The internet has been perhaps the most disruptive invention of recent human history, particularly when it comes to speed and reach of information. Since religion is primarily, perhaps solely about information (about how to conduct your life, usually from holy books or the church), it is not surprising that religion has struggled recently to keep a young audience interested. There are two key ways (among others) in which the internet will have had a negative effect on the number of young people going to church in the UK.
Firstly, and most obviously, this happens through exposure to a multitude of different beliefs and ideas. In the past it was common in strictly religious families for children to be insulated from the outside world, to save them from exposure to ‘the devil’s work’. Even in more recent times or for children from more moderate families, devout Christians tend to (consciously or not) avoid spending a lot of time with members of other religions. This means that these youngsters are often at best unaware and at worst actively discouraged from other religions. The advent of the internet has meant that it is nigh on impossible for parents to continue this insulation of their offspring. Once a child reaches a certain age, usually in secondary school they are immediately exposed to at the very least a vast number of people who all have access to the internet and usually access to the internet themselves. This access results in contact with a variety of new beliefs and cultures, shattering the teachings of their parents and church that Christianity is the only path.
The second way in which I believe the internet could have a depressive effect on church numbers is a bit more contentious but to me it makes a lot of sense. One of the key tenets of Christianity has always been that anyone is accepted. Historically this ranges from people in need seeking shelter at Sanctuary, to members of the public who feel like they don’t belong seeking companionship at their local church. This second group are the people I think are starting to disappear nowadays. In this modern age of social media and YouTube, a child who feels unloved, like they don’t belong, or simply as if they haven’t got enough friends will turn to the millions of people online to fill that gap. So where in the past they would have to join a social group or go out and meet people (and the easiest way to do that was often via the church) they now only have to log on to Facebook and send a few friend requests or go onto YouTube and upload a funny video. This substituting effect means that even more young people will not engage with religion.
At this point I feel I should make a point about the arguments I’ve made so far. They are on the whole about young people. There are a few reasons for this, not least because as a young person myself I feel qualified to comment. Mainly, the point I’m trying to make with this series is that Christianity (and other religions) are treading on thin ice and I think the trend in the future will see a decreasing amount of engagement with the Church as younger generations age. I am not saying that nobody goes to church any more or that religion is dying, I am just arguing that it looks like religion is declining. Another reason for focussing on young people is the fact that when we are young we are more susceptible to indoctrination, regardless of the motives. So in the past if a cohort of teenagers are made to engage in religion it is extremely likely they will continue to have a connection with that religion throughout their life, once it is instilled in their subconscious. So the danger to religion lies in this new generation who will grow up having little to no thought of religion or observing religious customs.
Thank you for reading part 2 of the Decline of Religion, I am trying to keep these relatively short so I do understand there’s a lot more that could be discussed! Please stay tuned over the coming weeks (follow me on twitter @cbeconomic) for part 3, where I’ll discuss my thoughts on the differences in religious engagement across cultural groups in the UK as well as two new series’ starting soon on cryptocurrencies and mental health!