Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why It's Harder Than Ever for Religions to Con Their Followers

From Alternet:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-its-harder-ever-religions-con-their-followers

It's more difficult for religions to control their believers’ access to information.

By Amanda Marcotte November 12, 2014

While the burgeoning atheist movement loves throwing conferences and selling books, a huge chunk--possibly most--of its resources go toward the Internet. This isn’t borne out of laziness or a hostility to wearing pants so much as a belief that the Internet is  uniquely positioned as the perfect tool for sharing arguments against religion with believers who are experiencing doubts. It’s searchable, it allows back-and-forth debate, and it makes proving your arguments through links much easier. Above all else, it’s private. An online search on atheism is much easier to hide than, say, a copy of The God Delusion on your nightstand.

In recent months, this sense that the Internet is the key for atheist outreach has started to move from “hunch” to actual, evidence-based theory. Earlier this year, Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts examined the spike in people declaring  they had no religion that started in the '90s and found that while there are many factors contributing to it--dropping familial pressure, increased levels of college education--increased Internet usage was likely a huge part of it, accounting for up to 25 percent of the decline in religious belief. While cautioning that correlation does not mean causation, Downey did go on to point out that since so many other factors were controlled for, it’s a safe bet to conclude that the access to varied thought and debate the Internet provides is persuading people to drop their religions.

But in the past few months, that hypothesis grew even stronger when a major American religion basically had to admit that Internet arguments against their faith is putting them on their heels. The Church of Latter Day Saints has quietly released a series of essays, put together by church historians, addressing some of the less savory aspects of their history, such as the practice of polygamy or the ban on black members. The church sent out a memo in September telling church leaders to direct believers who have questions about their religion’s history to these essays, which they presented as a counter to “detractors” who “spread misinformation and doubt.”

While there are plenty of detractors who will share their opinions offline, there’s little doubt that the bulk of the detractors plaguing the church are explaining their views online, which is why this has become a problem now for a church that used to act like it could exert total control over believers’ access to information. One of the church historians, Steven Snow, openly cited the internet as the source of the criticisms. “There is so much out there on the Internet ,” he told the New York Times, “that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.alternet.org/belief/why-its-harder-ever-religions-con-their-followers

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