I sometimes wonder what fate will befall religion in the near and distant future. Will it increase, decline or stay about the same? And what factors will be involved in this?
I’m going to speculate that the internet will be a significant factor for the decline of religion. The internet is huge in terms of globalization. No other communicative device can compare to the “mutual-being-aware-of” effect the internet has on humanity. Hundreds of years ago the average person could know almost nothing at all about people even just a few hundred miles away. Communication was a somewhat complicated and tedious procedure if one wished to communicate with someone far away. If one wished to learn about a subject they would have to either ask someone around them or somehow get their hands on a book.
Not so with the internet. No one is far away now. No information is far away. It is no longer necessary to ask people close to you for information or find books that have been printed on a certain subject. Finding the information you want requires only a short trip to Google.
Now this is all well and good, but there are some other realities presented by the internet. Not only are there endless stores of information, there are also endless sources of information, and needless to say, not all of them are reliable. A person doesn’t have to use the internet very long before they begin to understand which kinds of sites contain reliable information and which ones are questionable. But before this happens that person will have sifted through an immense amount of information, subconsciously categorizing each new piece of information.
There is also a positive aspect to the fact that anyone can post their “information” online, I think. Since the average internet user knows this to be the case they become very good at sifting and categorizing information, and at NOT believing everything they read. If you believed everything you read on the internet, you would be a walking logical contradiction. You just can’t do it. You have to pick and choose because every opposing perspective is represented and a person simply can’t believe them all.
The most relevant change that I believe internet has brought is the ability to communicate freely and openly with the guys in the next village. A person doesn’t have to seek out a book by some historian about the culture of another people anymore. They can go on the internet and talk to them. These people are no longer even in “the next village.” Their stories are no longer wild tales about strange foreigners and their strange customs. The more free communication and sharing of information there is, the more “real” the other people become, the more they begin to sound a lot like ourselves, the more our “shared humanness” is made evident.
This is the way I see the internet effecting the decline of religion, and am well aware that a lot of people will disagree with me. Nevertheless, I will proceed. I think that the realization of “shared humanness” which is made possible through internet technology will make the truth claim that “MY religion is the RIGHT religion and MY god is the RIGHT god” very hard to hold on to. Once a person encounters enough people saying “MY religion is the RIGHT religion and MY god is the RIGHT god,” and, through getting to know these people, finds their stories to be extremely similar to their own, it makes them wonder how they can be so sure. What about the rest of humanity? What about their stories, their experiences, their cultures, their religions, and their gods? I’ve written off thousands of gods I’ve never even heard of. Am I not just another human like they are, looking for an answer like they are, finding an answer like they are? But the answer I came up with was different than the one they did. How am I to know that mine was better, more correct? What made me so fortunate, so sharp in my judgement to have chosen the correct one?
So, I ask again, what about the rest of humanity?
[Note: In order to keep a respectful dialogue, comments will be moderated before appearing on the site.]