The Importance of the Internet to Christianity

by Gregory Rickmar

In 1970, the Nobel Prize awards committee chose to present the Nobel Prize in Literature to the famed Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The awards committee chose Mr. Solzhenitsyn "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature." Mr. Solzhenitysn sadly declined, however, to travel to Sweden to accept the prize in person. He feared that the Soviet government would not allow him to re-enter the Soviet Union upon his return if he left the country.

Because Mr. Solzhenitsyn was not able to attend the awards ceremony, the Swedish biochemist Dr. Arne Tiselius spoke in his place. Dr. Tiselius was a professor at Uppsala University, a member of the prestigious Romanian Academy, and himself a Nobel Laureate – the winner of the 1948 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research in serum proteins.

In his prepared tribute to Mr. Solzhenitsyn at the awards ceremony, Dr. Tiselius spoke on what he called the "pollution of the intellect." He complained, in much the same way that Mr. Solzhenitsyn might have, that "truth was no longer fashionable" and that "words no longer mean what they used to mean. They have been manipulated in order to indoctrinate people and give power to the already powerful mass media."

Professor Tiselius was considered a celebrity in Sweden, and one would have expected the Swedish press to report on his remarks. Instead, there was virtual silence. The Swedish press accounts of the Nobel Prize awards ceremony reported at length on the other speeches presented there, but made little mention of the speech by the well-known Swedish professor and Nobel Laureate.

The mass media has long enjoyed a monopoly in the production and distribution of news. By selectively reporting, or failing to report on public events, the leaders of the media have, at times, influenced public opinion, and, in turn, influenced public policy.

The late Christian intellectual Dr. Francis Schaeffer showed us how the mass media influences public opinion – and how it influences what each of us believes. In his 1976 book How Should We Then Live?, Dr. Schaeffer observed that certain newspapers, wire services and news broadcasts have the ability to generate news. The stories they report on are considered "news" and other stories that they do not report on get "lost."

These news makers not only decide what is newsworthy, but they also put their own "spin" on the stories that do get reported. Sometimes this is done in the first sentence of a report which sets the tone for the entire article. Sometimes it is done by carefully selecting the words chosen to be included in a story. The Swedish press, for example, has been blamed for the rapid shift in Swedish public opinion regarding working wives by its almost overnight change in the words it used to describe women.

For many years, the word that Swedes customarily used for a housewife was husmor, an ancient and honorable term. By the late 1960s, the Swedish press discontinued its use of that word and replaced it with hemmafru, which literally means, "the-wife-who-stays-at-home." By the end of that decade, it became difficult in ordinary conversation to speak of the state of housewives without appearing to condemn or sneer. Soon, women who had previously been satisfied to stay at home began to feel the pressure to go to work.

We are seeing this type of word manipulation in our own time. Those who support the murder of unborn children are called "pro-choice," while those who seek to protect innocent infant human life are called "anti-abortion." Homosexuals are no longer called homosexuals, but are now called "gays."

The ways in which the mass media influences our thinking are pervasive and are not always obvious. This is the type of public manipulation by the mass media that Dr. Tiselius – and Mr. Solzhenitsyn – spoke against.

The mass media will probably always be with us, but its ability to steer public opinion has been severely weakened. This is because the mass media no longer enjoys a monopoly on what information reaches the public. God, in His providence, has provided a way to break the hold that the elites have had on influencing public opinion. And that is the Internet.

The mass media’s monopoly on influencing public opinion has disappeared because of the relative costs of the mass media compared to the Internet. Any individual – or group – that wishes to start a newspaper, print magazine, or radio or television station must first raise a large sum of money – often in the millions of dollars. And if that individual or group wants to go into radio or television broadcasting, they must also meet governmental requirements for licensure.

The Internet is different. The cost of starting up e-mail discussion groups and setting up sites on the World Wide Web is minimal. And once a discussion group or Web site is "on line," anyone with Internet access, anywhere in the world, can access it. Individuals – even grade school children – are setting up their own Web sites. These sites, like all others, are indexed by the various Web search engines that people go to in order to find information on the Web.

Almost anyone can now afford to provide news and information to others around the earth, because of the Internet’s low cost.

This characteristic of the Internet will encourage the proliferation of new news services and electronic magazines. Because the costs of distributing information over the Internet are much less than by the airwaves and the printed page, new small and specialized press services and magazines will emerge. They will distribute their journalistic products using methods such as e-mail subscriptions and Web sites.

And people are taking advantage of these features of the Internet. The number of people with Internet access is climbing rapidly. Many Internet users devote one or more hours every day to Internet use.

The Internet has done more than merely break the mass media’s monopoly on distribution of news and entertainment. It has also broken the media’s ability to decide which stories are newsworthy.

A large volume of information is generated and distributed every day on the Internet. Sometimes, this information is generated and distributed from the Web sites of groups and individuals. Much of this news, however, appears and is distributed on the various newsgroup and e-mail conferences on the Internet. E-mail discussion groups on foreign affairs, for example, are excellent sources of information on what is occurring overseas. And Christian discussion groups often carry reports from distant mission fields and news from the churches.

Because of the wider selection of available news sources, the public now has a greater voice than every before in deciding which stories are considered newsworthy. These features of the Internet allow individuals to select what type of news and information they want. Then they can shop around and select the news providers they prefer. News providers that do not provide the type of reporting that people want will lose business to their competitors.

And the public is free to use the words they want to use to describe and discuss current issues. The public no longer needs to obtain its news from organizations that manipulate vocabulary in order to manipulate public opinion.

We have seen in other essays how the Internet can be used to distribute Reformed literature and how the Internet can assist Christian education. International borders no longer need prevent the spread of Christian literature and educational material. Nor can international borders interfere with fellowship and communication between Christians of different nations. This new technology also allows Christians everywhere to communicate with each other, learn from each other, and thus strengthen believers everywhere.

The Internet is now our primary marketplace for ideas. News announcements and debates that generations ago took place on the village commons are now taking place on the Internet. Because of this new technology, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the enemies of the Christian gospel to stop or limit the spread of the Christian message.

Jesus Christ gave us a mission to make disciples of all nations. This has often been difficult because of the influences that certain educational and media elites have exerted. Their hold is now weakening.

God has given us this tool for His work. Let’s use it.