When It Comes to the Internet, Nothing Fails Like Faith

My latest piece for the Washington Post‘s On Faith blog is on how the Internet is killing faith. (See? It’s not just for porn.)

An excerpt:

It wasn’t long ago when statements made in a pulpit were simply assumed to be true. Now, a child with an iPhone in the pew can find ample evidence contradicting whatever the men of God are saying. That “true story” your pastor is telling? Snopes.com debunked it long ago. Gay marriage is destructive, he says? Thousands of YouTube videos made by gays and lesbians in love — as well as other Christians — can attest otherwise. Evolution is a liberal conspiracy? TalkOrigins.org will show you how to respond to every argument on the Creationist side. Abstinence-only sex education is working? Not according to the new scientific study you just read.

This is why atheists love the Internet. We can tell Christians the emperor’s not wearing any clothes. We can question the dogma they’ve simply accepted all their lives. We can expose religious frauds. We can explain the many unfortunate consequences of unquestioned belief. The Internet is blind faith’s worst nightmare.

If you loved me, you would comment.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://northierthanthou.com/ northierthanthou

    …interesting, but of course we must fight to keep the net free. 

    • Bozartg

       Agreed but not to worry, no government or any other entity can shut it down now. Anonymous has proven that.

  • Mark

    This is so true. Religion’s decline has been relatively slow over the last few decades, slow enough that I assumed I would not see the back-end of Christianity in my lifetime. The introduction of the internet as a source of fast, universal knowledge will surely speed this process right up, and I can now reasonably posit that I will indeed see the end of Christianity as a dominating force.

    • Bozartg

       I agree with you that religions will decline more rapidly than they have in the past although, I believe we are at least a couple of generations away from meaningful change in the U.S. Muslim countries are even worse due to their strangle-hold on the populace. There will always be decent but when you could face death within this religion it’s likely they won’t get too aggressive in the near future.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    I’ll just comment here to avoid the stupid.

    Love you Hemant :-p

    • John Purcell

       I don’t love you, but I was compelled to comment anyway. ;0

      • Tinker

        I commented too, but had to rebut the stupid.

  • Jennwith2ns

    An atheist-turned-Christian friend of mine pointed me to your article asking me what I thought. I knee-jerked. Then I thought I’d post the knee-jerk here (after adjusting the pronouns for the reader) because hey–it’s rude to talk behind someone’s back. After that, you can knee-jerk back.

    Here’s what I said:

    I think, as is often true on all sides of any religious debate, you
    start off sounding intelligent and end up reduced to arrogant
    down-talking. I don’t think you (or Josh McDowell) are wrong that the
    internet has changed the way we get information about faith and the
    information we get about faith, and I think if Josh McDowell really said
    that in just those words, that was pretty unfortunate. We don’t want a
    level playing field? Because the Holy Spirit needs all the help He can
    get? I dunno. [I know--you don't believe in the Holy Spirit, but I do, and Josh McDowell should, and according to that worldview it should seem silly to think the internet could single-handedly bring Him/Her down.]

    But I think the “be very afraid” stuff and the assumption that a)
    all people of faith are faithful blindly and b) “all” the evidence is on
    the side of the atheists is just about as foolish to say and as
    stupid-sounding as “the Bible is clear that marriage is defined as one
    man and one woman.” I just don’t think there’s that amount of
    obviousness out there. I also think “killing faith” is overstating it.
    Exposing people’s true bent, maybe. Stimulating faith in some cases.
    Undermining it in others. But that, I think, has more to do with the
    person than the internet. If your last full paragraph is correct, we should be thanking the internet, and not afraid at all. I don’t think there’s anything to fear from honest questions.

    Cue “Christian-girl, you think you’re thinking, but you’re really not” comments here . . .

    • Jennwith2ns

       Incidentally, I already regret my use of the adjective “stupid.” Even though I was not applying it to people, it’s disrespectful. I’m sorry.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I think you’re right that the Internet can be used to stimulate faith. After all, there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of Christian forums and apologetics sites. If people are having doubts about religion and want to keep their faith, they can always go there to try to bolster it.

