what have you, and they can tell you that, nah, it's probably closer to about 50. And you know, while your platform of credibility is that you have a doctorate in theology, meaning you are an expert on fairies, this person over here is a scientist! A historian! A paleontologist, an archeologist, whatever, and his stuff has been peer-reviewed by a planet filled with other experts! That's beautiful!

You know, more and more I think the religious will play victim. Right? "We're losing, we're losing, we're such a victim." No. No, you're losing because you're obsolete. You're losing because your weapons are ineffective. (Well, they're not ineffective. Your weapons are not nearly as effective as the weapons of science and evidence-based thinking.) You're losing because you can no longer tell a lie and expect people to have to buy it. You're losing because the kids you're trying to indoctrinate have access now to other information. I grieve for those kids who are raised in hugely fundamental home-school environments where they don't even have TV, let alone internet. Can you imagine the bubble of isolation they live in? And all of a sudden they turn 18 and they go off, even if they go to a Christian college, it's like going to a foreign country, it's like going to another planet. But largely, outside of those extreme scenarios, if you tell a kid something that sounds like a bunch of crap, and the kid decides, as Dale McGowan said so well, he has a greater desire to know than he has to believe, he'll check you out. He will check it out. He will read the website, he will read the book, he will watch the video. He might even seek out a college lecture. Ah, it's beautiful, it's a beautiful thing.

Now I'm in agreement with Seth here, but I don't think he's describing the whole story. (Nor do I think he was intending to, that would be an entire program of its own.) I think that this is only the beginning of why the Internet's presence is threatening Christianity. Below, I present my list of 10 ways the Internet is undermining Christianity and promoting atheism. Most of the ways in which Christianity is being undermined can be extrapolated to other religions.

Space: If you're living somewhere where 99% of people are Christians, especially somewhere rural, you don't have space to be an atheist in any sort of social sense. You can't discuss your doubts and frustrations with people like you, because the nearest person like you lives twenty miles away, and the next-nearest is thirty miles away in the opposite direction. Everywhere you go is Christian space. The internet allows the creation of spaces where you can gather with people like you, without leaving your home. Spaces for ideas that would not normally have room to breathe in society. Space for atheism.

Anonymity: Anonymity can sometimes be the curse of the internet, but it can also be its greatest boon. Someone who is "out" in their everyday life can face all manners of persecution, from harrassment, to bullying in schools, to firing in the workplace, to disownership by family. You can try to be out to some people but not others, but there's the ever-present risk that it will leak. This makes it difficult to be an atheist, because simply exploring the idea of a world without God carries huge risks in how others treat you, and because "living a lie" inside a closet is a huge stressor. The anonymity afforded by most sites on the internet provides a shield against this persecution. You may still be raged at in your online persona, but if you're careful you can create a firewall between your online questioning and the rest of your life, one that protects you from persecution while allowing you to talk with peers about your questions or unbelief. You can be out as unbelieving or questioning online without being out offline. The internet doesn't just offer a space, it offers a safe space. This allows atheists to flourish. It also (and I'll get into this later) allows people to be visible AS ATHEISTS. They're no longer the bogeyman, they're the friend on the other side of the computer screen, and that makes them harder for the extremists to villify.

Community: The internet doesn't just offer space and anonymity. It also connects people to each other. It lets you find people like yourself. Online, we have communities like this one. But the internet also lets us connect to people offline who we would never have known were there, if they weren't online as well. It lets us build community. That can be done without the internet, true, but the capacity to do it with the internet is so much greater that it's almost an entirely new capacity. That's the difference between isolated sparks and a wildfire.

Advertising: And now for something completely different (because I couldn't think of a good segue). I'm going out on a limb with this hypothesis, but I think it's easy to underestimate the effects of online advertising on the rise of disbelief. It's not a huge, obvious effect, but I regard it as significant. There is advertising everywhere we go online. Most sites have a banner ad, five sidebar ads, and often a popup. And that's just the sponsorships, that doesn't touch on links and services and begs that are relevant to the site. Media sites like You-Tube or Hulu will typically run video ads before or during the content. For the most part, we ignore these ads completely. (Unless they contain audio. For me, that involves much cursing, rage, and scrambling to turn down the volume on my headset.) Every page we visit, every video we view, we filter. We filter out crap. This starts as an art and quickly turns to instinct. We quickly learn to do it unconsciously. Online advertising teaches us to dial our incredulity up to 11, keep our BS-defenses up at all times, and tune out the noise. This effects how the millenial generation reacts to assertions by others, religious or otherwise. I'm inclined to think that this has helped the rise of disbelief.

