Last year my work took me to the Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA). Back in the 1960s it was known as the Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) when they funded research into packet switching, and then created the ARPANET to let high speed computers at DoD research facilities talk to each other. Today this network is known as the Internet.
There have been a few inventions that have stood out as changing the world, impacting large groups of people, and at times changing the course of history. We tend to think of the automobile, the steam engine, and airplanes as world changing. But most agree the two most revolutionary and important inventions of their times have been the printing press, and the internet. These two inventions, from two completely different time periods, have had a huge impact on the world in the areas of education, religion, history, and communication.
Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450 was, without a doubt, a world changing discovery. Its impact to religion is vast. The first thing Gutenberg published was the bible. In the years that came, the bible went from a special book that only Catholic Clergy had (in Latin) to a book everybody could have in their own homes, written in the common language they spoke. The Reformation and Martin Luther have their roots in the printing press.
How has the internet affected religion, and more specifically the Mormon church? The biggest change the internet has brought to the church is the vast amount of information on history that is available in any household. You don’t need to subscribe to scholarly journals to have more information at your fingertips than is in the entire granite vaults of the church.
The church, like everything else, was behind on this revolutionary trend. In 2007 YouTube was banned at BYU, and was filtered out from their servers. Today you can actually watch General Conference on YouTube. You can pay tithing via the internet. With the pandemic, church in many parts of the world is conduced purely via the internet. What a blessing that the Lord influenced Al Gore to fund and promote the internet!
There is also a downside for the church. After the missionaries teach a first discussion, the investigators can google the Mormon church, and if they get past the first page of advertisements and SEO induced links, (paid for with tithing dollars) they will find out everything they every wanted to know about the church, and everything the church didn’t want them to know. Is it a coincidence that the places that the church is growing fastest (Africa) have the lowest internet connectivity rates?
If you want to learn about different versions of the First Vision, you don’t need to buy a book from the Tanners, but just goggle it. Did somebody (maybe Joseph Fielding Smith?) try to hide an early version (1832) of the first vision by cutting out the pages and putting them in a safe? You don’t need to take anybody’s word for it. With the internet, you can actually see the cut marks in the original document where the excised pages were glued back in thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project.
Do you think the internet is a net gain or loss for the Church? Do they gain more by being able to spread God’s word of the One True Church world wide, much like the printing of the Bible did in the 1500s? Or is it a loss for the church, with people leaving the church (or not getting baptized in the first place) when they read things on the internet that they never learned in church?