The End of Religion?
I was curious about this, so I checked it out. Perhaps my favorite line was the following:
“Tech-savvy mega-churches may have Twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may post 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.”
I get it. There are many approaches to religious faith that seek to maintain a following through controlling what information is accessible (and acceptable) to its adherents. I recall a church expressly forbidding its members from reading books by a certain author. Not just: we disagree with that theological approach, but: “If you want to be a member here you will NOT read those books.” The article states: “Such defenses worked beautifully during humanity’s infancy. But they weren’t really designed for the current information age.” Precisely.
To me, such an approach to faith and to God is getting it backward, and perhaps its for the best if these narrow religious approaches do not survive the internet.
After all, when did telling a group of people not to do something prevent everyone from doing it? It’s a losing approach from the start, particularly in today’s info-accessible age.
The article goes on to note:
“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 some Bible-believing Christians are forbidden to marry nonbelievers. It is why Quiverfull moms home school their kids from carefully screened text books.” (This really does happen!)
Per my recent post on Harvey Cox’s book The Future of Faith, I think there is a shift in religious circles away from exclusive focus on “right belief”, particularly of the closed-system sort, toward a faith that embraces mystery, and seeks to engage one’s life in all of its facets (spiritual, emotional, physical; work, play, relationships; art, nature, beauty). Less and less folks are content to be told: “You have to believe this, and you cannot read this.”
I hope the Internet does as the author of this article suggests: kills such approaches. Perhaps they’ve been allowed to thrive for too long as it is.
My own sense is not that religion will not survive the internet, but the converse: religion will thrive in the age of the Internet. A healthy approach to religion embraces the free flow of ideas. This is exactly the idea behind my book: Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God. That our faith grows when exposed to a diverse set of ideas and approaches, and that when we don’t engage other religious and philosophical approaches, it stagnates, closes in on itself, and eventually goes on life-support. The faith life of many is being given new life as the Internet age opens up new vistas of spiritual perspectives and practices. Additionally, through online connections many new relationships are allowed to begin and flourish as people find willing conversation partners and co-collaborators.
The Salon article goes on to praise the wonders of science (who am I to argue?), but goes further than I would in declaring that science and a materialist worldview are as sufficient as, or perhaps superior to, any religious approach. I certainly wouldn’t go that far, though I sympathize with the desire to see humanity move toward a more open, inquiring approach to life, one that doesn’t see differing ideas as competitors as much as different lenses through which to look, and through which one might see something one hadn’t noticed before.
Does the Internet spell the end of faith? Maybe for a few (like those who aren’t allowed to use it). But for myself and many others, it is a resource that allows us to engage God and each other at new levels.