America is becoming less religious and it looks as though the Internet is to blame. At least it is according to computer scientist Allen Downey, who teaches at Massachusetts' Olin College of Engineering. He analyzed the disassociation with religion in America using a form of statistical modeling called logistic regression, which lets you look at multiple variables and find which ones are predictive.
What he found were notably strong associations among three factors; a drop in religious upbringing, an increase in college-level education and the increase in Internet use. In Downey's opinion, Internet usage is the strongest factor. Though MIT Technology Review says there is another possibility, of course: that a third unidentified factor causes both increased Internet use and religious disaffiliation, but Downey disagrees.
"If this third factor exists, it must have specific characteristics. It would have to be something new that was increasing in prevalence during the 1990s and 2000s, just like the Internet. 'It is hard to imagine what that factor might be,' says Downey."
Globalization has been steadily increasing throughout the 1990s and 2000s. People rarely get the chance to live in the same city as their parents when they grow up, much less the same church parish. The days are gone when your church is your community.
Downey claims that his three associations can only make up for 50 percent of the drop in religious affiliation, so he acknowledges that other reasons must exist.
"So the challenge now is, great, show me the data to prove other associations," Downey says.
We don't have that data. We do have a strong suspicion that the growing distance that "away from home" means when people move away from home in the 21st Century has a lot to do with the lack of importance place on the church in modern communities. It would be interesting to see the data on that analyzed.