Dave and Brit Morin say that the upsurge in atheism may be linked to the Internet. People’s ability to find information on the Internet makes it harder for churches to control what their followers read and learn — especially if those items conflict with the tents of a given faith.
Several months ago, Allen Downey of the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts examined the increase in the number of people who claimed they had no religion that began back in the 1990’s. He found multiple causes including increasing levels of college education and decreasing pressure from families, but he also found that the Internet may be responsible for as much as 25 percent of the decline in religious belief. Downey reasoned that exposure to the varied thoughts and debates on the Internet may be persuading people to abandon their religions.
The Church of Latter Day Saints has had to contend with the Internet. Mormon historians recently put out a collection of essays concerning such matters as polygamy, the ban on black members, and other items that make the church look bad. Since the Mormon church is a young one, information about its founders and leaders is readily available — and hard to deny. A lot of it is also available on the Internet, much to the chagrin of a church that used to be able to control its followers’ access to information. The Mormon elders worried that reading about polygamy on Wikipedia rather than any church-approved authority could lead to resentment or anger towards the church.
President Obama’s endorsement of net neutrality makes things worse for the larger churches. Gutting net neutrality would enable internet providers to offer tiered services, with larger and wealthier organizations like big churches being able to pay for faster, better service.