Is the Internet Creating a ‘New Kind of Religion’?

Is the Internet Creating a 'New Kind of Religion'

“It just doesn’t sit right with me,” begins a TikTok by a user named Evelyn Juarez.

This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

It’s a breakdown of the tragedy at Astroworld, the Travis Scott concert in early November where eight people died and more than 300 were injured.

But the video isn’t about what actually happened there. It’s about the supposed satanic symbolism of the set.

Welcome to the confusing and dangerous world of when the internet and the sacred meet.

Juarez, a 25-year-old in Dallas, is a typical TikToker. Many of her videos reveal an interest in true crime and conspiracy theories – the Gabby Petito case, for instance, or Lil Nas X’s “devil shoes,” or the theory that multiple world governments are hiding information about Antarctica. One of her videos from November suggests a survey sent to Texas residents about the use of electricity for critical health care could signify that “something is coming and [the state government] knows it.”

“Her beliefs are reminiscent of many others on the internet, people who speak of ‘bad vibes,’ demonic spirits, or a cosmic calamity looming just over the horizon, one that the government may be trying to keep secret,” reports “Juarez tells me she was raised Christian, although at age 19 she began to have a more personal relationship with God outside of organized religion.”

She identifies now as more spiritual like many young people. Some identify as “prophets” or “shamans.” They believe in cafeteria-style religion – picking and choosing what they believe. They believe in keeping, above all, keeping an open mind.

Is this a new kind of religion being created?

Joseph Russo, a professor of anthropology at Wesleyan University, said, “I think it already has.”

Everyone has one – on the internet, it seems.

Remember, 2020 was the first year in which a majority of Americans said they did not belong to a church, synagogue or mosque. Until the turn of the 21st century, about 70 percent did.

But perhaps “none of the above” religion doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

“The religion of the internet posits questions like, ‘what’s the harm in believing?’ and ‘why shouldn’t I be prepared for the worst?’” Vox reports. “The deeper you go, the harder those questions are to answer.”

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“It was the idea that you could perfect yourself, your health, and your circumstances,” explains Mary Wrenn, an economics professor at the University of the West of England Bristol who studies neoliberalism and religion. This eventually culminated in the prosperity gospel, known best for its charismatic leaders preaching financial wealth and the widespread practice of manifesting, or the idea that in order to make positive things happen in your life, all you have to do is pretend as though they already are. “It’s during periods of economic crisis that we really see it start to flourish,” says Wrenn. Because many of the churches where it’s preached can be attended virtually, the message travels much further. “It’s a lot easier to have believers when you don’t have to physically be in a church. The portability of the message is what makes people believers in the prosperity gospel even when they’re not necessarily regular churchgoers.”

Russo, the anthropology professor, notes that as social media have become the dominant cultural force in our society, ideologies are spreading between people who may have vastly different beliefs and backgrounds, but who show up on each other’s feeds and relate in new ways.

“It’s a mishmash of different Christian and non-Western beliefs and aesthetics, but this stuff – good and evil, prosperity – are present in all religious systems worldwide, and always have been,” he says. “Even our most fervent atheists or agnostics are still interested in morality. It’s the same idea, different packaging.”

These binaries espoused by internet spirituality – good and evil, demonic and angelic, abundance and poverty – are reinforced everywhere in culture, and not only in the context of religion.

“‘The demonic’ is one of those very superficial distinctions that really has a lot to do with, ‘who’s your customer?” asks Russo. ‘Who are you trying to frighten?’ It can stand in the kind of generalized force of evil in a very effective way, regardless of what the specifics are. It works on people not necessarily because they’ve read the Bible, but because they watch Harry Potter or read Tolkien or play Dungeons and Dragons.”

Juarez, the popular TikToker, joined the platform during difficult period in early 2019. She was forced to drop out of college, then began suffering from depression. After that, her husband was in a bad car accident.

“I needed somebody to vent to,” she says. Though she was raised in a religious household, her beliefs differ from her parents in that she feels less connected to the ideas taught by the church, and more to Jesus himself. “I’ve noticed a lot of the younger generation looking for God in a different way,” she says, “They move away from their religious background and have an actual relationship with God.”

