Is the Internet bringing about the end of organized religion?

Finding a way outNo, the Internet will not bring about the end of organized religion. But it is making it much easier to leave.

There is a thoughtful article at AlterNet by Valerie Tarico entitled “Does the Internet Spell the Doom of Organized Religion?“. In the article, Tarico argues that “the biggest threat that organized religion has ever faced [is] the internet.”

Here is a summary of the argument:

  • “A traditional religion, one built on “right belief,” requires a closed information system.” The internet opens the user to all sorts of ‘unapproved’ information. This is absolutely the case. No longer are churches and church-affiliated colleges the storehouses of knowledge and information. Today, it all lives on a collective web of resources not controlled by the church or any organized religious entity.
  • Christian opposition to science is not just about attempting to suppress facts and information that expose and disprove false religious claims, but, “They see in science not only a critic of their outdated theories but a competitor for their very best product, a sense of transcendent exuberance.” That is, it is the emotional connection that many science educators are now able to employ on the Internet that is truly challenging the church. It is not just the facts (for we have known these for years), but it is the successful packaging of these facts into digestible, entertaining, relevant, artistic, and even wonder-invoking, emotional videos and summaries (in a manner similar to what  religion has done for years), that is truly challenging the church.
  • Quick and convenient side-by-side comparisons (we call them “synoptic” in biblical studies) of various religious claims, especially of the absurd and sensational, allow Internet users to quickly compare ridiculous religious claims with similar ones that the user might personally hold. The user can the quickly recognize the similarity and logical association between the absurd and the previously held claims, and then dismiss them both as irrational. This is a by-product of the Internet’s ability to disseminate information and of the scientific community’s recognition (finally!) that is important to communicate the relevance of new (and old) discoveries to the public, as well as the information.
  • The internet exposes the “Kinky, Exploitative, Oppressive, Opportunistic and Violent Sides of Religion”. This is a two-fold problem for organized religions. On the one hand, problems with appalling religious faith claims (like God commanding genocide, ordaining slavery, etc.) can be highlighted on the Internet (when they are often ignored or conveniently overlooked in Sunday School). But a second problem is the exposure of problems with the clergy, who suddenly find their financial and sexual misdeeds exposed everywhere on the internet. Simply put, it’s harder to cover up crimes committed by churches and its leaders that it was before the Internet.
  • The internet has created a community of like-minded folks who are easy to find, which provides a safe place to land for people coming out of organized religion. One of the most appealing aspects of religion is a built-in community of like-minded people who often support each other in times of struggle and provide an identity to the believer within a community. Before the Internet, it was difficult to find or create a similar community outside of one’s local religious community. However, the Internet has provided such a place, where those leaving a community of faith can instantly discover a large and very diverse community of rationalists and “non-believers” committed to the same ideals of morality and justice to which former believers are accustomed, but that are not rooted in theistic claims. The Internet provides a new community of friends, even in small towns dominated by members of a singular faith community that have ostracized the recently departed.
  • Interfaith communities and groups exploring spirituality that exist outside of dogmatic organized religious institutions can be found on the Internet, which allows those departing organized religions either to depart gradually from the faith, or, to remain at a level of belief and spirituality with which they are comfortable without the constant corrective pressures of unprovable doctrines and dogmas.

The article overlooks (or perhaps takes for granted), one of the most powerful things the Internet does, which also happens to be its simplest and most original feature: hyperlinks. In its infancy, the Internet was a way to link one document to another. No more having to go “look it up”. No more having to take the author’s word for it. Instant verification is now possible with links (and with a ton of cataloging help from Google :). Any claim can be almost instantly checked, challenged, or verified. This ultimately does away with the need for a single authority (like a parent or a priest), but instead allows the user to judge a claim based upon both an evaluation of the evidence itself and comments about the credibility of the evidence and the arguments from a whole collective of experts and authorities, all contributing to the evaluation of particular claims.

