Is the Internet Destroying Religion?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Is the Internet destroying religion?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

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.

  • Emmet

    No.

  • Mick

    It takes only five years (from age 2 to 7) to turn a child into a ratbag believer who is so shit scared that he/she will never, ever, lose the faith. The Internet will have no effect on those believers and Christianity will continue as it has done for thousands of years.

    • Kay

      There’s hope for us, though. Not only was I indoctrinated young, but I was sheltered and homeschooled and had my friends hand-selected for me by my well intending mother.

      The internet and attending a secular university were my first portholes to reality–the internet especially. I am the only one of my childhood friends who “de-converted” though, because of the reality of these fears.

      • Willy Occam

        Great to hear your personal story, but I fear that there are far more weak-minded people out there who will never shake off their deeply-ingrained belief systems than there are people like you who are smart and secure enough to do so.

    • korinthian

      Don’t be a quitter like Mick, that’s how religions win.

    • Ann Onymous

      Hey! I was indoctrinated all my life, and then I became an atheist at 12! And credit for that goes primarily to the Internet! I’d like studies, please, demonstrating the truth of your “indoctrination from 2 to 7 = permanent believer” hypothesis.

  • Rain

    Concur. Atheists are the biggest commenters on the internet. People pretending to be religious don’t have to pretend on the internet. More atheist out there than we think there are.

  • Mick

    A young Christian may start off defending God as an old man taking an interest in things, but when it becomes obvious that this will be unsuccessful, the definition of of god is quickly changed and the deity is transformed into some sort of “universal spirit”.

    When that particular version is demolished the deity is re-identified as Nature itself.

    And when even a defense of that god becomes too difficult the Christian will resort to mere cliche: “Look at the sunset and you can see god” or “You can see god in a baby’s smile”.

    Those Christians will never lose their faith in God. How could they? Their god is a shape-shifter with no real substance and impossible to nail down.

    And they’ve got a final killer-diller argument for every atheist: “Even if you proved god doesn’t exist, I’d still believe in him anyway.”

    • Mike De Fleuriot

      With most theistic arguments can be damaged just by changing the name of the god they are talking about. It’s sad really because if there was a god I think things would be a darn sight better. At least for any god worthy of worship, that is.

    • viaten

      “Even if you proved god doesn’t exist, I’d still believe in him anyway.”
      And the internet has probably produced many atheists who will say, with much greater justification, “Even if you proved (the biblical) god does exist, I still wouldn’t worship him.”

      • Guest

        There is a difference between existing and being worthy of worship.

        • KMR

          I think this is important. Calvinists for example have a pretty logically sound theology with a lot of support from the Bible (although not all of their five points can find support there). But they just can’t make a good case for their God being loving. A psychopathic asshole sure. Even his existence, sure, I can see it although I can’t buy it (no actually proof). But loving? It’s laughable. So even if they’re right why does their God deserve our allegiance?

        • viaten

          Yes, I was aware of that, but to me they still seemed to counter each other in their defiant attitude but with the atheist being much more justified. When believers “believe”, it is the foundation of their worship.

      • Anne Hutchings

        If the Christian god existed, he wouldn’t deserve worship.

    • http://nomadwarriormonk.blogspot.com/ Cyrus Palmer

      That last bit kills me. After all the time I spent crafting arguments that strip away all of their points, they shut down their thinking and give a cop out like that. I get so frustrated at their stupidity at that point.

  • Edward Sadzewicz

    Religions are the ones who paint atheists as people to be afraid of. Religions are all fear based in operation. Why else do all the religious feel sorry for us and pray for us and tell their kids to stay away? The sharing of knowledge circumvents the indoctrination circles and the internet gives the sharing a huge boost!.

  • corps_suk

    No, reality is.

    The internet just provides access to the knowledge of reality believers have been trying to hide people from.

    • Richard Tingley

      Exactly. Religions biggest enemy is factual information. The internet popped the bubble that churches once enjoyed.

    • viaten

      It’s more than just access to knowledge. People on the internet actively presenting critical religious questions in the right way and showing how religions dance around those questions are a big part of it.

      • Ann Onymous

        Exactly. I’m an atheist now largely because I found RationalWiki and Why Won’t God Heal Amputees.

        • viaten

          And because you gave them serious thought.

          • Ann Onymous

            True. However, I’d never have been exposed to the ideas or the concept of challenging religion if I hadn’t found them.

  • Zen Hess

    I think the question posed is a great one. Though, I’m curious if “knowledge” is the primary thing that the internet offers that is “destroying” religion. Science theory and religious theory are both theory; and knowledge is quite different from theory. Exposure to theory (awareness, insight, etc…) may very well be part of the fall of religion. But, I would suggest, isolation and apathy are the primary destroyers.

