Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is the internet destroying Christianity?

Much has been made of the threat that the internet poses to Charedi Judaism, by providing a forum in which information can flow freely, and anonymously. The web has been a "safe" place for many Charedim to vent frustrations about the way their community functions, express theological doubts, meet like-minded people and access the outside world, all without fear of discovery. The prime example right now is, of course, If You Tickle Us,  a Charedi blog which has helped expose a sexual scandal in London, and allowed thousands of local Charedim to express their anger and disgust at the community's leaders in a way they could not in 'real' life.

But has a similar process happened in other faith communities? I might have guessed it had affected Muslims, some of whom live tight community lives not dissimilar to strictly Orthodox Jews. This piece, however, highlights the way it is destroying churches. For example, by providing
Supportive communities for people coming out of religion. With or without the net (but especially with it) believers sometimes find their worldview in pieces. Before the internet existed most people who lost their faith kept their doubts to themselves. There was no way to figure out who else might be thinking forbidden thoughts. In some sects, a doubting member may be shunned, excommunicated, or “disfellowshipped” to ensure that doubts don’t spread. So, doubters used keep silent and then disappear into the surrounding culture. Now they can create websites, and today there are as many communities of former believers as there are kinds of belief. These communities range from therapeutic to political, and they cover the range of sects:  EvangelicalMormonJehovah’s Witness, and Muslim. There’s even a web home for recovering clergy.  Heaven help the unsuspecting believer who wanders into one of these sites and tries to tell members in recovery that they’re all bound for hell.

Sound familiar?

Also this:
 Lifestyles of the fine and faithless. When they emerge from the recovery process former Christians and Muslims and whatnot find that there’s a whole secular world waiting for them on the web. This can be a lifesaver, literally, for folks who are trapped in closed religious communities on the outside.  On the web, they can explore lifestyles in which people stay surprisingly decent and kind without a sacred text or authority figures telling them what to do. In actuality, since so much of religion is about social support (and social control) lots of people skip the intellectual arguments and exposes, and go straight to building a new identity based in a new social network. Some web resources are specifically aimed creating alternatives to theism, for example, Good without GodParenting Beyond Belief, or The Foundation Beyond Belief.

For  Jews who learn that the outside world is threatening and that the secular world has no values, the internet might similarly provide an eye-opener.

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