The Internet began as the ARPANET during the cold war in 1969. It was developed by the US Department of Defense’s (DOD) research people in conjunction with a number of military contractors and universities to explore the possibility of a communication network that could survive a nuclear attack. It continued simply because the DOD, it’s contractors, and the universities found that it provided a very convenient way to communicate. In 1990, HTML, a hypertext Internet protocol which could communicate the graphic information on the Internet, was introduced. Each individual could create graphic pages (a Web site), which then became part of a huge, virtual hypertext network called the World Wide Web (WWW). The enhanced Internet was informally renamed the Web and a huge additional audience was created (Wendell 1997).
With this audience came new ideas and concepts on just about any topic. One such topic was religion. Religion is a system of symbols that acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in people (Angrosino). The blending of the WWW and religion has created an explosion of information for all beliefs. This information explosion has been blamed for causing religion splint offs (Wright).
The WWW should not be blamed for starting all-modern splint offs, but should be also commended for providing extensive religious information sites. For instance www.religion-online.org was developed to provide an extensive library of hundreds of entries, presenting many different points of view, but all written from the perspective of sound scholars (Fore 1999). This web site lets professors and the general public learn about any religion. The quest for knowledge is universal and this web site fulfills that quest.
Most sites that solely provide information are not to blame for these so-called religion splint offs. Since January 1, 1999 more than 30,000 visitors from 76 countries have downloaded more than 100,000 documents from www.religion-online.org, including inquiries from more than 400 colleges, universities and schools of theology (Fore 1999). I do not believe that visitors to this site leave with a sense of confusion, therefore causing splint offs.
However, there are web sites that could provoke a believer to question their religion and in turn cause a splint off. One web site is www.lostinthecosmos.com. This site considers the traditional and non-traditional proofs for the existence of God. Visitors can explore the different theories and even take a quiz. While this web site may give visitors a wealth of information, the way it is structured could cause a splint off.
The WWW also can bring different religious beliefs together. Interfaith Voices for Peace and Justice is a communications network and database for North American faith-based groups working for the betterment of society. Their system provides a variety of ways that representatives from belief groups can interact with one another in the search for a common peace and justice agenda. They believe that the fundamental principles of most religions have much in common, and that these principles can provide a foundation for enlightened social action (Weber and Schuman, online source). This site does not question religion nor does it provide a vast collection of information. However, it does compare different religions to where there can share a common bond.
I do not believe that a spilt off would occur just because the general public read some information on a web site. Yet, if that web site questions the religion or religions then there is a chance a spilt off could occur. Each individual has to think for themselves. They have to decide if what they are reading is fact and if the source of the web site is unbiased. Without these two factors the WWW could produce significant splint offs.