      However, there’s a lot more information out there about the “other side” than there ever was before. 25 years ago, if a religious person was having doubts, he or she might not have been able to find much to counter religious arguments. Perhaps a few dusty philosophy tomes at the local library? With the Internet, it’s not only easier to locate solid information on atheism, but also to find a community of like-minded people, something not always available in real  life.

      • Jennwith2ns

         That’s true. I definitely have now, and have had in the past, friends in whom the internet was instrumental in tearing down their belief system. But it seems to me they were already tending that way–maybe the ‘net sped up the process but it would’ve happened anyway.

        Whether the “support network” is a good or bad thing depends, I suppose, on where one is standing.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          Well, I don’t know. The Internet also reaches people who are not active doubters. It allows people to encounter information that they might not come across in their day-to-day lives. I think this is especially true for people who live in communities dominated by one religion. When everyone you know follows the same religion, it can be startling to realize that there are people out there who don’t believe in any gods at all. The mere knowledge that atheism is a viable option is an advantage for our side. No longer can priests and pastors make assertions and just expect that the people who hear them will assume they are true. It’s easy to go online and find information countering those claims.

          So I think atheism does benefit from the Internet in a way that Christianity does not. Many denominations see their churches as a way to bolster faith and keep it strong. There seems to be a strong emphasis on building faith and fighting doubt, or if people must entertain doubt, at least making sure it’s the “right” kind of doubt. I don’t think there are many churches out there (though there may be some) that encourage their adherents (particularly children and teenagers) to doubt the existence of the supernatural, the veracity of the Bible, the historicity or morality of the Jesus character, etc.

          As far as “support networks” are concerned, I think they’re a good thing, but I could imagine that some religious people would see them as a bad thing, especially if they are anxious to keep others from straying from the fold. I don’t think atheists have anything to fear from Christian support networks, simply because we’re the minority. Our presence would be more likely to threaten the privilege and the security of the majority.

          • Jennwith2ns

             I can entertain those ideas. I’m still not “very afraid,” though.

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              I think the “be very afraid” stuff was a bit of rhetorical flourish. If religion can be defended and can stand on its own, there’s really no reason for religious people to fear the Internet. However, I do think many of them find the availability of information threatening, especially in subcultures that tend to be more closed off. It’s not all Christians, but there do seem to be quite a few who focus on fear: fear that people will lose their faith, become “unequally yoked,” stop believing in certain doctrine, etc. It’s basically fear of dissension and fear of doubt. The Internet can poke holes in their religion in a way that wasn’t possible before.

              • http://thatsajennstory.com/ Jennwith2ns

                 Yes, that’s true. I just find it unfortunate, because I don’t think they need to.

                • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

                  We can agree on that. Here’s to an open marketplace of ideas!

    • matt

       I do think the Holy Spirit needs all the help he/she/it can get.  The suggestion of her/his/its existence is a pretty bold claim.  Any proof?

      • Jennwith2ns

         I’m aware it’s a bold claim, and no, of course I don’t have anything you would consider proof. In the above, I was simply stating that regardless of the Holy Spirit’s existence, if a person claims to believe in Him/Her/It, they are being inconsistent if they’re suddenly terrified that an entire way of life that is supposedly dependent on Him/Her/It is going to go, shall we say, the way of all flesh . . .

    • articulett

      Rest assured, if there are any real gods (or invisible super powers), they ought to be capable of getting people to believe in them if being “believed in” is important to them.

      • Jennwith2ns

         THAT is my point with the Holy Spirit stuff above.

  • GabyYYZ

    I’ve always thought to myself, “If I could just teach one simple concept or idea to my religious family and friends, and have it stick, what would it be?”  The answer: Doubt.

    More than anything, the Internet will force the religious to a) either become more insular and secluded and out of touch or b) make them entertain concepts they never would have before.  That tiny voice of doubt in their head, initially the devil on their shoulder, could be their guardian angel, so to speak.

    • Jennwith2ns

       I agree. Maybe not in the way you meant it, but . . . I like it.