    Religion has always been fundamentally a communal phenomenon. That being said, the internet takes away any need for community. The satisfaction of social medias, including blog communities, falsely persuades one into feeling “social.” Without the need for real human interaction, the need for community withers and with it, the need for religion.

    That being said, its not just the Christian church that is effected. Religiosity is dropping from every religion.

    Further, I read a sociological work, titled “American Grace,” that offered some interesting insights on the growth of the “religious nones” in America. This group identifies with atheists, because that’s closest to how they feel; but, really they are just non-religious out of indifference. American apathy and isolation are destroying religion. From my observations, these causes are having quite a bit more impact than “knowledge” gained from the internet.

    Just my thoughts.

    • rustygh
    • baal

      “Science theory” is special btw. It’s the only way to think if you want nice things like computers and air planes.

    • Ann Onymous

      The Internet doesn’t destroy the need for real social interaction unless you seriously misuse it. I’d say I use the Internet for 1 or 2 hours most days. And yet, last night I had a birthday party with about 10 of my friends, and I talk to them at school.
      Now, my 16 y/o stepbrother plays video games and uses the Internet almost all of his (terribly irregular) waking hours. He doesn’t come to meals. Instead, he goes to the kitchen in the middle of the night to eat the leftovers. That is destruction of the desire for social interaction. That is serious misuse.

      Interaction on the Internet is still interaction. I am responding to your opinion. Perhaps you will soon reply to me. Others will signal their opinions of our opinions. We are still communicating. Often, Internet communication is more productive or fulfilling than face-to-face, due to the ability to track down someone with certain opinions/skills/perspectives or the ability to respond at leisure. I readily concede that face-to-face interaction still matters, if only for the feeling of a hug. But community? There is one here. I can’t imagine how important communities like the one here can be to, for instance, teenaged atheists in the Bible Belt. There is interaction; there is support.
      The third definition of “community” provided by dictionary.com is this:
      a social, religious, occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists

      It would appear that we of the Friendly Atheist’s comment section are a social group sharing, for the most part, the common characteristic of nontheism. Looky there, the Internet has community in a philosophical sense and when arguing from definitions!

      Also, it takes a lot more than indifference to break out of indoctrination. Were I genuinely indifferent to my religion, I wouldn’t think about it, I wouldn’t put in the effort to find out the truth, and I’d still be Catholic. You, as the astute rustygh has pointed out below, are equating apatheism and atheism. I’m not entirely sure how one arrives at apatheism either, but it’s not atheism, weak, strong, or closeted.

      I apologize for the length, and please respond. I am, after all, but 13, and perhaps the perspective of someone who grew up before the Internet was major is necessary to provide insight.

  • viaten

    For many people, the internet is like a really smart Sunday school kid who forgets he’s not supposed to ask questions like, “But what about …?”, “But how did …?”, “Why would God want/need/have to …?” and doesn’t settle for broad non-answers like “God’s all powerful. God knows what he’s doing. God took care of it.”

  • Pofarmer

    We can only hope. I’ve said before my kids go to a Catholic School, although there are a lot of Non-Catholic kids there, probably at least a third. Well, one of the girls in my middle sons class is exploring Judaism. The principle pulled her aside yesterday(on orders from the priest, I’m sure) and told her to make sure she wasn’t spreading her Jewish Faith. These are 6th graders. Ignorant, intolerant, superstitious, braindead assholes.

  • C Peterson

    There will always be irrational people who believe in crazy things, so there will always be theists. And as long as there are theists, there will be religion to exploit them. The Internet will actually help those people as they become increasingly marginalized, in the same way it helps others on the fringes: UFO nuts, science deniers, conspiracy theorists.

    But looking at the broader society, the Internet certainly isn’t doing religion many favors. It’s an important factor in pushing people away from religion, and to a lesser extent from theism.

  • KMR

    You get exposed to a wider variety of people on-line than you do in real life. If someone converses regularly with people who believe differently, then their beliefs will probably change at least somewhat. Sometimes a lot. Couple with that with easy access to information then yes, I think the internet is responsible for much of the decline of religion in the United States.

  • Gregory Marshall

    The internet has done to religion what the printing press did to the Roman Church 500 years ago, and that is destroyed it’s control because now you can find opposing points of view and back then for the first time, people could actually read the bible for themselves and realize the pope is full of shit.

  • Brian Atheos

    Absolutely! Information acquisition was the “original sin”, and they prefer their flock to be uninformed! When you are pro ignorance you will always lose in the end.

  • guest

    “Is the Internet Destroying Religion?”

    God I hope so.

    See how I did that?

  • Don Deakins

    Logic killed religion for me long before the internet was ever dreamed of but I’ll agree that the world wide web is having a devastating effect on religious superstition.