Bad Argumentation: And on the subject of crap filters, we have bad arguments from the religious. And when I say bad arguments, I mean really bad arguments. Cringe-worthy. Awful. Worse than WLC and Kalam. I'm talking about Comfort's banana or Hovind's dinosaurs on the Ark. As Seth said, "The more Ken Ham posts on Answers in Genesis, the more we win." Bad arguments discredit themselves, their authors, and those who repeat them. But they also taint the religion as a whole, simply by association. They remind us to keep our BS-defenses up. They remind us to take religion with a grain of salt. Or the entire shaker. They show us just how delusional, just how gullible, faith can make people, and they make us say, "there but for the grace of skepticism go I." These existed before the internet, of course, but the internet has caused a strange upsurge in their popularity, resulting in them being repeated and reposted and brought front-and-center when we wouldn't normally notice them. I never watched a clip of Kent Hovind speaking until I saw VenomFangX parotting him. ... I still don't know whether to laugh or cry. And, of course, the internet gives every nutcase a platform they wouldn't otherwise have to put forth their own crackpot arguments in favor of God.

Critiques: For every bad argument, there are ten dismantlings of that argument, usually more entertaining than the arguments themselves. Thunderfoot's "Why do People Laugh at Creationists?" series is an example of this, by taking all the wild theories meant to support Biblical literalism and actually working through the physics and mathematics of them. But critiques go beyond the bad arguments. They get the good arguments too, the ones with only subtle flaws and potential to trick a lot of people. It only takes one person to point out the hole to save a thousand people from falling into it. And they also pick apart the doctrine itself, the logistical impossibilities of the Ark and the contradictions within the sacred text. True, critiques existed before the internet, but the internet makes them easilly published and easilly found, and that makes a huge difference.

Record: Bad argumentation is made even worse for religion by the internet because the internet never forgets. It's not the place where bad arguments go to die. It's the place where bad arguments go to live forever. But it's worse simply than preserving bad arguments. The internet bronzes every single time that religion got it wrong, every way that there was for it to get it wrong. The clip of Kent Hovind that I dug up looked 20 years old. Jerry Falwell is dead, but the record of his opposition to interracial marriage will live forever. Controversies involving Pat Robertson? Have their own Wikipedia page, and boy, is it a long one. The Catholic church's record on transfers of abusive priests? THERE FOREVER. All of this is just a Google search away.

Competition: The internet doesn't just bring doubters into contact with atheists and Christians. It also brings them into contact with Muslims, Jews, Wiccans, Hindus, Buddhists, on and on. People we would never have met or had an open conversation with. I forget who said this... I think it was one of the Four Hoursemen... a person who reads a single religion's holy text may convert to that religion, but a person who reads the holy text of half a dozen religions will convert to none of them. Cosmopolotinism is the bane of provinicialism and thus the bane of religion.

Linkage: And compounding ALL of these are HTML links. This deceptively simple technology crossreferences everything, EVERYTHING, on the internet. It's how we get from point A to point B. It's how we go from Ken Ham to the critiques of Ken Ham, from Mormonism to its history of racism. We don't have to connect the dots. The internet connects them for us, in a way that no previous knowledge base has ever been able to do.

Yeatsism: Now some of you might be saying, "Hey, not all Christians are like Pat Robertson or Ken Ham!" This is true. The majority are ordinary people who are okay to get along with, and it would be incorrect to equate them with the nuts. But there is a phenomenon I call Yeatsism, summed up by two lines from Yeats's famous poem, The Second Coming: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity." Everyday people who happen to be Christian might be the majority of Christians, but they are a SILENT majority. It is the ones full of passionate intensity who are noticible enough to become remembered, recognized, and representatives. As the other effects of the internet show Christians the flaws in Christianity, Christianity will tend to polarize. There will be those who outright reject what they see, and who gravitate towards combativeness and hatred, but the very fact that they do so by rejecting what's right in front of them will make them tend to be the sort who produce bad arguments and embarrass themselves with bigotry. And then there will be those who, if not entirely persuaded, will be forced to admit that there's a strong case for atheism and that people who buy into it are not the devil. These will move towards more moderate and liberal versions of Christianity, and tend to either leave us to our own affairs or happily get a beer with us, rather than posting screeds. They'll be Christians, but they won't be beating us over our heads with their Christianity. That's what makes the majority a silent majority, and I don't see this phenomenon changing any time soon. Yes, these Christians exist, in great numbers, but their numbers are increasingly less of an impediment to atheism. As Christianity falls into categories of nice Christians who adopt a quiet live-and-let-live approach, and frothing Christians who do their religion more harm than good, it becomes win-win for atheism. [EDIT: I didn't make clear that the internet facilitates this, both by giving moderate Christians contact with evidence they can respect if not entirely be persuaded by, and by making division into like-minded communities much easier.]

