The Strangely Simple World of Internet Atheism
By Tom Gilson
I got an e-mail some time ago from a reader who wrote:
I’ve really changed and been challenged by what I’ve read on the internet. I’ve . . . really had my faith rattled by some of the science articles . . . and the associated comments. It seemed that most thought Christians (or anyone who believed in God) was a fool. I remember one comment to the effect that ‘one day all our religions will look as stupid as believing in Zeus or Thor does to us today.’ . . . Being a life long believer . . . I started to question . . . was pretty miserable for a while. You could say I lost my faith.
The world of Internet Atheism can have that effect on people. By “Internet Atheism,” I do not mean every instance of atheism on the Web, but rather a new social and religious phenomenon that arose with the Internet and could not thrive without it. It is a world that points insistently at its own bright intelligence, and by doing so it undermines the faith of many. Yet it is strangely simple, perhaps even simple-minded.
I do not say that lightly. Consider, for example, the black-and-white simplicity of one Internet Atheist’s chart of “50 Years of Progress In Science and Religion.” The “science” side of the chart lists advances in medicine, space travel, communications, astronomy, computing, and other marvels of modernity. The “religion” side includes only one unequivocally positive event, which was all the way back in 1963. Apparently religion has seen no progress of any kind since then.
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There’s nothing said about religion’s work in advancing prison reform, feeding the hungry, taking the lead against human trafficking, or making advances in philosophy, history, archaeology, and other disciplines. The chart lists nothing but negatives: the Roman Catholic abuse scandal, Islamist violence, evangelicals’ supposed opposition to science, embarrassing end-of-the-world predictions, and a brief history of Christians’ opposition to homosexual rights.
It’s an astonishingly simple picture of reality. Science is good, religion is bad—and that’s just the way it is.
In fact it’s even simpler than that, for in this fine specimen of Internet Atheism, all of religion is depicted as one unified thing. The chart lumps Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, and Buddhism all together in one undifferentiated lot. Never mind that classical Buddhism is atheistic, and the other religions mentioned have vastly different beliefs and social structures. Religion is religion is religion, seems to be the message…
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