Note that this is different from a simple democratic vote on ‘truth’ – an accusation that opponents of sites like Wikipedia often use to characterize the site incorrectly. On the Internet like in scholarship, not all links and commentators are weighted the same. Links into a page from established news sources and scientific journals are counted as being worth more than a self-published LiveJournal page touting the alien origin of the pyramids. Credible sources are weighed more than self-published material. This is how Wikipedia works. It’s also how Google’s search algorithms work: placement in Google’s search results is the product of the number of visits to a particular site, the number of links to the site, and the credibility of the links linking to the site as calculated by still other algorithms evaluating the credibility of the other sites linking into the site.

Oh, and of course, cash spent on bumping certain websites to the top of Google searches as “advertisements”. Note, for instance that a simple search for “science and religion” on YouTube (acquired by Google in 2006) elevates and highlights “Scientology” and “Baha’i Faith” videos to the top. These are paid ads, which is ironic, in that it is now organized religion that is paying top dollar to have its message artificially promoted (since it is having less success threatening, ostracizing, and killing “heretics” to keep its message on top).

Personally, I don’t think the Internet will spell the end of organized religion, or of disorganized religion for that matter. What it will do, however, is hasten the dissemination of information, both credible and non-credible, and will allow users to begin to accumulate claims and information from sources other than parents, close friends, and clergy. There will always be fringe groups, hate groups, believers in aliens, and conspiracy theorists, and the internet will, in fact, lend them additional undue exposure as well. Likewise, just because information is more readily available to a greater number of people does not ensure that users will know how to use this newly found, often unvetted information, which many readers do not (and often cannot) confirm as credible.

(This, btw, is why accreditation and credible schools and scholars still, and always will matter: accreditation and scholarship are the antidote to popular myth, hate, fear, impulse, and unsubstantiated claims, beliefs, and ideologies. Methodologically sound and objective research (as opposed to personal revelation and unverifiable, or worse yet, easily disproved claims) is the best means by which to discover and evaluate knowledge and information. This is the realm of the academy, and it is increasingly relevant and necessary. And yes, THIS is why tenure matters!)

Ultimately, I’d argue that the Internet makes information that used to be available only in the elite classrooms of the world now available to the public.

Or perhaps better said: the Internet is the closed course that we wish we could take, that suddenly got moved to a larger room.

eBook ‘Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication & Collaboration’ now available

Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication & Collaboration, ed. by Eric C. Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Ethan Watrall

Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication & Collaboration, ed. by Eric C. Kansa, Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Ethan Watrall

There is a new digitally-published (like!) book available at the University of California’s eScholarship repository entitled, Archaeology 2.0: New Approaches to Communication and Collaboration. The book is edited by Cal Berkeley’s Eric C. Kansa, the Alexandria Archive Institute’s Sarah Whitcher Kansa, and Michigan State’s Ethan Watrall.

The volume explores the social use and context of the Web within the discipline of archaeology, and it is the first book in the UCLA Cotsen Institute’s new Digital Archaeology Series. A printed version of the book will be available shortly (hopefully in time to be on display at the ASOR conference!).

You can read more about the book at the Heritage Bytes Open Context blog.

Go ye therefore and read for free!

(And congratulations to the editors on the new volume!)

a theory regarding anonymity on the internet

i have stumbled across a new, scientific theory that i believe best explains what anonymity does to people on the internet.
internet anonymity theory

you are free to plug in the name of your favorite abuser of anonymity and crunch the numbers because the theory accounts for a diversity of subjects. john gabriel’s ‘greater internet dickwad’ (gid) theory best explains what happens when you give a fool a mask and a microphone. of course, the theory may need slight augmentation to account for extreme cases that end up in jail, but this general theory appears viable.

(ht: the gothamist)

daily bruin: tech-savvy professors take to tweeting

Dr. Robert R. Cargill's Jerusalem Course Twitter Page

Dr. Robert R. Cargill's Jerusalem Course Twitter Page

Flavia Casas has authored an article in UCLA’s Daily Bruin entitled, Tech-savvy professors take to tweeting.” In the article, the author highlights professors who have developed ways to incorporate and utilize social networking technologies into their classroom instruction. The article begins:

Logging onto Facebook, Twitter and Blogspot are all part of a hard day’s work for Professor Robert R. Cargill.