What does the future of Christianity look like in the age of the internet? I see a few possibilities. First, the moderates might wrestle the limelight away from their radically conservative brethren. In this scenario, Christianity survives fairly unchanged, but with a demographic change in which conservative religion is sidelined, and a more hospitable attitude towards outsiders which is a boon for everyone, including atheists and Christians themselves. I don't think this is likely, simply because I don't think the moderates have the spines for a stubborn-contest with the conservatives. Second, conservative Christianity can either capture or destroy the institutions that most threaten their standing: The internet and the education system. I doubt they can succeed to the degree they would need to survive simply because they are selecting themselves for denial and ineptitude, but I expect them to put up a bit of a fight. Finally, the conservatives can fail to derail the threats to Christianity but remain the public face of Christianity by being loud, obnoxious, and almost entertaining in a freak-show, train-wreck sort of way. This spells the slow death of Christianity. Conservatism will get more isolated, more fanatical, but smaller, bleeding the lion's share of its next generation and shrinking into nothingness as a result. But the moderates will also fade away, as the bad odor about Christianity emitted by the conservatives taints them as well. Of the three scenarios, I think this one is the most likely, but I also think it will take generations.
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11-09-2013, 12:09 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
Honestly after reading the thread's title, I was thinking 'greater unrestricted access to information' ten times in a row.

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11-09-2013, 12:17 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
(11-09-2013 12:09 PM)EvolutionKills Wrote:  Honestly after reading the thread's title, I was thinking 'greater unrestricted access to information' ten times in a row.

Same here. Good post, though. Smile

All information in the above post is my own opinion and will not
necessarily be logically sound or conform to reality as we know it.

You have been warned. Tongue
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11-09-2013, 12:24 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
Instant access to information is one of the greatest gifts of our time. I'm curious if it changes the way the younger processes and retains information. Back in the old days, if you didn't remember something it was as good as gone. Now it's as easy as a few seconds on your smartphone. Why memorize something trivial if you can simply recall it at will with a device?

The internet dealt a big blow to religion. His comment about permanent record is spot-on. Look at all the religions that got it wrong. Look at all the things Christianity got wrong. Shoot, I can go back two weeks and find where PJ has contradicted himself or misquoted someone to support his own arguments. One of my biggest pushes to atheism was being able to view arguments against religion from brilliant minds. The scales tipped pretty quickly after a few hours of listening to Hitchens and his peers.

If Jesus died for our sins, why is there still sin? If man was created from dust, why is there still dust? If Americans came from Europe, why are there still Europeans?
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11-09-2013, 12:29 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
I liked the OP but do find it a bit overly optimistic. That said, an excellent read if a bit long.

I would in particular point out one thing. I live in a region where I can spend the 15 minutes on the way to the tavern formulating an excellent argument on why god was a human construct and when I get there start the argument and be told "tell me something I don't know". Not all live in that kind of location.

The internet allows a lot of foolishness, it also allows those who are isolated because of circumstance to connect with others who will support not isolate.

This can of course apply to christian ding bats as well as atheists.
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11-09-2013, 12:31 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
The OP was one of the most perceptive, intelligent, and articulate posts I've ever read on TTA.

Thanks, Reltzik, for the uplift.

Religious disputes are like arguments in a madhouse over which inmate really is Napoleon.
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11-09-2013, 01:29 PM
RE: 10 Ways the Internet Undermines Christianity and Promotes Atheism
Good points there. But I do think the main reason is the immediate availability of information.

Back when I was a Jehovah's Witness (hate admitting to that), the only "science" I was allowed to read was short sections of the Watchtower magazine, which were always biased and ultimately creationist propaganda.

The internet changed things for me a lot... Completely anonymously I logged onto Talk Origins and read a heap of stuff about evolution. That's what started me down the path to atheism, and here I am.

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