Is the Internet a New Religion?

“In the past, religion prescribed what was to be seen as good and evil. Will religion still play that role in the future?” I ask him. Religion, I think, has become replaced by inter-religiosity because of the internet. We have gotten to know other religions. While my forefathers were aware that Lutherans and other religions existed far beyond the borders of their little village, their social life was organized by the teachings of Catholicism. It’s a different world today. Not only because denominational structures have been broken but also because we experience in real time what qualifies as “truth” in other cultural contexts around the world. 

Until today, religions were the driving forces behind the rise of human communities. They provided the foundation for social rules and the justification for what was considered unclean. The cult bound the members of a religion tightly together: religion de-secularized communal life. Now, Facebook fulfills that function.

It's an interesting thought. Facebook, seemingly, has become quite ubiquitous in some parts of the world and are now for many the de facto social platform for many people old and young. It's therefore expected that many facets of human communication happens within those digital walls. Alexander Görlach's question and the answer given by Albert Bandura reach for more than just that though, and poses that Facebook (and\or the Internet) actually has replaced and evolved the functions of religion\s. Is that feasible? Perhaps, but not for the reasons given.

First of all, Bandura (& Görlach) pose that religion\s in the past «prescribed what was to be seen as good and evil», while not entirely wrong, I think it's a bit misleading. I think it's better to say that religious mythologies and institutions in a particular way dealt with things that humans perceived and represented as fortunate and unfortunate; satisfactory and unsatisfactory; and blessings and curses. Not to get too far into structuralism here, but the good\evil dichotomy doesn't always fit with how people actually think and with the various contents of religions. There are countless examples of gods, ancestors, spirits and daemons not fitting into that scheme. Recently I read an ethnography about the Ainu people in Japan written by an Anglican Missionary, John Batchelor. Even he struggled with the categorisation of good gods and evil demons in the description of Ainu religion. He had to employ categories and conceptual schemes from the antiquity (e.g. daemons) – and he did this back in the 1890s. Which shows that at least some of our forefathers was keenly aware of other religions and reported back to their little villages (read: the Western Intellectual world) with both great care and detail (I'm not suggesting that the religious literacy was generally that great among common people – but has it ever been?). Not to forget that Bandura's Catholicism, i.e. Christianity, grew out of a cultural context where religious plurality probably was very salient.

Despite the hegemony and monopoly of religious institutions, people still doesn't care\know about\follow the official teaching and organisations. I mean, the highly unexpected Spanish Inquisition was invented for a reason. Even in the face of the multicultural society – both in real life and on the Web – people still indulge themselves in relatively simple and –sorry my misanthropy– ignorant worlds. In other words, many people still live in Bandura's Catholic Village of Ignorant Forefathers, even with the world's knowledge in just some keystrokes' reach. I don't think globalisation works the way Bandura suggests here, on Facebook people doesn't meet new worlds of truth, but confirms their old and new relationships with the same people they probably would've socialised with in the first place. That is at least my overall impression.


On a final note, the noted absence of a computer in Bandura's office reminded me of the J. Z. Smith interview in the Chicago Maroon. I wonder for how long we'll see «the seasoned scholars without computers» trope.