The Power of the Internet: Religion is Now Up for Discussion Amongst a Worldwide Audience
Over the past few decades the Internet has been propelled into the mainstream and become part of our daily lives. It has provided an abundance of individuals with easy access to endless information, as well as forums for discussion. No topic is off limits on the Internet, religion being one of them. Many of the religions that are present in our world, including the new religious movements, came to fruition before the birth of the Internet. However, its presence has created issues for some religions, which they are struggling to handle. On February 10, 2015, The Associated Press published the article, “Mormon who runs website for doubting members excommunicated,” for The Chicago Tribune (http://goo.gl/EbfCIS). The article discusses how a member of the Mormon Church, John Dehlin has been excommunicated because he has a website that allows for free decision about the faith, amongst its members (The Associated Press, 2015). They explain that this is the form of punishment that the Mormon Church has decided to take against the individual, for facilitating doubt in the religion (The Associated Press, 2015).
In a chapter of the book, New Religious Movements (Hammer & Rothstein, 2013), Douglas E. Cowan discusses the interplay between the Internet and new religious movements. Much of the chapter is focused on the Church of Scientology but can be applicable to John Dehlin’s case. Cowan argues that once information is placed on the Internet it can never truly be deleted, due to technology and countless users’ accessibility to it (2013). By members of the Mormon faith having access to and usage of a forum like Dehlin’s website, places their doubt in a public realm, where it cannot be erased. They pose questions and discuss the aspects of the faith that they may not accept, which are easily accessible, by anyone. When this questioning is confined to the Church, there is more control; the spread of potentially unwanted information and thoughts can be limited. By excommunicating Dehlin, it appears that there is a fear of the Church being portrayed in a negative light, as seen before in the actions of the Church of Scientology (Lewis, 2013).
In another chapter of New Religious Movements (Hammer & Rothstein, 2013), James R. Lewis, explore the religion of Scientology, in greater depths. An important point that he presents in the concept of the “Free Zone,” which refers to a community of ex-members of the Church, around the world, who still believe in the faith (Lewis, 2013). The excommunication of Dehlin may result in the formation of a “Free Zone,” in the Mormon Church. This action shows that members can be punished for expressing their thoughts, which may vary from the traditional beliefs of the Church. If members feel that they cannot ask questions and generate discussions about the religion within the Church, they may choose to practice their faith outside of the Church.
The Internet dominates our society; if religious institutions cannot accept its influence and allow their members to utilize it as an outlet, they may risk losing them.