At any given time, Cargill may be uploading lecture notes, links to articles, or posting last-minute announcements on the Twitter account he created specifically for his UCLA course on Jerusalem.

Cargill is one of a few UCLA professors who have taken the uncommon step of integrating Twitter and other social media websites into their courses.

“The idea for me is to go to where the students are,” Cargill said. “If I’m truly interested in teaching students, I’ll meet them halfway.”

Part of my job as Instructional Technology Coordinator at UCLA is to assist university instructors with incorporating new technologies into their courses. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, YouTube, iTunes U, and UCLA’s CCLE/Moodle online learning management system have provided my students with up-to-date resources and notifications regarding my Jerusalem, the Holy City course. Perhaps the best part is that it’s all automated: an update to the blog automatically updates my Twitter page, which in turn updates my course Facebook page. Students are therefore provided with class updates in the places they already are, and what looks like a lot of work is actually quite simple.

If you’d like to learn more about incorporating social networking into your classroom instruction, please feel free to contact me at cargill(at)humnet(dot)ucla(dot)edu.

jewish journal puts face on victims of anonymous crime

Archaeologist Robert Cargill examines a full-scale facsimile of the 2000-year-old-plus Isaiah Scroll at Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book. Photo by CTVC Ltd

Archaeologist Robert Cargill examines a full-scale facsimile of the 2000-year-old-plus Isaiah Scroll at Jerusalem’s Shrine of the Book. Photo by CTVC Ltd

In an article entitled, “Slander, Lies and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” author Tom Tugend interviewed me attempting to put a face on the victims of anonymous crimes. It’s worth a read if you haven’t already done so.

trying to dig oneself out of a hole: raphael golb posts his appeal online

Raphael Golb is handcuffed and led from a Manhattan State Supreme courtroom in New York to prison after being sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, was convicted on 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer. Photo: Steven Hirsch

Raphael Golb is handcuffed and led from a Manhattan State Supreme courtroom in New York to prison after being sentenced to 6 months in jail and 5 years probation. Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, was convicted on 30 felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, forgery, criminal impersonation, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer. Photo: Steven Hirsch

There’s an old saying: “When you dig yourself into a hole, put down the shovel.”

Apparently, no one ever taught this to Raphael Golb, whose latest attempt to garner sympathy from the paranoid, the friendless, and those involved in similar ordeals is now available online.

And good news: this latest volley from Dr. Golb seems to be having the desired effect. For instance, the “Overturn the Wrongful Conviction of Raphael Golb” group on Facebook has seen its membership rise significantly from 15 to 16 over the past month. Given that at least one of those “members” is a marketing bot, I’d say that it won’t be long until the Raphael Golb Facebook group has as many fans as “The Great Kim Jong-Il” group (4377) or the “Sarah Palin for President 2012” group (92). Even ol’ Jimmy Barfield’s “Copper Scroll Project” has more supporters with 394.

Yes, Dr. Golb is back, and this time per the requirements of his sentencing and bail writing in his own name! Remarkably, Dr. Golb has essentially posted his conviction appeal online. I’m guessing the State of New York thanks him for the additional time to prepare its response. I mean seriously, didn’t Dr. Golb learn anything from the trial? He hung his lawyers out to dry by posting every possible angle of every possible line of their questioning online several months before the trial actually began! Every witness knew exactly what Golb’s attorneys were going to ask because the verbally-incontinent Golb had already posted it online months before. So thanks again for the advance notice.

