Exploring God Through Old Media, Social Media and Content Marketing

Questions about the impact of social media on religion are as old as social media — although certainly not as old as religion.

Many other bloggers and journalists have opined on the topic, books have been written about it, and a Google Scholar search turns up more than a million results.

There are the major players like the Pope who’s “Selfie Blows Up Twitter,” the grassroots themes of sunrises and sunsets inspiring digital adoration of God as artist, and even the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently announced that missionaries will do less door-to-door proselytizing, and instead, use the Internet to recruit new church members.a billboard in Austin, TX, with #ExploreGod on it

But much closer to my home, I’ve been watching with great interest as billboards began popping up all over Austin with simply “#ExploreGod” on them. I only wondered a short time what it was all about before I heard at my church that we were joining more than 300 other churches in Central Texas, from at least 12 different denominations, in a four-month campaign to invite people to investigate questions about God in a non-threatening way.

It was evident that social media was part of this campaign when billboards sporting hashtags popped up, but ExploreGod pulled off a truly integrated marketing campaign with their website, out of home advertising, online video, DVDs, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, livestreaming broadcasts of Q&A forums, daily messages that could be delivered to your inbox or cell phone, and… of course, the powerful word of mouth from the pulpit with a sermon series on seven common questions about God and faith. Talk about your content creation!

My own weekly Bible study group made up of members from two different non-denominational Christian churches, and one mostly agnostic skeptic that likes to play devil’s advocate, has been using the DVDs and study guide.  Last week’s question of “Is Christianity Too Narrow?” was one of my favorites so far.

The well-produced videos have sparked good conversation, although our agnostic hasn’t really changed his stance. But, I don’t think the goal was really conversion, so much as encouraging conversation.

Too many people proclaiming their Christianity today are doing a lot of talking about what they think God wants people to do and believe, but they’re doing little listening and showing little grace, and this creates an environment where other Christians fear conversation about their beliefs will alienate or offend. So ExploreGod says, “If our work here can start a good conversation and give you something valuable to think about in your own life, then we’ve done what we’ve set out to do.”

For that I applaud them. And as a communicator, I admire them for their ability to create such expansive content, leveraging just about every modern marketing tool plus the old reliable ones, and to bring together hundreds of different congregations in support of it.

Surprisingly, the church with the Instagraming Pontiff was not one of them.

The Mysteries of Instagram, IABC, Tron, The Matrix and the Universe Not Explained

While every good social media blogger worth their salt is writing this week about Instagram’s terms of service fiasco, I’ve never been one to follow the crowd. There are plenty of other people covering that topic for you.

There’s also a bit of kerfuffle going on this week within my professional association (that hosts this blog as a member benefit) the International Association of Business Communciators. But, while I will join the member conversation happening on LinkedIn, I’m only lightly tweeting and not blogging about it because it feels a bit like discussing family matters in public.

Instead, what brings me here today is something far removed from the machinations of social networks or professional networks. It’s a much larger philosophical pondering. As big as the universe.

You see, yesterday morning I read a post on MIT Technology Review about “Why The Universe Is Not a Computer After All.” Then just a few hours later, I saw someone tweet a link to a story titled “Are We Living Inside a Computer Simulation?” on Discovery News.

So which is it? Are we or aren’t we living TRON in real life?

According to the Discovery column by Ray Villard, aka @cosmic_ray, a team of physicists at the University of Washington recently announced that there is a potential test to see if we actually live in “The Lattice.” Not to be confused with The Matrix.  The Lattice is the idea of Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom that the universe we live in might be a numerical computer simulation – possibly created by distant descendants who constructed it to simulate the past and recreate how their remote ancestors lived.

So Villard asks, “is our ‘God’ really a computer programmer rather than a bearded old man living in the sky?”

The idea of the universe as a computer is, according to Ken Wharton at San Jose State University in California, just a popular assumption. And, it “is the least-questioned (and most fundamental) assumptions that have the greatest potential to lead us astray,” he says.

Wharton’s essay argues that only by dropping our assumption that the universe is a computer can we fully develop alternate models, explain quantum phenomena, and understand the workings of our universe.

Me? I rather like this point of view from Albert Einstein:

“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see a universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws, but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds cannot grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.”
― Albert Einstein

 

Einstein may not have believed in a personal god, as I do, so his “mysterious force” could conceivably be Bostrom’s “distant descendants ” But, to think of my progeny essentially coming back in time to create, ultimately, themselves by creating a computer simulation of the world I live in today just seems a bit too much for me.

As someone who spends most of their day working on a computer for a company that makes computers, the thought that I’m only simulated by a computer doesn’t excite me. It makes for engaging science fiction, though!

 

Faith and Science Colliding

I don’t understand it, but I still like to see this announcement of a “mysterious bump” that could be a new force in nature. Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have found something in their data that could be evidence of a new elementary particle.

Why do I like it? One reason is a bit of sentimentality. You see, it was a graduate school co-op at the Super Conducting Supercollider (SSC) that brought me to Texas back in 1993. Even though it was a job in the library, rather than the public information offices, my PR professor said it would be good experience to be part of such a ground-breaking project.

Super Conducting Supercollider Tshirt

He was right. I did get much more out of it than that cool t-shirt above. It was a great experience to be around so many intelligent people in the pursuit of new knowledge.  It was also what led me to Dallas where I met the man who will have been my husband for 15 years next month.

So, yes, I feel a certain connection to Fermilab, and the LHC at CERN, even though the actual science they pursue is beyond my basic comprehension. Because, sentimentality aside,  I think it’s important that we continue to experiment just for the sake of new discovery and the U.S. Congress was short-sighted to cut funding for the SSC. (doesn’t seem to have saved us from budget woes, has it?)

But, doesn’t searching for the “god particle” conflict with my Christian faith? I don’t think so – both science and faith are looking for the ultimate higher power and I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. God is beyond my comprehension, too, so who’s to say the power of God is not the power of the god particle?

The search for both is, as this blogger put it more eloquently than I, “based on faith in the existence of an unseen force that controls the universe.”

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