This is a long video but I think it is an important one. The real meat of this video starts at about the 10min mark and the last ten minutes are kind of having atheist fun at the church’s expense so of you want to skip those parts your welcome to do so. TAM is a yearly skeptics event and an atheist one at that but I have discovered it is always good to listen to your critics and this keynote address is definitely critical of evangelical Christianity. So the question becomes: Are the predictions offered by this video realistic. The theory being that as information becomes more readily available it becomes more and more difficult to keep data of any kind out of people’s hands. No longer can religious people maintain their opaque membranes that keep their people from information that undercuts the texts of Scripture, challenges beliefs and seemingly overwhelm faith in general.
To the atheist the greatest advance for their cause has been the internet and social media that have followed with it. It creates not only knowledge but that everybody knows that everybody knows that everybody knows. It is simply growing to difficult to keep any information out of anyone’s hands. Atheists now know they are not alone. You no longer have the lone atheist in a community, they are much more knowledgeable and are in communities of their own because of the internet world. This to many of them is the cause of the decline of churches and the rise of atheism in the western world.
Daniel Dennett draws a good analogy between what gives cells life and what gives organizations life. You need energy (money and actions), the ability to reproduce and a membrane that filters out the bad and allows the good to come in. The theory being put forward is that because the internet if becoming more and more prolific the ability for the membrane to keep out the ‘bad’ becomes compromised and allows other competing or contradictory views to come through the membrane that protects the society. It is a good analogy and I have heard this one actually used by Church growth experts and such so it is actually something Christians can wrap their head around as well.
In the case of churches, the idea that many atheists propose is that, because churches have deliberately kept their people from information that contradict their faith, they have left themselves vulnerable to this new transparency that the information age is creating. The new age is breaking down the protective membrane of churches so that members are hearing not only what the church is saying but also what the critics of the church are saying and being able to make real choices about faith or atheism. Because atheists believe theirs is the superior position and that religion is built of falsehood, they are seeing this as something that will eventually break down the protective membranes of the church and thus cause the churches destruction.
There are two membranes according to Dennett in the church. 1) The membrane that protects the church from the outside world and 2) the membrane that separates the clergy from the congregation. The second one is of particular interest because the assumption that the clergy are forced into a code of silence and can’t reveal everything they know because it would damage the people’s faith and cause a loss in both reproduction and energy. It is causing many clergy to be people who have lost their faith a long time ago but in order to maintain their careers continue to be in the pulpit.
The fact is that across the board clergy are getting thinner and thinner as far as numbers and everyone acknowledges this problem that clergy that do exist who have lost their faith but continue in the pulpit. This is not a phenomena that is unknown but boy are people mad that now everyone knows that they know that they know. The new transparency has indeed made this known to a lot of people not just inside the church but outside it and is causing people to rethink their faith. You simply cannot keep certain embarrassing facts silent anymore. That and the fact that the outer membrane of the church is also falling because people can now see criticism of faith that before could be kept from everyone in the church. It is simply to difficult to keep the wall of silence around religion.
Statistics are bearing this out. Non-religion has grown and continues to grow and it is the only belief group that has consistently done so in recent years. It now is as large of Hinduism, Larger than four other systems of belief combined and only slightly smaller than Islam. Christianity is still twice its size, but you have to add Protestants and Catholics together along with all the various sects and cults to get there.
Churches are indeed on the verge collapse in the western world. Less and less people are going into the ministry and those that are in the ministry are old and grey. Congregations are the same and in roughly two decades Christianity in the United States will be down to half of its members. The more striking thing in all the predictions that the current generation of teenagers will only have roughly four percent of its members being believers by the time they are adults. Christianity is dying in the USA if you look at all the numbers and it is dying fast.
I agree that this new information age has done some things that will definitely be the end of dictatorships. Note the dictators around the world do one thing in common which is they work very hard to keep tight lids on the internet. Information makes it hard for a dictator to maintain a perfect image as it is open so people can hear about flaws. This is also true of any organization that relies on the control of information which unfortunately includes churches.
I have watched for instance in my lifetime how pastors protected their flocks by not allowing certain films to be viewed, books to be read and questions to be asked. I have seen parents fearing for their children’s faith, isolate their children by homeschooling them to keep them from ‘false information”. The problem is as the internet grows in power it is becoming more and more impossible to do this. You can forbid a video from being in you Sunday School but the kids will watch it on YouTube during the week. You cannot stop this entirely because there will always be parents who will be more open and want their children to face the issues. Their children will eventually tell or show the others even if those others have parents who are not as open. The outer protective membrane is breaking down and there is really no way to stop it. Sooner or later the kids grow up and get out on their own and begin to engage all the things they were denied before and that includes reading certain books, watching certain videos and reading certain web sites.
The real problem is that it looks like we were hiding something and being deceptive when we hide something from our children and then they find out later. It is like the parents who uphold Santa Claus and then later tell their kids that it is a lie. It undermines trust and what we are doing right now through isolation and a censorship because that plays right into the hands of this new transparency. We are spending too much time running from the light of this idea like cockroaches instead of embracing the fact that their is legitimate criticism of religion and faith and bearing that light and evolving and adapting. the question is how can we evolve and thus survive this new transparency?
First though I want to point out that the news may not be as bad as atheists make out. There is no real proof that all non-religion people are all atheists. Just because you have no religion does not mean you do not believe in a higher power. Deists might qualify and any person of faith that does not necessarily like to attend religious functions or worships at home. I know tons of Christians who would define themselves as non-religious. Also why it is true that atheism is growing it may not continue to do so in the future. It should also be noted that believers in any religion are still at more than eighty percent. In short while atheism is gaining strength, it still is not the majority viewpoint by a long shot. They have won some battles recently but the war is realistically far from over.
I would also point out that in the grand scheme of the death nails to Christianity in particular, this is not our first rodeo. In two thousand years of existence there have been a lot of predictions that have concerned the death of the church and Christianity still exists despite them all. Belief in God still exists as well. At the end of nineteenth century their were many that felt Darwinism would be the end of Christianity. There was the “God is Dead” movement. It may very well be that this New Transparency will join them in the scrap heap of getting rid of those pesky Christians once and for all. It also could be the most devastating thing that has happened to American Christianity. So then how do we evolve to face this new transparency and survive if it does turn out to be truly dangerous?
In the second part of this I will offer my humble suggestions, in the mean time, what do you think?