Is the Internet Killing the Baby Jesus?

According to an article in yesterday’s Salon,

Religion may not survive the Internet

Tech-savvy mega-churches may have twitter missionaries, and Calvinist cuties may make viral videos about how Jesus worship isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship, but that doesn’t change the facts: the free flow of information is really, really bad for the product they are selling.

But, but, but … if everybody becomes an atheist, who’s going to read my blog??

Actually, I’m not panicking just yet. I think the announcement of The End of Religion is a little premature, possibly a bit too optimistic, in that: 

1) Religion is like the Borg — they’re adapting to the modulation of our phaser rifles. Creationists, for instance, haven’t gone away after Dover. They’re still with us, trying new ideas, new techniques, to slip in and brainwash new generations of victims.

I like to think they’re going to fail, but … if you keep trying — at anything — chances are high you’ll find something that works. A way to succeed. Who’s to say the Internet itself won’t be the tool that helps them win?

2) The enemy of rational thought isn’t just churches, it’s superstition and all sorts of other silly beliefs. The type you find in churches is only the formalized variety of something much larger and more invasive. And though the power of churches may be on the wane, this other garbage, the homeopathy-type stuff and such as the ghost-hunter-type crap you find on TV may actually be helped to spread by more pervasive media.

Even I, all too often, get sucked into repeating things I see online, only to later find out it was nonsense. I’m checking Snopes and doing image searches a lot more often, I can tell you, to try to get the real story behind the supposed story.

The core of all this isn’t the distributive media, it’s the receptive medium, the human mind. And there, we may just be in a more dire situation than we know.

If you step away from religion as a primary enemy of thought, and step up to this larger category of malignant Human Mind Invaders, you not only find plenty still going on, you find more than ever going on.

We still have advertising, corporate lies, political lies, all sorts of things that affect people in real ways. I’ll remind you we just completed a decade-long war in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of people died, based on the lie that there were weapons of mass destruction there, and the previous lie that Iraq was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

All of these HMI’s are spread with the help of the Internet.

Speaking of which, I came up with this new concept recently, something I said at the end of my talk in Ottawa:

People aren’t stupid.

That’s actually a radical idea, in a way. I mean, if you’re educated at all, you come across stuff all the time — stuff that people believe or say — that just takes your breath away. And you kinda come to conclude that some large fraction of your fellow human beings are dumb as rocks. Arrogant or not, I’ve believed it most of my adult life.

But I recently realized, while thinking about some of my old friends back in Texas, that most of them AREN’T stupid. Some of them are damned bright — smarter than me, sometimes MUCH smarter, and in lots of ways.

The difference has to be something else, and I think I know what that something else is.

They’ve been lied to.

And not just a little bit, but massively. In every day, in every way.

All. The. Fucking. Time.

We live in a society where people are lied to so much and so often, and in such a totally-pervasive environment of extreme unreality — projected at us from TV, radio, print media and Internet — that most of us have almost no practice in objectively evaluating statements or situations to determine how real or true they are.

And though we have an organized, socially-approve Crazy School — the church — we completely lack its opposite, Sanity School. We as individuals lack the mental tools to protect ourselves, and there’s nothing built into our society to remedy the shortcoming.

(Side note on Beta Culture: Even if we totally do away with Crazy School, we still don’t have Sanity School, and it’s NEEDED. It’s one of the things I’d like Betas to shepherd into existence.)

Take any one little lie — oh, say, that obsessively collecting and redeeming coupons is a good use of your time, or that diamonds are actually fantastically valuable, or that circumcision is really a good idea (you know, for health reasons), or that we have no population problem and the solution to having 7-billion-people-and-still-rising on Planet Earth is to genetically modify food plants so they produce more, and then distribute it better — and there will be millions upon millions of otherwise very bright people who not only believe it, but will assertively defend it with countless personal anecdotes and arguments, and walk away totally convinced of their own rightness.

No, this is not religion, but it’s the same sort of “believing false, bad stuff.” And I’m not sure the Internet is helping much with that. It may just be spreading the lies faster.

I hope not. But … I worry.