Religion in the digital age

What should we expect from religion now?

Trent M. Kays

I grew up in a non-religious household. My family never went to church, never talked about gods or spirituality and never observed any religious rituals. My parents always told me that should I want to go to church, they would drop me off there and pick me up. They never forced any religious understanding on me, and they never expected any from me. I loved it.

I was left to form my own opinion. In fact, for whatever reason, I was never baptized either. Yet, growing up in a Christian-dominated country does things to you. This is especially true of the southern U.S., where I lived for eight or nine years. Religion is a currency in the South. In many rural communities, it isn’t so much about who you are but where you go to church. I never went to church unless it was for a wedding. I didn’t find churches that impressive then, and I don’t now.

But, religion is a fickle creature in the “no matter what religion one follows” 21st century; it is always about connection. The digital age has given us the ability to connect with others at great distances. We can learn about religions we once never knew existed by spending an hour or two on Wikipedia. This is a fundamental change in how religion is disseminated. Now, the Internet is our prophet, spreading the ideas of all religions to the masses.

I doubt anyone would disagree that religion has caused numerous problems in the world. Religion has been responsible for death, genocide, war and many other despicable issues in our world. However, unlike in the past, the digital age has given us access to hyper-public information, so these types of atrocities can no longer remain obscure.

The digital age certainly has influenced my understanding of religion. It took me many years to discover my understanding of the world, and the digital age helped me with it. I don’t think our world is ready to be absent of religion. I think this not because I feel religion is the great connector and our world will crumble without it; I think this because religion is a personal choice. As long as people choose to believe, religion will exist.

Faith, spirituality and belief are intrinsic for some and extrinsic for others, but either way, it doesn’t matter. People will believe what they want to believe. The advent of the digital age has given religion new pervasiveness. With this comes new hate, new love, new ignorance and new beliefs.

The question becomes: What do we want from religion in the 21st century?

In many ways, technology has become the new religion. If Apple were a religion, it would be one of the largest religions in the world. How is Christianity changed by the iPhone? How does Wikipedia spread Buddhism? These types of questions, regardless of our beliefs and spirituality, permeate our understanding of how knowledge works in the digital age; it spreads from one tablet to one phone to one mind.

The systems of knowledge that govern religion in the 21st century are more apparent now than ever before. We now know the extent of theocracy, the pretention of gaudy churches and the faux righteousness of televangelists. We know these things now, and we know them thanks, in part, to the digital age.

If anything, religion will not disappear in the 21st century. The digital age has made it too prevalent and too accessible. Indeed, its rifeness, thanks in no small part to the Internet, has ensured its continued survival.