Abbie Richards is a 25-year-old disinformation researcher who creates TikToks about how conspiracy theories spread online and who regularly works with scholars to debunk and contextualize harmful myths. She’s watched how chaotic current events – the Astroworld tragedy, Covid-19, the confusing, broken job market – have driven louder conversations around spirituality from TikTokers, no matter where they fall on the ideological or political spectrum.

“There’s a collective sense that the world is ending, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s the rapture, the return of Jesus, wealth inequality, Satanic worship, or whether people’s ‘vibrations are too low,’” she says. “It’s the only nonpartisan issue.”

When enormous swaths of people feel as though they have no power against evildoing, she argues, they tend to opt into narratives that provide a simple answer as to why the world is so terrifying.

“With the case of Astroworld, the [organizers] didn’t do their due diligence, and they prioritized profit over the health and safety of humans. And that is a lonelier, grimmer thought to sit with than Travis Scott being a demonic villain,” she says. It also lets us off the hook. “I totally empathize with why you would want to believe that you can fix capitalism by just wishing for money. That’s so much easier than trying to implement taxes for the rich.”

In June, a TikToker named William Knight posted a video of himself staring intensely into the camera.

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“There is no such thing as a coincidence,” he says. “The fact that you’re watching this video means that you are energetically aligned with me and this message.”

The bizarre video, which claimed that simply by stumbling upon the video means that you unconsciously manifested the desire to see it, quickly became the butt of a joke, but Richards says she sees this kind of content go viral all the time.

“They’re using the algorithm as evidence that the universe is ‘working,’ but it’s like, no, that’s ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company). (These creators) game the algorithm and call it destiny.”

When stewarded by humans, as the internet is, it’s subject to human impulses.

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“Religions need scapegoats in order to make distinctions between what’s good and bad,” Russo says. “This utopian idea of a new techno internet religion free of hatred won’t work without someone eventually saying, ‘I’m actually in charge of this.’ These kinds of conflicts emerge just by being with people and having to get along in life. We find ways of resolving, and sometimes they’re violent. But in this virtual world where maybe this church is forming, it’s not so easy to know how or when or why things are happening. There’s an irony because people are trying to establish order – this is what you can say, this is what you can’t say – but there are so many sub-factions and so many voices in the void.”

Although it’s perfectly reasonable to view the current state of the world and say it looks like it’s coming to a rather abrupt end, that total destruction is imminent whether it comes in five years or 500, many still cling to the idea that “good,” whatever your idea of it, will prevail.

“I don’t know that we’ve escaped the religious or sacred model of how to make sense of the world,” says Russo. “The irony is that you have it being espoused by people who are anti-religious.”

Juarez says: “I believe there’s good and evil. If someone is hurting and as a human being you don’t take action, that means you lack empathy and that doesn’t come from a good place. That, to me, is demonic.”

  1. OK, this aricle makes sense right up until they try to drag in the “so-called” prosperity gospel.
    FIRST, let me assure you I am well aware of the cons who use the portions of the Word of GOD to dupe folks out of money. They are real, and generally, they do not have very large ministries.
    But what makes this article so VERY dishonest is that it pretends there is no message of prosperity in GOD’s word.
    I am not going to list all of the huge list of promises from GOD about the blessing HE offers us HERE *before Heaven*. If you don’t know them I suggest you look them up. There are a lot. They are unambiguous, Either GOD meant what HE said of we are all fools to believe ANYTHING HE said.
    Those who dispute this tends to be the same folks who dispute miracles are for today.
    AND AGAIN, have you carefully read the word for yourself? Or have you let someone convince you JESUS didn’t really mean what HE said? If you, personally, do not know of any miracles then you should get your lazy, too contented, self-righteous butt up and into a church where they happen. (No I don’t mean glitter falling on people!)
    GOD did NOT tell us that we could all be rich. GOD did not tell us we would never get sick. GOD did not tell us we could have anything we want. Any preacher who says GOD did say those things to a con. Any preacher who claims GOD will not answer prayer today, or that GOD doesn’t heal today, or that GOD will not ever give you things you ask for – today, is a much worse kind of con.
    Any church that puts ANY tradition above precisely what GOD says in HIS word is a cult.
    Any “Christian” that tells you the all people are GOD’s children, or that you can have your own opinion on homosexuality, etc is probably not a Christian.
    I have runb into MANY people, ministers, and even cult fighters, who have accused Copeland, Meyers etc of heresy. But when I press them for serious errors on video or recording they NEVER EVER can produce them. They have lists of phrases and things in quotes but they can never show me real proof that those people are saying what they are accused of saying.
    You know what I think when I cath one side spreading lies to accuse another. I ask myself:
    Who is the accuser of the brethren? (satan)
    How does the accuser work? (mostly through those not sold out to GOD)
    Would honest GOD fearing people make accusations without REAL proof?
    What does GOD’s word tell us when it comes to bringing accusations against a brother to sister?
    Are these accusers obeying GOD’s word by doing it as HE commands?

