National Edition

Internet users either hot or cold when it comes to religion

Published: Thursday, April 10 2014 2:20 p.m. MDT

Parish priest Yves Marie Lequin, left, blesses mobile phones and computers, hold by Gil Florini, right, parish priest of Saint Pierre D'Arene church in Nice, southeastern France, during a Mass to celebrate St Gabriel, the archangel of transmissions, Saturday, Sept. 28 2013. Different studies have shown that access to the Internet either drives people to or away from religion.

Lionel Cironneau, Associated Press

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Many religions have used the Internet to spread their message to a larger audience.

Pope Francis, an active social media user, calls the Internet "a gift from God," according to the Washington Post. LiveChurch.tv, one of the first churches to launch an "Internet campus," continues to use online technology. Numerous Christian leaders write popular blogs, as do leaders of other faiths.

But a new study argues the Internet can also make people less religious, according to MIT Technology Review. Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts, came to this conclusion after analyzing data from the University of Chicago's General Social Survey.

Downey recognizes a decline in the number of people being raised in religious households and the influence of a secular college education have contributed to young adults being less religious than their elders. But he contends the Internet sets the millennial generation apart from previous generations, particularly in the number of those who say they don't belong to any religion.

Downey provides the following theory for the link between the Internet and religious disaffiliation: "For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally."

A 2012 Pew Research Center study, however, provides other explanations for the rising number of people who do not identify with a particular religion, reported Jessica Ravitz at CNN.

One of Pew's theories is "young adults, in particular, have turned away from organized religion because they perceive it as deeply entangled with conservative politics and do not want to have any association with it."

Secularization and an increasing number of young people's decision to postpone marriage and family could also be contributing factors, researchers say.

Pew also emphasizes that while many people (46 million) do not claim to belong to a religious group, they still are religious or spiritual in some respects, Ravitz reports.

But as Downey suggests, young adults can become exposed to new religious ideas as well as secular viewpoints while surfing the Internet.

Bianca Bosker at the Huffington Post says Aubert L’Espérance, of Quebec, knew next to nothing about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until he began trolling church missionaries on the "Chat with a Mormon" website. He was later baptized.

Bosker says the Internet has revolutionized the way the LDS Church spreads its message. "The Mormon church is doing for religion what Amazon did for stuff: embracing the web to make shopping for a new faith easy, convenient and accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Bosker wrote.

KPolatis@deseretnews.com

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