Doug Saunders has a piece on the IHEU’s report on discrimination against unbelievers.

I’ll call out one bit:
… the report, titled “Freedom of Thought 2012: A Global Report on Discrimination Against Humanists, Atheists and the Nonreligious,” notes that the majority of criminal charges for blasphemy around the world in 2012 involved “social media or other user-generated content platforms like YouTube.” This year has seen more than a dozen blasphemy prosecutions for social-media statements, up from only three over the previous five years.

My take on this is roughly as follows:

Religions are not universally believed, certainly not of late, and quite probably never were. They function to varying degrees—-and certainly, recently, at least, to a very high degree—through the suppression of the expression of unbelief—convincing those who disbelieve to remain silent, convincing others to silence them actively, if they won’t do it themselves, and, of course, attempting to convince those who don’t believe, that, simply put, they should talk themselves into it, primarily through rather heavy handed social pressure. A great deal of the human footprint of religion is in this effort, and this is much of the misery religions generate.

I’ll add: this is a practical necessity, now. Religions are not, by and large, intellectually defensible positions. You can’t really reason someone into following one without the weight of social sanction, so this is a primary lever for protecting them. Religions don’t generally say: believe because our cosmology makes sense. What they’re mostly saying is: believe—or at least do not express your disbelief publicly—because if you openly call our claims the nonsense they so clearly are, we’ll attempt to isolate you, and make your life properly miserable.

The rapid growth and proliferation of digital networks and social media, however created new virtual communities religions had not, as yet, learned rigorously to police. The techniques they have evolved and used for centuries to suppress disbelief—various methods of shunning, ostracism, marginalization, and so on—were not as yet directed to this space.

And thus in this space, unbelief had begun to flourish. People suppressed everywhere else began to hope: here, I can say what I believe, say what I think, call out this nonsense for what it is. I may be forced to be a liar everywhere else by the constant drumbeat of demands I silence myself or pass for a believer—at work, at home—but here I can say what I think.

What you’re seeing now is, in part, the ‘civilizing’ of this space by religions: the techniques will be brought to bear online, too, to again attempt to silence such dissent. They will attempt to make it impossible to call prophets the shameless cons they’ve always been. Lacking arguments for their various dogmas, they’ll go back to their old standards to attempt to enforce conformity: the bludgeon where they can get away with it, as heavy handed social pressures as they can manage where they can’t.

It’s also, in fairness, I’d expect, part and parcel of and an unlooked-for side effect of the growth and relative maturity of the space: as it becomes more and more integral to the ‘real’ world, the notion of a separate ‘virtual/online’ world will begin to make less sense. Our digital footprints will be more intimately associated with the rest of our lives, more a part of us. So the same social mechanisms that had silenced unbelief all through history will start to be felt more keenly online, as well.

My hope is: they’ll still work less well there. The space itself, is different. The nature of the media does influence what messages survive.

Either way, I expect it’s going to be a very interesting decade.