(Unless, of course, Golb is using the same tactic he used during the trial, where he knew he would be found guilty 30 times, but decided to use the trial to attack his victims further, and decided to attempt to try his case in the blogosphere. The only problem is, I don’t think Dr. Golb’s most recent posting on the website qualifies as “protected speech.” I’m assuming he didn’t make any false claims in his indymedia post…)

For those of you who don’t want to waste the time reading Dr. Golb’s rant appeal, let me summarize it for you. I’ve listed who Raphael Golb thinks is responsible for his arrest and conviction in the table below:

People whose fault it is:

(in order of appearance)

People whose fault it is not:

  • Dead Sea scrolls “guild” or “monopoly”
  • “traditionalists”
  • “creators of museum exhibits”
  • a fake “consensus”
  • “defenders of the sectarian position”
  • “abuse of power and of financial influence” by scholars and academic institutions
  • “evangelical Christian educational institutions”
  • “orthodox Jews” who shared their basic perspective
  • Robert Cargill
  • museums
  • “religiously oriented scholars”
  • Larry Schiffman
  • NYU officials
  • Assistant District Attorney John Bandler
  • Patrick McKenna, an investigating officer assigned to the New York Country D.A.’s identity theft unit
  • New York Criminal Court Judge Carol Berkman
  • “acute stress reaction”
  • agreeing “to be interrogated without an attorney”
  • “sly” interrogation techniques
  • District Attorney Robert Morgenthau
  • New York court system and “rules”
  • jury selection process
  • failure of judge “to explain to the jurors that my case was the first of its kind”
  • prevention of Golb’s attorneys “from engaging in significant cross-examination of witnesses”
  • “Judge Berkman instructed the jury to find me guilty”
  • New York Jewish Museum
  • Salem witch trial
  • Senator Joseph McCarthy
  • Stephen Goranson
  • Duke University provost
  • UCLA faculty members
  • Risa Levitt Kohn
  • San Diego Natural History Museum
  • “coincidences” like despite claiming not to have known of “Johnathan Seidel,” a rabbi in Oregon named Jonathan Seidel coincidentally graduated from Golb’s alma mater, Oberlin College, and coincidentally was introduced to Norman Golb in England in 1986, and coincidentally discussed things over a coffee with him.
  • jurors’ sheer fatigue
  • ill equipped jurors
  • academic “gatekeepers”
  • getting “carried away in the midst of a heated campaign of criticism which I [Golb] directed against a group of scholars
  • duplicitous museum exhibits
  • NYU
  • Raphael Golb

As you can see, just like his father and his theories, Golb argues that the reason neither is accepted by the academy is not because of problems with the theory or its proponent, but because of a massive conspiracy involving just about everyone else in the field. Raphael Golb’s appeal argues that his conviction was not the result of his own illegal activities, but the result of a grand conspiracy, and everyone else is to blame.

Conspiracy theories. Blaming others. Not taking responsibility for actions. Victim mentality. It seems like it never ends…

robert cargill in ucla news week

Dr. Robert R. Cargill is interviewed for UCLA News Week about the Raphael Golb criminal case.

Dr. Robert R. Cargill is interviewed for UCLA News Week about the Raphael Golb criminal case.

I was interviewed for the UCLA News Week recently and asked to comment on the sentencing of Raphael Golb, which will take place Thursday, November 18, 2010. On September 30, 2010, the Criminal Division of the New York Supreme Court found Dr. Raphael Golb, son of University of Chicago Oriental Institute historian Dr. Norman Golb, guilty of multiple felony and misdemeanor counts of identity theft, criminal impersonation, forgery, aggravated harassment, and the unauthorized use of a computer. The charges stem from a bizarre case where Dr. Golb used an army of internet aliases to falsely charge his father’s perceived rival, NYU Judaic Studies professor Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, with plagiarism, and then criminally impersonated Dr. Schiffman by opening an email account in Schiffman’s name, emailing Schiffman’s students and colleagues, and admitting to the “plagiarism” on Schiffman’s behalf.

The UCLA News story is here. The YouTube segment is here:

hello facebook vs google. goodbye microsoft. nice try aol: the future of instructional technology

Facebook vs. GmailFacebook has taken the next step in its quest for world domination of people’s online lives. Facebook email (codenamed “Project Titan”) was introduced today:

While the new product will incorporate e-mail addresses, Zuckerberg said it will be more than just Gmail competition. It will offer three key features other e-mail services lack: seamless messaging across a variety of platforms, including SMS and texting; conversation history across those platforms; and a “social in-box,” meaning the company can filter the in-box just to include messages from friends.

