Jewish Synagogue in Oradea, Romania. I stood at the base of this place on a mission trip a few years ago. It has been abandoned since the early 1940s as the Jews that lived in Oradea were exterminated by the Nazis. I remember the experience of standing right next to it very well, it is one thing to read about the Holocaust in history books but to stand right next to a place that was decimated by it and never recovered even to this day is saddening in a way I can’t explain. – Ed.
The book Caught in the Pulpit moves from the character sketches to Part Three which is very much a look at how, given the information age, religions can survive given the transparency of information. If you followed my series The Death of the American Church, then you know one of the authors Daniel Dennett spoke at TAM 2014 in my first post in that series and much of what he said in that video is here in this part of the book. The idea is simple that the new information abundance made possible by the internet and other electronic information sources, has made it difficult for religions to keep objections and information that counteracts then from being kept secret. Much of what is said in the video attached to that post and the chapter are almost the same so I only have a few points.
The problem for the clergy is they are often the watchman on the wall. No matter how much you create a religion that is isolated and reclusive, someone has to stand on the wall and decide what things are good and what are worldly and what then to let in. These watchmen are usually the clergy and thus those clergy are often exposed more than the congregation to obstacles to faith. Eventually, some of them leave because of this loss of faith and this does two things – leaves a hole in the membrane that even more information can get through to others and inspires others to leave more convincingly than if just a member leaves.
There is an interesting assumption of the authors that I found at this point, They are assuming that religious organizations are the ones most susceptible to this new transparency. I would point out, to use their own analogy of the Cambrian Explosion from evolutionary theory, that the new transparency would actually cause nearly all organizations to face the fact that information is everywhere and evolve or die. This may at present be difficult for religious organizations at present but it may not be always the case. The new transparency also means the demand for more information and alternative opinion will cause everyone including skeptic and atheist groups to also evolve. I would also point out that even by evolutionary theory some of the life forms during the Cambrian Explosion at first suffered for a while and then adapted finally to survive, there is nothing to think that religious organizations might simply be in an adjustment phase like this. A lot of people are waking up to the fact that nothing is secret anymore and making adjustments and there is no reason that it cannot happen in religions as well. Many of them have been around for centuries and millennia and had to do so before.
The Church for instance has survived even after the invention of the printing press and the Enlightenment. My point is that mankind is incurably religious. It always seems to find a way to adapt belief to reality even if it might at times take longer than other things.
Next: From the Ivory Tower to the People in the Pew