By Aaron Earls
New research finds most Americans see no conflict between their religious beliefs and their tech devices, but there may be some issues lurking behind the shiny screens of our smartphones.
Only 11 percent of Americans believe science and technology will make religion obsolete and even fewer (4 percent) think the internet has had a negative impact on their spiritual lives, according to new research from the Baylor Religion Survey.
We shouldn’t be worried technology will be the end of faith, says Tim Challies, because technology has been an expectation of God for humanity since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
Challies, author of The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family, and the Digital World, says the task God gave to the first couple to tend the garden required them to develop technologies, and the same is true today.
“Humans have always been responsible before God to create new technologies and master existing ones,” he says. “We simply cannot do what God created us to do without technology.”
Yet problems with technology still seem only a click away. That’s because sin corrupted our relationship with tech, explains Challies.
“Now, those same tools that could be used to do such good could also be used to commit acts of horrendous evil,” he says.
Three in 10 Americans (31 percent) say they visit pornographic websites at least once a month. Almost 1 in 4 young adults 18-24 years old (22 percent) visit at least once a day.
One in 7 Americans (14 percent) say they have been harassed or threatened online. Among 18- to 24-year-olds, that number jumps to 41 percent.
But it’s not just outward evil. Sometimes technology hinders our spiritual life or we can fail to use it in ways that could help us grow spiritually.
When Pew Research asked Americans to name the biggest improvement to life in America over the last 50 years, 42 percent—by far the biggest number—said it was related to technology.
More than 1 in 5 (22 percent) say technology will be responsible for the greatest improvements over the next 50 years, again the most popular response.
Trust in technology’s advancements and faith in its power to improve the future can quickly become idolatry. Many Americans are at least aware of potential conflicts between their faith and technology.
In the Baylor survey, almost 7 in 10 Americans (69 percent) don’t believe technology has improved their relationship with God.
That number is even higher among Christians: 83 percent of Catholics, 79 percent of mainline Protestants, 78 percent of black Protestants, and 72 percent of evangelicals.
Most Americans (55 percent) say they never use the internet to access religious or spiritual content, including a plurality of black Protestants (44 percent) and evangelicals (39 percent). Even more mainline Protestants and Catholics (60 percent) say they never get spiritual content online.
Only 10 percent of Americans say they use the internet to share their religious views at least once a week. Christians share their faith online more than the religiously unaffiliated but less than those of non-Christian religions.
Very few nones (2 percent) share their religious beliefs at least once a week online. Adherents of non-Christian religions (36 percent) are most likely.
Among Christians, evangelicals (35 percent) and black Protestants (30 percent) are the most likely to share their faith using the internet, while Catholics (17 percent) and mainline Protestants (15 percent) are less likely.
But much like Gutenberg’s printing press hundreds of years earlier, the internet and other modern technologies allow Christians to spread the gospel more quickly and more broadly than ever.
The YouVersion Bible app has been installed on smartphones more than 240 million times and provides users with the Bible translated into more than 1,000 languages. This makes the time between translation and distribution of a Bible almost nothing.
Previous generations would spend 40 years or more to create one translation, according to Bobby Gruenewald, founder of YouVersion. Today, that happens in less than 10 years.
Previously, after those translations were complete, it would be another few years before people could actually use the Bibles. “Now, the text can be published and distributed in minutes via mobile technology, like what YouVersion offers,” he says.
YouVersion is working closely with Bible translators to get Scripture to those who do not have it. “We’re committed to leveraging today’s technology and communication to quickly and seamlessly offer the Bible in each language as it becomes available,” Gruenewald says.
AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.