Driving past a tall-steeple church the other night, I noticed something new on its roadside sign. There, just below the fancy writing announcing the congregation's name, was a website address. It was the first time I'd seen a website address painted--permanent and official--on a church sign. "There's a gutsy group," I thought.

Why? Because the Internet will ultimately destroy organized religion as we know it, and in its wake will take down whole city blocks of such tall-steeple churches. To which I say, "Bring it on."

The Internet is empowering people to spread their beliefs, to meet other like-minded folks, to feed their curiosity about new faiths, even to pray and worship--all without the blessing of religious leaders or the confinement of brick buildings. We are seeing a radical democratization of religion leading to a new Reformation.

Don't like what the Pope has to say about women as priests?

Want to link young Hindus trying to create an American faith unfettered by the constraints of ancient Hinduism?

Need a place for questioning Christians to hash out their concerns without the embarrassment of disagreeing with church doctrine?

Want to brush up on your Torah knowledge, but dislike your rabbi's take on the subject?

Now you have the Internet.

At the moment, the Chinese government appears to be winning its war against the Buddhist group Falun Gong, after some of that group's leaders were jailed this week. That won't last. Falun Gong's teachings are all over the Internet. People worldwide are trying them out, and people in China will find them too.

Meanwhile, the Internet will force organized religion into becoming more captivating, lest it lose audience to the web. Once people get inside churches, synagogues and temples, they'll have to find inspiring sermons, gorgeous music and engaging discussion--because if they don't, people will surely find it on the Internet.

This competitive pressure will energize traditional religion. Would you keep shopping at your local mall if it were the same boring collection of stores you've been looking at for 20 years? Nope. You'd be buying a lot more stuff on the Internet. Store owners are quickly realizing they have to compete--and to do that, they must present us with shopping "experiences." Thus, the entertainment and dining complexes, the strobe lights, the coffee bars in book stores-even, at my local mall, simulated stock car racing.

"Humbug," you say. "Religion is about eternal things. It shouldn't be constantly subject to redefinition and catering to the latest fashions."

But that ignores history and how much of what we think of as tradition actually started as a new effort to captivate the masses. Protestant reformers used the melodies of popular drinking tunes to craft new hymns. The cathedrals of Europe, the magisterial temples of Angkor in Cambodia, and the Ka'ba in Mecca were all built as innovative ways to glorify God.

I love the Internet. I love the virtual tours of sacred places. I love the theological quests and the online prayer requests. I love the snippy websites trashing everyone from Jerry Falwell to the Pope to the Dalai Lama.

I love it that the authority--and let's face it, much of it has been autocratic, self-satisfied and pious--is breaking down.

On the Internet, we will feed our curiosity. We will come to know each other. We will pray together, maybe stop fighting every once in a while and learn from each other.

We will hear and see broader, richer religious offerings than were ever before possible. Our curiosity will make us go deeper, with others and within ourselves.

We will become more spiritual, not less.

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