Of course, the problem with email is that it’s old. Who under 30 years of age uses email anymore outside of their work-mandated email? Today, messaging is done instantaneously with text messaging, chat, and video conferencing. Email is what my generation (I’m 37) uses when communicating with those who aren’t on Facebook or don’t carry wireless devices.

Google made an earlier attempt at rethinking email with its Google Wave, on which it has stopped development. Now Facebook is giving it a try. In adding email, Facebook is essentially hedging a bet against Google, just in case email lingers for another decade. If Facebook can add email to its social networking offerings before Google can add social networking to its assortment of apps (remember Google Buzz?), then Facebook may be able to wrest away the throngs of users that are fleeing Microsoft exchange for Gmail. Add to this the impact that Apple is making on Microsoft with its Macs and the iPhone, and the transformation of modern media is complete. The biggest loser in all of this is Microsoft. (We’re not counting AOL’s “Project Phoenix” – Elvis left the building years ago.) Google docs will continue to do away with MS Office; iPhone, iTunes, and the Mac computer line will continue to erode away at the Microsoft operating systems (methinks they’re on Windows 7 now) and media players; and Facebook will continue to devour all social interaction.

We are left with a world that will use Google Android and Apple iPhones to access all communications, including the internet. (Sure, there are other phones and service providers, but how will they compete with Google Voice long term? Cable companies should be wary as well, as both Google TV and Apple TV are here.) Apple will continue to offer its Macs as a computing solution, while Google is adopting the cloud solution with its Chrome OS.  Google will continue to be the search engine of choice, and Google Docs, Earth (which should merge with Maps), and Calendar, will continue to provide the free, cloud-based apps to businesses and individuals alike, thereby continuing to vex Microsoft’s dying business model. Google Voice, an assortment of mobile voice tools superior to those of most wireless companies, will continue to erode at the very old school models of phone communications and the less antiquated, but hat-handed wireless companies by offering a free alternative to voice mail and dirt cheap long distance service. Meanwhile, Facebook (and FB apps on Droid and iPhones) will become the place for all social interactions, especially for the younger generations.

As far as higher education is concerned, the first company sync Facebook profiles with university class rosters, harness Google Docs, YouTube, and Wikipedia into a Moodle-style content management system wins. The first university to employ Facebook’s networking abilities, Google’s apps, and Wikipedia’s knowledge base with their library holdings will not only lead the way in online education for years to come, but will produce a revenue stream by exporting such a system to other universities.

If Facebook and Google have taught us anything, it is that cloud-based computing, social networking, and crowd-powered collaborative research are not only the future, they are the here and now. First one to get there wins.

in defense of the digital humanities, open courseware, and online publishing

This is one of the best cases I’ve seen for the Digital Humanities, open courseware, and online publishing. It demonstrates the need for universities, and especially tenure-granting committees to consider digital media as equally worthy of consideration during tenure reviews as scholarly articles printed on paper in peer-review journals and monographs published by traditional academic publishers. This transition should be hastened by the present scampering of traditional print publishers to establish digital publishing presences online (as I’ve mentioned here). It is also a clever demonstration of the legitimacy that advances in online education, improvements in Wikipedia contributor rules, blogging, Google scholar projects, harnessing social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, course management systems like Moodle, and new forms of 3D and hypermedia publishing have brought not only to the Digital Humanities, but to scholarship in general. Give it a view and leave comments below.

HT: Amanda Waldo

On Using Digital Course Material to Publish Textbooks

Chronicle of Higher EducationThere’s an article in the October 8, 2010 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Ed by Jeffrey R. Young entitled, “As Textbooks Go Digital, Will Professors Build Their Own Books?,” that discusses using digital courses to build textbooks.