    You see boys and girls, things get very simple and easy to understand when we all hold ourselves to the same immutable truth of GOD’s word.
    GOD gives us all free will. We can go kill someone if we like. We can spread lies about ministries that have led MILLIONS to salvation and given away hundreds of millions to build wells, schools etc, in third world nations, ministries that have given away countless airplanes and geeps to missionaries. But you have to ask yourself, “WHY?” RIGHT? I mean why, indeed, would these many ministries do such selfless acts? Why do many of them (like the 700 Club) keep their financial books open to the public?
    Can you name even ONE of the “approved” denominations that do any of this?
    No matter how mad this makes any of you there is something you will have to face now or later.
    When I say “have to face” I mean exactly that; you will find no way out of this.
    Is there a GOD? (YES)
    Does HE love us? (YES)
    IS HE all-powerful? (YES)
    Could HE really love us if HE didn’t give us free will? (NO)
    If HE loves us would HE lie to us? (NO)
    (If you gave a different answer to any of the above then just stop now. This isn’t for you.)

    HE left us HIS word and in it HE tells us that we should believe HIS word and all it says.
    If an all-powerful GOD can not keep one book the way HE wants it for HIS children…
    THEN how in the world can HE save any of us?

    HE tells us to “prove” HIM.
    He tells us in more than one place to “ask and keep on asking – without ever stopping our asking”
    (it’s in the Greek Continuous Present Tense) And seek cont’ and knock continuously.

    And why do the accusers of the brethren seem to want to attack those who are clearly getting results from their seeking GOD?

    JESUS warns MANY times about Hell and judgment.
    HE told us that when each of us meets the FATHER, the FATHER will say
    to “MANY (most?) —>>>”GO AWAY FROM ME, I NEVER KNEW YOU!”

    JESUS warns that many of them will claim to be Christians….
    Will the proof they offer be that they steadfastly refused to believe HIS word?
    That they attacked (in HIS name) those who were saving souls all over the world?

    GOD warns us in no uncertain terms we are to judge with righteous judgment.
    If you think Copeland et al, are cons then get on youtube and listen to them for hours. And if you have a problem, then compare what they say to GOD’s word. Not the opinion of some pseudo-intellectual professional Bible critic. If you have been watching for the last 4 decades then you know science and archeology have proved those fools wrong hundreds of times. Go to the Word. Look the words up in a concordance. Read something other than the VERY flawed KJV. And above all ASK-SEEK-KNOCK before GOD for revelation.
    When saved out of atheism as an adult I spent TWO YEARS trying to disprove GOD’s word. I read all of the books claiming it was full of contradictions and flaws, then I read the expert Bible scholars who explained those problems THEN I read the Heb and Greek etc to see if the experts had been honest. They had.

    What possible reason could anyone have for following CHRIST if HIS word can not be trusted?
    It is literally insane. It’s OK to not be sure…but then you go get busy and prove GOD, find out if HE told the truth. That is on you!
    But what is MUCH more insane, is to believe anyone who claims to be a Christian but does not believe GOD’s word.

    I have a life filled with miracles now. Not nearly as many as I would like (LOL), but as many as I need.
    I have the wife GOD picked for me that I would NEVER EVER have even dated. I have four brilliant GOD-fearing kids though they all got through birth control. They have never left GOD as HE promised they would not *IF* we raised them HIS way. Two of them have the mates GOD sent to them. The other two wait upon GOD trusting HIM and HIS timing. (want to see them? (
    GOD bless you all.

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