According to Josh McDowell, a Christian apologist, the Internet is causing great harm to Christianity, and the reason is simple. Information.
“The Internet has given atheists, agnostics, skeptics, the people who like to destroy everything that you and I believe, the almost equal access to your kids as your youth pastor and you have… whether you like it or not,”
He has a negative opinion of these others gaining access to impressionable minds and his reasoning is direct. People who are exposed to conflicting ideas might be led to think and ask questions. Questions that religions cannot answer.
“Now here is the problem,” said McDowell, “going all the way back, when Al Gore invented the Internet [he said jokingly], I made the statement off and on for 10-11 years that the abundance of knowledge, the abundance of information, will not lead to certainty; it will lead to pervasive skepticism. And, folks, that’s exactly what has happened. It’s like this. How do you really know, there is so much out there… This abundance [of information] has led to skepticism. And then the Internet has leveled the playing field [giving equal access to skeptics].”
…atheists, agnostics and skeptics didn’t have access to kids earlier. “If they wrote books, not many people read it. If they gave a talk, not many people went. They would normally get to kids maybe in the last couple of years of the university.” But that has changed now.
Around 15 years ago, the apologist added, when Christian youth ministries were raising money for youth projects, the big phrase was, “If you don’t reach your child by their 18th birthday, you probably won’t reach them.” What is it now? “If you do not reach your child by their 12th birthday, you probably won’t reach them.”
McDowell has summarized the crux of religion. Children need to be indoctrinated at a young age, and critical thought is anathema to religious belief. In my own case, it was knowledge of the wider world, from both personal experience and by reading widely that led me to scepticism. At that time, the internet did not exist and most people, at least from my community, did not attend university. It was much easier for preachers to control the message.
The desire to control the message has been obvious in Christianity for centuries. The printing press allowed the dissemination of a Bible written in languages other than Latin, making it accessible to more people. This was one of the events that enabled the Protestant Reformation, breaking the monopolistic control of the Roman Catholic Church. It is widely known that increasing education is directly correlated with decreasing religiosity. Countries that are under strict Islamic rule also have extremely low levels of literacy, thus preventing the populace from developing the tools necessary to question their leaders.
We can also see this being played out in the education wars where Christian, and sometimes Muslim groups attempt to control the content of textbooks. Once you bring a religious belief into science, you automatically stop enquiry. If you reach a point where you say “God did it”, you have removed the option to ask deeper questions. This stifles sceptical thought and enforces authoritarian thinking.
Scepticism is the attempt to ask questions to obtain answers, not validate existing beliefs. Education and the Internet allow more and more of us to do just that. It is difficult to disagree with McDowell’s premise, but impossible to agree with his conclusion.