Young states:

McGraw-Hill Higher Education plans to announce its revamped custom-publishing system, called Create, with an emphasis on electronic versions of mix-and-match books. Macmillan Publishers this year announced a similar custom-textbook platform, called DynamicBooks. And upstart Flat World Knowledge touts the customization features of its textbooks, which it gives away online, charging only for printed copies and study guides. Other publishers have long offered custom-textbook services in print as well, though they have always represented just a sliver of sales.

It is only a matter of time before someone develops a system that takes course content rich with media that many instructors have developed via PowerPoint, Google Earth, videos, sounds, and turns it into a book. The problem is, of course, that in doing so, we are actually going backward with regard to technological development. It’s the equivalent of the instructor who asks a tech in the media lab to make a 35-mm slide from a digital image, or a vinyl record from a CD. Publishing digital content in a printed, “analog” book is backward. The only problem is that many tenure-granting universities still only acknowledge print-published volumes as “legitimate,” and thumb their noses at “digital” or “online” publications.

I discussed the problem in my book:

Thus, a problem of scribal technology persists. While technology for gathering and processing information has advanced almost exponentially, the accepted means of communicating this new information is stuck in a scribal format that is literally thousands of years old: the written word. Scholars have yet to adopt alternative means by which to receive and redistribute information developed and communicated in three-dimensional format. Far too many scholars are insisting that technologically minded scholars communicate digital information by analog means. Digital journals and online publications are a step in the right direction, but even these new digital publications are made to look like the traditional written pages of journals in many instances, rather than harness and utilize the interactive connectivity and visual capabilities available on the Internet.

While the three-dimensional modeling of archaeological reconstructions is an improvement upon its hand-drawn predecessor, the full power of three-dimensional modeling cannot be realized because three-dimensional models are rendered into static illustrations of what was an otherwise dynamic environment. While three-dimensional modeling is a vast improvement over two-dimensional representations, the lack of a means by which to fully experience the three-dimensional model leaves the interactive power of the three-dimensional model untapped. In order to fully harness the power of the three-dimensional model, a virtual reality environment must be adopted. Only when an effective means of communicating three-dimensional data is accepted by the academy will the potential of this new technology be fully realized.

Cargill, Robert, Qumran through (Real) Time, (Gorgias, 2009), 69-70

This research also realizes the overt incompatibility of publishing a book involving digital reconstructions in three-dimensional space in the traditional paper and ink format. It is, of course, highly ironic that this three-dimensional research is looked down upon by many, who prefer the time-honored, traditional medium of the printed book, which cannot fully convey the technological approach described within its pages. It is as incomplete as literally trying to describe a picture with a thousand words! Thus, the present research calls on scholars, publishers, dissertation committees, and departments of archaeology, architecture, and other related programs to make themselves more accommodating to newer digital forms of publication. As the word processor has replaced the typewriter, so too will digital and three-dimensional formats soon replace analog and two-dimensional formats for publishing archaeological materials. These new digital formats should not be seen as “alternative” or lesser means of publication, but as “progressive” media that are on the cutting edge of modern archaeological research.

Cargill, Robert, Qumran through (Real) Time, (Gorgias, 2009), 217-18.

(Yes, I recognize the irony of complaining about having to publish digital media in a print-published volume from the pages of a print-published volume. ;-)

The reason faculty still publish their classroom content as print-published books (and the reason publishers still offer published books) is because the money and academic prestige still lies in the print-published textbook, not in digital, online course.

Until a solution is discovered that makes money for “publishing” the digital material online, and offers the same tenure-improving prospects of a textbook, printed books will be favored in university settings. Until then, instructors will continue to take rich instructional and research media and print it on paper for placement on bookshelves.

Print on demand is a step in the right direction, but it will only be when university administrators, deans, and department chairs (that is, tenure-granting authorities) accept digital research as equally prestigious as the traditional print-published volume, and when nominal profit is available to the instructor providing the content that we will truly see an explosion in digital course materials available online. Until then, enjoy publishing your work with that prestigious publisher charging $150 per volume for your work, that only those who visit libraries will read.


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