Will Facebook Help Destroy Organized Religion?
May 26, 2012 1 Comment
There are a number of reasons organized religion in America appears to be in decline. An increasing percentage of the war and violence in the world is now being done in the name of religion (as opposed to the need to increase a tax base or acquire natural resources.) Orthodox views on social issues and the depravity of the Catholic Church scandal have also turned some people off. And thanks to the internet, it’s easier than ever to ask questions, get answers, publicly discuss deep philosophical and existential issues, and do a host of other things that spur the adoption of alternative creeds.
I think there’s at least one more factor, and it’s something that will soon grow more significant. Religion is essentially the original social network. Whether it was the 5th century or the 20th century, people who left their current social circle could always use religion to find a new one. Locate your place of worship in a new town and you’ll have food, shelter, friends, childcare, and a much-needed safety net. No matter where you went, religion ensured you always had a community.
But now, for first time in human existence, the internet has given people the opportunity to truly craft their own communities and social networks. And because these networks aren’t bound by location, nearly anybody in the developed world can be a member. The guy from couchsurfing.com who you stayed with for two days? That friend of a friend of a friend who got you a job interview because he saw an impressive tweet of yours? That girl from your adult kickball team who set you up on a date with her friend? All of them are filling roles once filled by religious communities, but they’re part of your self-created social network. By facilitating these relationships, the internet is increasingly making the ability of organized religion to connect people obsolete. That’s not to say there aren’t other good reasons for the existence of religion, but it seems obvious that as religion’s value as a social connector declines it is bound to become less popular.
In general, I think that more and more we’ll start to see society shed some of the unecessary scaffolding for accomplishing societal goals that can now be accomplished online. The decline of religion is one example, and so is the end of retail and the disruption of our higher education system (wait, that still hasn’t happened yet?) Those are fairly obvious examples, but as we build new social infrastructure I think we’ll start to see necessary withering and deterioration in some unexpected places.