Valarie Tarico posted a commentary on religion and the internet back in January on Salon.com called “Religion May Not Survive the Internet.” You can read it at http://www.salon.com/2013/01/16/religion_may_not_survive_the_internet/ It is an interesting post, but I find myself having to disagree with much of it. Her primary flaw? She addresses religion as if the Abrahamic religions were the whole of religion. Going from there her entire article is based on assumptions about the Abrahamic religions and how free thinking will be the end of them. And while she does mention as one of the threats to religion as being “interfaith communities that focus on shared spiritual values,” she does not mention any of the many religions that do not share in the Abrahamic idea of “right belief” as being a threat.
The truth is there are many religions that do not have a ‘right belief.’ They are instead based on “right action.” This is the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Orthodoxy is the practice of “right belief,” that is one has to believe in a certain way to expect salvation. An example of this is the idea one has to accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior in order to enter Heaven, that is one must believe in him. Orthopraxy, on the other hand, is the practice of “right action,” that is preforming the right actions will get you into Heaven or make you enlightened or whatever the “big payoff’ of that particular religion is. These actions can be ritual ones like prayer, meditative practices, or even something as simple as doing good deeds. Religions that are orthodox in nature tend to have very rigid belief systems, and are not open to new ideas. This is why you see Fundamentalist Christians refusing to accept scientific principles like evolution, or some Muslims still treating women like they did a thousand years ago when now much of the rest of the world has granted them equal rites. Orthoprax religions on the other hand because they are based in right actions and not right thinking or belief are much more open to new ideas, and may even embrace them. As long as the new ideas do not interfere with their performing the actions they need to do to achieve their goals there is no reason not to accept new scientific findings for example.
And this is where Tarico gets it wrong. She seems to assume all religions are orthodox in nature, or at least her article gives that impression. By equating religion with the Abrahamic religions she does not see that orthoprax religions may thrive because of the internet. As more and more folks reject the rigid thinking of orthodox religions, and begin to accept new ideas alien to the idea of “right belief” they may seek their spirituality elsewhere. And an alternative to orthodox religions are the orthoprax ones. Since “right action” does not interfere with the acceptance of new ideas, such religions are more likely to be accepted by those wishing to embrace new scientific ideas. And with the coming of the web in the 1990s orthoprax religions were given a platform from which they could compete with the big Abrahamic religions. With the internet, orthoprax religions can reach many they could not have reached before. No longer was one required to have large numbers of people to spread the word of one’s religion, to have large publishing companies churning out books on “right belief,’ or large buildings in which to gather to hear the tenants of one’s faith. Suddenly, a handful of people with a few websites could reach thousands of people. And as the web has changed and evolved there have been even more ways created that alternative religions can reach potential followers. And not only can orthoprax religions reach more potential followers, existing communities of followers and individual followers can interact in ways they have not before.
I do not have stats on the growth of religions like Germanic Heathenry since the inception of the internet, but just from personal experience I can say that it has been phenomenal. There are now many more Heathens than there were in 1994. In 1994, the Walburges ’94 gathering at Gaea Retreat attracted about 80 people including children. Now Lightning Across the Plains (LATP) which is held at the same site attracts close to 300 Heathens. I can only attribute this growth in numbers to the spread of information on Germanic Heathenry on the internet. There are more Heathens now than there were in 1994 I think largely because of the internet. I expect other such religions to have experienced similar growth. I think instead of killing religion, instead the internet is saving it by allowing disenchanted Christians, Muslims, and Jews to find other religions that do not interfere with the acceptance of new scientific principles and progressive ideas. Religion I think is here to stay. I do not see large numbers of people becoming atheists. I can see them however seeking out other spiritual paths more in keeping with their own ways of thinking.