      • http://twitter.com/Olienyk Craig L. Olienyk

        My de-conversion and exit from my role as clergy began with accepting pure, unadulterated doubt to go unchecked in my thought process.  No guilt, no “I’m sorry my faith isn’t strong”.  When doubt played out, and the facts were allowed in, I left both. No more ministry, no more myth creating false hope, unnecessary guilt, and fear.  Your experience may be quite different.

        • Jennwith2ns

           Yes–very different.

    • Thackerie

       Doubt is often the beginning of wisdom.

  • dorothy30

    note that directly underneath your article there are 3 links to “more on faith and the web”. Two of the 3 links directly confirm the point of your article without even requiring the reader to click them and actually read. These 2 links are titled: ‘doubting mormons turn to online support’ and ‘ultra-ordodox jews: the internet threatens our way of life’. LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=649813048 Nicoline Smits

    I made three comments. Does that mean I have a crush on you? 

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      It does!!

  • Reason_Being

    I left this comment at the Wash Times but also wanted to leave it here:   Well said Hemant.  The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of information spread from the mouths of the religious that is simply false.  Young people today are looking into these false claims at a much faster rate than previous generations.  We can encourage them to continue to do so and to live a life filled with knowledge and reason instead of one filled with fear and superstition.

  • Sulac

    While the internet is the biggest threat to religion (the fact that religious groups are trying to censor the internet clearly shows they are scared) I don’t think the internet will kill religion. Thing is the internet has educated people in the fact that there are hundreds if not thousands of different religions in the world, that it shows the parallels between the religions of today to the religions of the past such as ancient Greek mythologies, Norse mythology and so on plus the internet it’s exposes the negative sides of religion a lot more then the media will show people. 

    To me the internet will not kill religion completely but what it will do is force religions to change cause the thing is all religions claim they are true and the fact they all claim that clearly shows they are false, if the term religion changes the maybe the majority of the worlds problems (well the ones caused by religion) will disappear but the thing is religion is most likely the world’s largest industry so the question is how can the internet get the world’s largest industry to change?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/UF7FJ6464B5GXFADFWA2VHQ7QY Random Person

    The internet is a huge threat to religion. And they know it. Not sure how ‘up’ on haredi (ultra-orthodox Jewish) news people here are, but last Sunday there  was a huge ‘asifa’ (gathering) of about 40,000 ultra-orthodox Jews to discuss the dangers of the internet. The event was deemed so important that over 1.5 million was spent on renting out Citi Field, where the NY Mets play. Many rabbis spoke, and stressed to the crowd how important it was to keep internet out of the homes of orthodox Jewish families. Note that the event was for men only, and, somewhat ironically, streamed live over the internet. You can find the story all over the web, but here’s a link to a random news site:  http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/120519/40000-ultra-orthodox-jews-plan-rally-against-the-internet

    • Wildrumpus67

      Somewhat ironically?

    • http://twitter.com/Olienyk Craig L. Olienyk

      Fear.

  • Annie

    Congrats, Hemant!  There’s a lively discussion at the WP,  and I think it might be the “athiest” of all comment threads. ;-)

  • https://twitter.com/#!/OffensivAtheist bismarket

    Great isn’t it?

  • Ndonnan

    Well Hemunt,we love you because He first loved us,so despite us having diametrically opposed views on some issues im sure we are on the same page on most others.Having said that i do find this post fanciful to say the least. You did a similar post a few months ago, im quite new to the internet and computers and im amazed at the possibilitys to promote Christianity like you do atheism.For example now at the click of a button anyone can type in ,”the woman who went to hell”or the 700 club and hear dozens of testimonys of peoples personal experiences of hell or if you like heaven,despite what you or anyone else says ,these things happened to these people.The other thing is people in other countries will discover the truth of Christianity in contrast to what  their  closed governments have toled them.So as for me and my house were excited to where the internet will lead us,the possibilitys are endless,so big hug Hermi,your on the losing side,thats ok,hopefully one day you will have an open mind and more importantly an open heart and you will discover the truth,and you will be welcomed with open arms,just hope that happens before you die for your sake.Heh check out for yourself what hell is like and see if its what you really want!  


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