I believe the internet is encroaching onto the purposes of religion in several significant ways. As for finding a community of like minded people, websites like Reddit are forming a multitude of arenas for people with shared interests in whatever field. Thanks to the internet, people are no longer forced to be corralled into a community group because of local practicality. In remote small towns, the church, mosque or what have you, used to be the only place where the community got together and talked about ideas. If you were someone who thought differently than most people in the community, the house of worship may have been a lonely and alienating place. Even in very remote communities, you can no longer be intellectually alienated in the age of the internet. You can find a group of very like minded people in practically any specified interest. Although I can obviously concede that the internet community has its drawbacks. Of course the internet cuts off a huge part of community, namely the actual physical human interaction. The internet also can be a hotbed for fostering radicalism in any kind of ideology. Since you can find such specific interest groups, it is much easier to create your own sphere of influence without any of the checks and balances of outside criticism. As a consequence you can have a type of radical ideology festering worldwide. Such is the case with many terrorism inciting, brands of Islam.
Personally I have found the internet to be an indispensable resource for finding people who are like minded as me. I have found many niches of thought that would be rare to find in real interpersonal communication. Also, I have found that the internet has created several virtual Gurus for myself. A phenomenon in many eastern religious traditions like Hinduism, a Guru is a kind teacher or guide in a Master-teacher relationship. Now through the technology of the internet, the free exchange of uncensored opinions and ideas can be broadcast through podcasts, YouTube and so on. It has allowed for eccentric and charismatic people to have to ability to be great role models for millions of people
Through the internet I have found People such as Penn Jillette, who has taught me the value of celebrating the preciousness of life as an atheist. He is an incredibly open, true to himself and honest person. Qualities I respect in people more than any others. His weekly podcast “Penn’s Sunday School” offers an hour and a half exploration of a totally free expressive mind offering his life experience, free of charge for the world to hear. He has been instrumental in being a guiding influence on my very optimistic idealistic, political and moral ideologies.
Comedian Joe Rogan is another one of these virtual role models. His podcast The Joe Rogan Experience has be an incredible guide for my Intellectual, physical, emotional and interpersonal improvement. A motivational and unconventional personality such as his offers a form of the ideal fulfilled, happy man. A stand-up comedian such as Joe, is someone who is also unashamedly himself in the ways he expresses himself online and onstage. On average he produces 2-3 shows per week and each show being around 3 hours long. It would be very difficult to produce that much conversational material without being totally true to oneself. He is someone who above all expresses unconditional love towards his family, friends and people around him. He is someone who is uncompromisingly able to pursue his passions in life with martial arts and comedy. He has the utmost respect for the physical vehicle of life, the body. He has helped me understand the incredible importance of feeding the body properly and keeping it in peak physical shape. His podcast demonstrates an insatiable hunger for knowledge. He continually has incredibly interesting, ideologically varying, intelligent guests such as Sam Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Graham Hancock on the show. Complimentary to that, he expresses total humility of knowledge to what the possibilities of what the universe can be. Without being tied to the very often compromising restraints of academia he is fearlessly able to admit his responsible exploration into the nature of consciousness through introspective meditation and mind altering substances. By no means does he unconditionally encourage their use, but can objectively realize the potential of the physical, chemical realities of consciousness, positive and negative. On my quest to find a definition of secular spirituality, I believe Joe Rogan’s personality expressed through his podcast represents an ideal model for what I am searching for.
Looking introspectively, this slightly resembles cult and religious like behaviour, but having great intellectual role models in life doesn’t mean a solid adherence to everything that person does and believes. My admiration of Joe Rogan or Penn isn't WWJD (what would Jillette or Joe do?). Their personalities act as more a guide to pursuing a happier and fulfilled life. If Muhammad, Jesus or Buddha were alive today, would it be out of the realm of possibility for them to have free life coaching podcasts? I think much stranger things have happened
One field regarding the secularization of religious functions that must be investigated further is the parallels in the stories of modern day science fiction and fantasy and the myths of ancient religion. The theory of the “Monomyth” presented by Joseph Campbell is one that is fascinating and I must do more research into it.
All and all it is looking as though the purposes of religion in western society is changing no doubt. But into what form is definitely yet to be seen. I believe I have demonstrated that those who are of an atheist mindset, it can be possible to fill the functional properties of organized religion almost entirely. Now according to theists, the only thing left to be fulfilled in my own life is a god and faith shaped hole somewhere inside me.
Here's an interesting video demonstrating the networking power of podcasts