In my last post, I said that the Internet is killing religion because of the profusion of information critical of the church. It works, whichever church is church to you. I went on to say that the church reeling most from the Internet was the Mormon Church, particularly because it had a paper trail not found in other monotheistic religions. You can fact-check the Mormon Church on the Internet, I said.
Now I want to move on to the most telling reason the Internet is killing religion—starting with the Mormon Church. The Internet isn’t just about information. It’s about connections. We’ve found truth doesn’t come from On High. It comes from the network.
Here’s how it used to work, pre-Internet:
You were in some religion, probably because you were raised to be part of that religion. (For example, the Pew Survey found that Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion, not because more people are converting to Islam but rather because Muslims have more babies than other religious folks. That means you’re going to have more and more children growing up with the default presumption that they’re Muslims.) And you encountered doubt, as religious folks will, surrounded by swirling enigma, as they find themselves to be. If you were lucky enough to have a fellow parishioner you could let down your happy mask with, you sought him out and you confessed your doubts. More than likely, you got one or more of these reactions:
- Some things we’ll never understand until we get to heaven. His ways aren’t our ways.
- I will pray for you.
- You should pray and read your scriptures more.
- Do you have some sin to confess?
- Can I pray for you right now? (C’mon, we’ll go over to this corner where no one will see us.)
And then you walk away, shrug your shoulders, lay aside your cognitive dissonance, and get on with the chore of living. His ways aren’t our ways.
The Internet has changed all that. On the Internet, one thing leads to another. Online, you can express a doubt anonymously. You find countless people who experienced the same doubt you struggled with, persevered through their cognitive dissonance, and then came to an unorthodox answer. Some of them became ex-Mormons or ex-Christians or ex-Catholics or whatever.
Others became New Order Mormons or Progressive Christians or Liberal Muslims.
Yet others ash-canned the whole idea of God, usually not without a lot of huffing and puffing and kicking about of furniture.
Whichever, soon enough, you find you resonate with some of them. You find these people are as decent and well meaning as anyone in your congregation. You see they all have the same experience of the divine that you do—that is, a vague sense of peace and a bemused resignation that God Works In Mysterious Ways. All of them grow vertiginous upon considering the vastness of creation and our utter insignificance. Even atheists. (Between 2007 and 2014, the percentage of atheists who said they felt a deep sense of wonder about the universe on a weekly basis rose a full 17 points, from 37 percent to 54 percent.)
Finally, you see no religion is better than any other religion at producing good humans. We’re all just doing the best we can. No religion really works. Neither does atheism.
Suddenly, you realize how confining the four walls of your local congregation were.
You realize we can’t know the truth—and know that we know it. I mean, sure, some of us may have stumbled on to the Ultimate Truth. It’s about as likely as an army of chimps pounding out Hamlet, I suppose. But we won’t be able to prove it—beyond insisting that we feel really, really sure. Really.
Face it. We’re stuck in a universe of uncertainty, and the best way to navigate our way is not through dogma but by connecting with one another and learning from one another’s apprehensions of the Grand Mystery. That’s what the Internet does. That and porn.
We learn the best we can do is piece together whatever it is we choose to believe by taking pieces from the best of what we learn from the people in our network.
The point is, we don’t have to take the church’s word on anything anymore.
Churches are going to get out of the Telling You The Truth business. The transmogrified religions that survive the Internet age will be religions devoted to mystery, religions devoted to not knowing. We will see a flattening of traditional hierarchies, as it’s foolish to think anyone has a more direct line to God than anyone else. There will be more and more diversity, more and more openness, less credal exactitude. People’s religious affiliations will be more fluid.
This idea rankles orthodox folks. They think dogma is what is most important—because it was “revealed” by God. “Without correct doctrine,” they say, “you could just believe whatever you want.”
Exactly. I mean, if God was so concerned we believe a certain set of facts about Himself, He could have been a hell of a lot plainer.
But He wasn’t, so we’re left with mystery.
And really, it’s mystery that deserves worship, isn’t it? Something we have figured out . . . well, we have it figured out. Move on. But mystery . . . Mystery stirs us at our core.
The new religion is coming. Get ready.
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