Jan 182013

I’ve just read a super article by Valerie Tarico about the challenges that the Internet (and especially the Web) poses for religion: Religion may not survive the Internet.

One of my themes was similar. Global communication undermines a number of the methods that religions rely on to sustain the ignorance and delusions of their existing and (more importantly) their future followers. Here are some quotes from my article (there is a lot more about other themes):


Global communication

Future generations will grow up exposed to global information sources which will challenge the beliefs of their parents and local communities. This process has already begun, with the rise of services on the web starting in the 1990s. A recent example is YouTube Atheism.

Evidence about the nature of religion in general, the origins of specific religions, and the nature of the universe continues to be made available globally.

It becomes harder each decade to sustain ideas about “the one true religion”, with consequential assumptions about the characters (eg. morality) of people (religious or not) who refute that religion. This is because of increased contact with other people, and increased exposure to global information sources.

Science continues to reveal the similarity and continuity of human beings through history and across the world. Global communications shows how many of the problems people face are the same across the world.

“New Atheism”

There has been a lot of talk about “new atheism”, as though this is something that they can try to understand and learn how to combat. Here is a hypothesis that could be a topic for study:

There is no such thing as “new atheism”.
Instead there is a “new context” (“new audience” and “new media”) which has changed the perception of “existing atheism”.

Examination of Jack Huberman’s “The Quotable Atheist” shows that nearly all the themes in the latest set of books were present in earlier works. Also, the language of many of those earlier expressions were at least as disrespectful of religion.

Here is a thought experiment:

Suppose that Richard Dawkins had had an outline of “The God Delusion” in earlier decades – 1996, 1986, 1976, …. Would there have been sufficient incentives for Richard to expand that outline to its current comprehensive version, rather than release it in more limited form? Would there have been sufficient incentives for a publisher to publish it as widely and as well-translated? What would the reception have been?

For example: 1996. The web existed, but was not widely used. There were no web forums, no video-viewing such as YouTube or video downloads, little or no on-line publication of news articles, etc. There were fewer TV stations available to most people in the UK, probably less need to find material to fill the air-time, and perhaps less need for controversial material to attract viewers.

Another factor in 1996 was “this was pre-9/11″. That influenced some of the content of the book and surely changed the audience.

Given all of this, how far would people have taken an interest in even the comprehensive version? Surely far fewer people would have been aware of it, and there would have been fewer opportunities to debate it? Would people even have been talking about “new atheism”?

This sort of analysis could be extended to earlier decades, and to all of the current set of books.

Rather more speculative, how will the current books be viewed in 2016, 2026, …? And what will new books about atheism, perhaps written by a new and less restrained generation, be like in those years? Will the “conversational climate” have changed so that the current books will be seen as quite mild, with new books being more aggressive?

<End of quotes>

There are religious people alive today who will still be alive and religious at the end of the century. Religions will be around for centuries.

Although there is discussion about how effective atheist literature is in de-converting people from their beliefs and religions, this is not the main effect of that literature. It is valuable for the sake of the people concerned, but the main effect becomes more apparent over decades:

We are engaged in a war for enlightenment being fought over generations.

The main effect will be to disrupt the two techniques that religions rely on to ensure they continue to have believers and followers:

  1. Indoctrination of children who do not have the knowledge and maturity to resist.
  2. Reinforcement of that indoctrination by daily, weekly, annual, and life-stage events.

Religions don’t have the means to convert most mentally competent adults, hence the need to start with children. Global communication can disrupt or reverse both of these techniques. A better measure of the effectiveness of atheist literature than whether it de-converts religious adults is whether it prevents children growing up to be religious adults.

That is the importance of supporting and helping children and young people to make their own informed decisions rather than having their decisions made for them:

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