Monday, May 3, 2010

The Internet: Where Religions Come to Die

An excellent documentary-style video about religion in the age of the internet.


OldJoeClark said...

One way religions have propagated so well historically is that they have managed to keep it a closed system in which all communication runs only through their officially established hierarchy. At the bottom of that foodchain are the rank and file members.

Historically, if one of these members is abused by the system, is a questioner, simply not getting the mileage they were promised, etc., they were largely forced to suffer in silence since dissent is usually immediately squashed. To get the word out was a costly, resource intensive proposition. Well, no more.

Via the internet anyone can anonymously find and post information at little or no cost. So yes, while the internet can publish info that refutes religious claims there is just as potently the ability for the rank and file members to compare notes under the safety of anonymity. It completely bypasses the official channels of the religion and lost with that is their control.

So it's not just about publishing facts - not everyone is a critical thinker. It's also about sharing personal experience anonymously.

Religions are also adaptable and I think a good many will have to adapt or die. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next ten years or so.

When it comes to religion the fastest growing demographic is "None of the above" which has grown from 8% to 15% in the last 18 years in the U.S. There is hope.

wunelle said...

I'm fascinated at all this. I completely agree that these systems are historically closed as a means of controlling information; but to my jaded eye even that looks insidious. I suppose the argument is that the world is evil and the 'wrong' information leads to a life of evil and sin, but it all just seems like a highly-evolved, carefully-calculated means of keeping a fear-based hierarchy in place to the benefit of those at the top of this food chain.

This business of getting hold of kids in their most impressionable age and filling them full of horrible things--all while telling them and the world that it's all about love and forgiveness and redemption--seems criminal!

But you're right; not everyone is a critical thinker. Still, we seem to be making more and more of them all the time.

OldJoeClark said...

"Evolved?" yes, I agree, but "carefully-calculated" I don't think so for the most part.

My point of reference is Mormonism, the religion I was raised in. Ex-mormons regularly debate whether Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith, was a pious fraud or simply a charlatan. My thoughts are that he was mostly the latter, but that he could have easily had some narcissistic personality traits which led him to believe some of the myths he created. That he was a "prophet" naturally evolved from his followers, and then he embraced and perpetuated it as I see it.

From the big picture what JS did was pretty scattershot and without a master plan. But he got extremely lucky which included martyrdom (good for Mormonism and bad for him ;-) ).

I think to get a true look at the dynamics of modern Mormonism you have to look at a beehive (ironically the state symbol of Utah). No one bee is barking orders from a master plan to other bees. From birth they are preconfigured genetically to play a vital role in the hive. Humans also possess this ability to naturally work cooperatively without a central plan. Church leaders over the years find the things that work and grow their collective intelligence.

So I think modern Mormon leaders ARE pious frauds for the the most part. They are raised in it and learn their behaviors from the rest of the hive. The roots of it are not calculated fraud but rooted in the way social groups form and cohere.

Atheists often frame the battle with religion as a struggle of logic and that religions are simply out to deceive and defraud. For example, I recently heard Sam Harris say in an interview that religionists were "pretending to be certain" about their particular views. I would like to say to Mr. Harris that not only are they CERTAIN of their view, but that they are more certain of their views than Mr. Harris is of his.

The problem is that our feelings of certainty are rooted in the same part of our brain as our emotions when we like to think they are the result of logical thinking.

That's why it's so damn hard to get anyone to substantially change their position. It's that the filter is so difficult to penetrate. One bit of research I read reports that only 5-10% ever radically change their position in such matters as religion.

wunelle said...

Most interesting. I've always believed (though it is no argument, I realize) that most priests don't 'really' believe what they teach others, and the higher they are the less they believe. This may be an error in my judgment or, if I'm correct, it may represent a difference between Catholicism and Mormonism. The 'belief' is something demanded in absolute from the flock. The believing flock enables and legitimizes the exercise of power, but the leaders, hands dirty with politics and governance, are too canny to buy the stories literally.

And, assuming there's any substance to my line of argument, is there some key difference here between mainstream religion and what we would call a 'cult?' (One person's mainstream religion is another's cult, so I don't know that I have my teeth in a real distinction.)

As to the calculation business, I take your point. Maybe "conscientiously-fine-tuned" would capture my intent better, since I agree that no one had all the myriad details in mind when the schemes were hatched.

And yet the questions arose and were pointedly decided (and perhaps re-decided by trial-and-error): the importance of getting kids indoctrinated young; the double-standards for men and women; the need to control certain aspects of behavior and not others; the awareness that THIS knowledge would be undermining to our cause but not THAT knowledge.

It's the fact that the church has a stand on so many things--including all manner of things of which they can't possibly have ANY real knowledge--that makes me think it has been "carefully" evolved; someone had to pass judgment at a million instances, and it all adds up to the present malaise.

Biologists note how Darwinian evolution is an unconscious process, that survival is the differentiator and no guiding hand needs to be involved--indeed, that's the whole point. Perhaps I need to be looking at religion in the same way: those that survive are those with the most workable characteristics from a society's point of view. If the faith's brains stray too far from the sustainable, the sect dries up.

"...not only are they CERTAIN of their view, but that they are more certain of their views than Mr. Harris is of his."

Again, I take your point. I think the business of certainty in belief is the epicenter of faith & doubt and it raises the question of what it is to 'believe' in anything. I think if JS, for example, really WAS 'certain' then he can't really be a fraud, no? We say he's a fraud because what he claimed to believe (and perhaps what many mainstream Mormons still believe) is irrational to non-believers. He's a fraud if he's selling a load of horseshit and KNOWS it. THERE is exactly the dark, inscrutable corner in which hides the religious soul from the spotlight of rationality.

But is all knowledge and belief the same? Do we not differentiate between conclusions in which a person has, for whatever reasons, an emotional investment versus those arrived at because it's just where the facts lead? I 'believe' the Earth orbits the sun, but I don't care particularly that it's so. I care if someone else denies it without better evidence (even as my own belief is provisional while more evidence is amassed). I CARE about atheism only insofar as I think religious thinking must be kept out of governance and public policy (indeed, I don't 'care' about atheism at all; I dislike religion: that is the emotional substance of my interface with the subject).

My goal in life is to try and divorce my knowledge-gathering process from the grip of emotional conviction (not that I in any way would set myself up as the exemplar). A love of knowledge, a care for the meticulous practice of the methodology, and a peculiar disinterest in the grinding of the scientific gears; this would seem a good start.

Anyway. A good discussion, I think.

dbackdad said...

As they say, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant". If what you are peddling is dubious, avoiding scrutiny and examination is the way of the day. Anti-science, home-schooled ... all for the purpose of keeping them in the fold and trusting.