A study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion found that those who spend more time surfing the web are less likely to be religiously affiliated, suggesting the proliferation of the internet could be a factor in fewer Americans claiming religious affiliation.
The study examined data collected during the third wave of the Baylor Religion Survey. The national survey of 1,714 U.S. adults asked respondents about their internet use and religious life, among other things.
[Study author Paul K. McClure of Baylor University] found that increased internet use was associated with a decreased likelihood of being religiously affiliated and religiously exclusive. However, increased internet use was not associated with decreased participation in religious activities.
McClure also found that people who spend more time online are less likely to believe that any one religion has cornered the market on truth.
“To make sense of these findings, I argue that internet use encourages a certain ‘tinkering’ posture which makes individuals feel that they’re no longer beholden to institutions or religious dogma.”
Interestingly, watching TV did not correlate with likelihood of religious affiliation but showed negative correlation with religious participation: the more television people watch, the less likely they are to engage in church activities. Internet usage did not show such a correlation.
“My hope is that my article helps us begin to think about how technology changes us,” McClure added. “We normally think of what we can do with technology to improve our lives, which is fine and all, but I hope to show that the internet can also work in the background and subtly influence how we see the world and understand religion.”