  • Samb

    Empiricism, rationality, logic, information, facts, and knowledge have always been an anathema to religion. That is why it has its own schools, tries to keep adherents in intellectually closed communities, and labels some knowledge as “forbidden.” The church tried to control who could learn to read and write, then what could be printed. It tried to label non-sanctioned publications as blasphemous or issue a fatwah against the author or publisher of factual, scientific, or other material critical of religious beliefs. In this historical context, the internet has to be religion’s worst nightmare.

  • foo

    I would put it this way – The Internet helps people rise out of ignorance. Religious delusion is but one form of ignorance. And it helps in a KEY area – young people, especially children. The basis of persistent “faith” in religion is in childhood indoctrination – suffuse them with the ideology while their minds are still too young to be skeptical, and you forge long-term believers. And who are some of the *biggest* groups of Internet and technology users? Children.

  • Matt D

    The internet certainly helped me break free, but the WWW isn’t an entity whispering in my ear, it’s an infinite library, indifferent to which knowledge I choose to aqquire.

    *I* made the decision to step outside my comfort zone and explore the possibilty that I’m *wrong*. It was tough, to be honest, but the internet gave me the power to change myself and I took advantage of it.

    A quick breakdown is this: After over a year of researching other religions, human history, alternative explanations (dieties = aliens), etc, it all came crashing down on me one day. I concluded religion was nothing more than our primitive ancestors attempts to explain who we are using metaphor and fiction (as we are a curious species, it could not have been otherwise), which evolved into a system of government and rules for “civilized” society (as clearly, chaos is not conductive to prosperous societies). Regardless of my opinions on the matter, I’m now an Atheist, and as the internet also allows me to communicate with other like minded people, I still get a sense of community that would be missing otherwise.

    • Pofarmer

      I’m in pretty much the same shape and stage as you are Matt.

  • Goape

    It would be great if the internet (or anything else) could destroy religion. But, unfortunately, I’m pessimistic. The internet is only a means to distribute information and not necessarily a system that favors reality-based information over religious information. Television also provides a means of information dissemination but most people would be hard-pressed to describe TV as a bastion of logic that will end superstitious behaviour. Internet users, like TV watchers, seek out information compatible with what they already like or assume. If reality ever triumphs over religious dogma, it will likely do so riding on the shoulders of well-educated (not internet-self-taught) citizens.

  • ZenDruid

    An important aspect is that the internet provides the continuous sense of community that was once the strength of churches and other clubs.

    • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

      Indeed.

  • Al Dente

    I quit believing in god at 12 and I assumed that athiesm was extremely rare. The only atheist I ever heard of was Madalyn Murray O’Hair and everyone seemed to hate her. I thought there might be 1 atheist in a thousand Americans or even 1 in a million. I didn’t find out that there were lots of others until I went to college and found an entire section on atheism in the library. I found collections of Robert G Ingersoll’s speaches and lectures and books by Haldeman-Julius. I never had any idea that there was such an intellectual tradition of atheism. Now that we have the internet 12 year olds who quit believing in God do not have to wait until their college years to find out they aren’t alone.

  • William Jest

    Knowledge is power! Question everything!

    • Bdole

      Only then will you learn the facts of life.

  • Michaela Samuels

    This is like the whole stupid “guns don’t kill people” thing.

    Yes, the internet is a tool that has been utilized to spread information and understanding of religion beyond is prior ability. It deserves that credit. But the internet is filled with people spreading that information and sharing their experiences. Ultimately, it is the internet in the hands of people that is destroying religion.

    Woo, internet!

  • https://kusmeeks.info/ kusmeek

    In hopes of accelerating the process I made https://kusmeeks.info

  • Kent Mason

    I avoided you for a LONG time. I’m not really sure why, but I can say that what you are doing is great!

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

      Umm… thanks?! I think? Yay!

  • Ken Hughes

    I only hope that’s true and fast-acting. The world has seen far too much of the 2.1B or so christians and the 1.6B or so moslems in the world going at each others throats over 14M members of judiaism, the founding monotheism BS, who are essentially innocent of trying to get them to do so. It struck me in 1969 when I was standing in Teheran, Iran that in America an infidel was someone who did not believe in jesus, while in the place where I was standing an infidel was anyone who did believe in jesus Missing ca[pital letters intentional); Today’s America is seen by the world as being essentially like the Middle East when it comes to that holy-roller crap, and it’s the 21st century!

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    I am most encouraged by the use of the Internet by young people to help each other break the spell of religion. Knowing that other folks have dropped religion without their world coming to an end is a big thing, especially to those who have been raised never to question the faith passed down in their families. It has been said that, “The Internet is where religion comes to die.” but it is more like those of prior generations who are not exposed to alternate thinking on line, hold on to religion, that then dies when they do.

  • jack sash

    the internet is christianity’s bigggest threat and christinianity has no viable solutions christian children are already becoming internet adddicted and are losing the faith nooone wants to get real-jack sash


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