In a previous article on this website, we have looked at how major religions spread across the globe to recruit the high numbers of worshippers that they have today. Faiths such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism spread far and wide thanks to travellers teaching people about them wherever they went and instructing new people on how to conduct the practices involved in that particular brand of worship. This meant that, whenever these original distributors moved on, they left converted worshippers behind who could carry on their work, spreading the word about a new religion.
Fast forward several thousand years and human beings have invented the internet. Once you’re online, information can be transmitted and distributed in seconds, reaching millions of people at once and spreading messages faster than ever before. This has meant that people can communicate with others about faith and religion across geographical and temporal divides, leading devotees to discover new faiths or rediscover beliefs they thought that they’d lost. It can be used as a great tool for bringing people together, and for communication between different religions. So, what exactly does religion look like in the internet age? And how will it learn to thrive during this era of connectivity and global networking?
The initial way in which religions, faiths and belief systems can benefit from the internet is through the dissemination of information. Religions are, by nature, multi-faceted and have been interpreted in many different ways by different communities. The curious can now use an internet search engine to find out the fundamentals about any set of beliefs within seconds, doing away with the sometimes harmful mystery that can surround them. Rather than being afraid of what they don’t recognise or don’t understand, people can now conduct their own research about a religion and see that most have the same core values.
Worshippers themselves can connect with people outside of their community by posting information about their faith on blogs, websites, social media and forums; the most reliable material will always come straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were, and so this is a great opportunity to set some records straight.
A direct consequence of this act is increased conversation between people. This can take place between those of the same faith, people of differing faiths or between people who choose to worship and those who choose not to. Every conversation is valid and has the potential to be constructive. Speaking with those who are different to us gives us a greater appreciation for our differences and how much connection can be found there; speaking with those people who are already in our community can help to strengthen our ties to that group and gain a better understanding of what it means to be a part of it.
Surprisingly enough, getting involved with religion on the internet can be fun. One of the primary ways in which we use an online space is for entertainment purposes. Just think of platforms like Teach, Skyvegas and NowTV – all of these websites give us the opportunity to access something online that we would ordinarily have had to gain admission to via a ‘real world’ building or object. The same is true of religion’s online presence.
If you’re a Christian that’s interested in Bible study, then there are apps, YouTube videos, online courses and Instagram hashtags that you can plug into to make your study more engaging and exciting. If you are a Muslim searching for conversation and debate with fellow followers of your faith, then there are chat rooms, social media pages, hashtags and other online communities that you can follow and participate in. If you identify as non-religious, then there are still plenty of great documentaries, movies, TV shows and vlogs that you can watch to find out more about a certain religion, or about all of them. The possibilities are endless and, due to the nature of Internet 2.0, many of them are entertaining as well as educational.
One of the greatest outcomes of all of these things combined – increased information, contemporary conversation and engaging entertainment – is the dissolution of borders between different religions, faith groups, belief systems and those who subscribe to none of them. Ignorance can be the root of animosity and, as the world grows smaller, the population grows bigger and we all become more connected, an understanding of other people’s lifestyles is imperative.
Theoretically, the internet is accessible to anybody regardless of age, gender, religion or any other feature and therefore represents perhaps the greatest excuse we’ve ever had as a species to break down borders and get to know each other better. Whether that’s through brushing up on your Hindu gods and goddesses, researching the impact of Christian missionaries or simply finding your own faith, the internet is the best tool we currently have at our disposal and one that has had a significant impact on religion on a global scale.