Note: This is the first in a series of articles written by various contributors on the influence of the internet on the free-thought movement.
13 years ago, when the internet revolution was still in it’s infancy, a young man from South India stumbled onto an online community where people discussed complex and blasphemous subjects. He found the intensity of the debates and the intelligence of the conversations a refreshing change from the usual stuff he was used to. The boy had long decided that the tales he was told as a kid were untrue, but he had never considered that his beliefs were consequential to his social relationships and life choices, until the religion of the woman he loved had come between them. He had realized then for the first time that leaving the religious community that had been an integral part of his life was not a simple matter of dusting his hands and carrying on with life. With the help of the internet he took his first steps on a long journey of self-discovery and social acceptance.
The intenet has become integral to the free-thought movement today. Many young atheists, skeptics, rationalists, naturalists and secularists cannot imagine how people like themselves managed to be informed and organize before the invention of the world wide web.
Hemant Mehta recently posted a question on his popular blog, Friendly Atheist, asking readers if they would be atheists now if it wasn’t for the internet. The comments that followed were informative. Here is a quick breakdown; remember that this is not representative of the entire atheist population. More than half said that they already were self-identified atheists before the internet revolution or that they would have become atheists regardless of the internet. A much smaller group, about 2 in 10 commenters, said that they would probably not have become atheists if it wasn’t for the internet. The rest believed they may have become passive atheists even without the internet but that they would probably not have given it much thought and may never have identified themselves openly as atheists. A large portion of readers thought that without the internet they would have remained lonely in their beliefs, not become as passionate about them and would probably have remained uninformed about some things that were now core beliefs.
It’s important to remember that atheism is simply one expression of the new secular enlightenment. The internet has spawned numerous groups that fall under the “free-thought” label, all having much in common with each other. There is no doubt that without the internet these groups would have either never come into existence or not be as popular today.
Religions have dominated societies for millennia. They set the cultural protocols for acceptable social behavior, molding people to fit into rigid patterns. People who had the inclination to think critically of these rigid social norms were often forced to hide their beliefs. When the internet opened up a means of communication between large numbers of people who could remain anonymous while getting personal at the same time, the revolution had begun.
There are many reasons why we congregate now. Many religious people don’t understand why we do and they put it down to anger or hatred. We know better. But it is also true that the movement is still relatively unorganized. We are a diverse group, representing much of humanity’s expressions. There is much sorting out that needs to be done.
Many aspects of the modern free-thought movement are inextricably linked to the internet. It makes sense to study how this relationship between communication technology and the free-thought community works. Be it social-networking or secular activism, there is no denying that the movement can benefit from this analysis.
That young atheist from 13 years ago is now a well-adjusted adult who knows that his beliefs and morals can actually influence society, thanks to the development of the means for free-thinkers to form a community and organize the resources that they so needed. It is imperative that we take the time to step back and look at how far we’ve come, and to look ahead to where we can go from here.
Over the next few days we will present articles from various contributors, on specific areas in which the internet has influenced the free-thought movement. We will analyze the different areas of expression in the free-thinker community and present alternative view points to the strategies and solutions in addressing issues imporatant to us. If you have suggestions on specific areas that you think can be addressed, please share them with us in the comments. If you think you have something to say on a particular area and would like to write an article for Nirmukta, you can use the contact form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The internet is our most powerful tool; let’s help it to help us better.