My own personal journey away from religion was fueled by my connection to the internet from a young age. I was raised in a very religious, Christian based family and church. In high school I went to religious schools. In high school I also attended a Christian “worldview” seminar two summers in a row in Colorado, at a place called Summit Ministries, in Manitou Springs. The purpose of Summit was to provide Christians about to enter into the college world the tools they would need to defend their religion against the naysayers, to equip them to fight and win the “culture war.” After my trip to Summit, I was filled with religious zeal, and figured since I was on the internet all the time, even back in the late 90s, that I should carry the message of Christ to the non-believers I encountered on the internet.
I somehow stumbled across a message board run by a site called Internet Infidels. Perfect, I thought. I had found a message board populated almost exclusively by atheists. At 17 I was very confident in my abilities to show these people the truth of Christ’s Word. What I found, however, was that many of these people were older, more intelligent, and better educated than I was at the time. My arguments fell on deaf ears and were answered with even better counter-arguments. I came away from that experience with more questions than ever before. I was challenged by these people in a way I didn’t expect. I continued these types of dialogues online with people of many different belief systems, and along with learning about philosophy and other religions and systems of thought, by the time I reached senior year in college I had effectively left the faith, and even referred to myself as an atheist. My exposure online to different ideas than the ones I was raised in led me to abandon religion. I saw it for what it was and realized I didn’t need it.
I know I am not alone in this experience. A study of the General Social Survey shows a strong correlation between the increase in internet use from 1990 onward with an increase in people that describe themselves as unaffiliated with any religious group. The increase in people no longer identifying with any religion is even more pronounced with people under the age of 30, and internet exposure, as well as an increase in college attendance by the population can account for most of this change. Exposure to different ideas and opposing viewpoints has an extremely significant impact on the thinking of already open-minded people. I think another contributor to the lack of affiliation, especially in first world countries with a lot of internet access, can be attributed to the widespread publicity on the internet of the church sex abuse scandals. These factors, along with an ever increasing body of scientific knowledge, and publication of that knowledge, especially about how the universe works and evidence for evolution have all strongly influenced the religious opinions of people in the United States and the rest of the world.
To me, this is progress. I believe religion is perhaps the biggest opponent to progress in the world today. I look forward to seeing the political climate in my country 10 to 15 years from now, when the people from my generation are running the country. I’m optimistic that it can get better.