In the context of Facebook and religion, consider this question:
What is the difference between televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker selling timeshare memberships to their Christian-themed Heritage USA resort in the 1980s, and a present-day Christian megachurch innovatively using Facebook to sell its faith brand?
They’re both in effect selling something that objectively does not exist — the Christian “God” — to countless gullible or deluded souls.
So, in a rational sense, both should be viewed as fraud. Selling God is selling unattainable dreams — like a car salesman promising, “on the Bible,” say, to deliver to a customer this summer Ford’s much-vaunted new 600-mile-range, all-electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck. Ford isn’t even due to ship its debut 300-mile pickup until spring 2022, and a 600-mile iteration is as yet a pipe dream, if that.
Of course, Heritage USA was an actual resort, and a long-range all-electric Ford pickup is now a reality. But the Bakkers’ sold 600,000 timeshares in the park for $1,000 a pop (that’s $600 million total), far more than the 500-room resort could handle at a promised three-day stay annually for each member. And the fictional car salesman was selling something equally impossible and effectively nonexistent.
I’m thinking about this because of an unsettling New York Times article I read this week about how Facebook lately has been aggressively selling use of its platform to American religious institutions and churches of all faiths — like Atlanta megachurch Hillsong — which presumably can’t help but include some dangerous cults and other fringe faith collectives.
In my mind, this risks accommodating groups like, say, David Koresh’s ill-fated Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas, which directly caused the deaths, murder really, of 76 followers — men, women and 25 children — in a self-lit inferno erupting at the cult’s compound when federal law enforcement officials tried to serve search and arrest warrants.
Officially sanctioning religion inevitably leads to accommodating wack-job organizations as though they are just normal, respectable entities spreading positive vibes — however delusional — in good faith.
In fact, the quasi and full-on cult mentality often leads to tragic, even catastrophic, results, not necessarily the least of which was the rise of Donald Trump’s white-supremacist, Christian Right personality cult in America.
Certainly, a lot of religious organizations (mostly Christian in still-Christianity-dominated America) are operating in good faith and often for profoundly positive reasons (e.g., to spread hope and charity), but the fact remains that no concrete facts underpin any religious assumptions, only ephemeral supernatural musings.
Why then should we countenance religion any more than we should sanction, say, the late multi-billion-dollar financial fraudster Bernie Madoff, whose fictitious Ponzi schemes destroyed countless lives.
So, in a practical sense, we might view all activities that emanate from religious beliefs, particularly commercial ones, as inherently fraudulent. In that same sense, it seems ill-considered in the extreme for Facebook to allow and supercharge religious groups’ ability to propagate their messages with such instantaneous and influential reach globally.
Consider that 2.85 billion people regularly use Facebook each month on desktop and mobile devices, according to Omnicore. That’s more than any major religion on Earth, including Christianity (2.38 billion), Islam (1.91 billion), Hinduism (1.16 billion) and Buddhism (507 million), the World Population Review website reported earlier this year.
Therefore, it’s safe to say that Facebook is more popular globally than religion at the moment, as John Lennon reasonably claimed in 1966 that his band, The Beatles, was at that time more popular than Jesus, a subject reprised in a 2016 article in Rolling Stone article. (See a YouTube video on Lennon’s comments, below.)
But the fundamental challenge is that religious fraud is intrinsic. Truly, is anything religious not fraudulent if divinity is a fiction? This is because the fundamental core of what faiths peddle — that manifestly nonexistent things actually exist — is objectively unverifiable. Like a 600-mile-range, fully electrified Ford F-150. Or an omnipotent deity.
Facebook, with its confounding reach and effects in the world, is simply an exponential multiplier of religion’s potentially catastrophic impact in private and global affairs, even while promoting the good parts.
It’s not hyperbole. The ubiquitous social media platform has already come close to collaborating in the destruction of American democracy by super-charging the universal dissemination of political lies for four long years as told by now-defeated former President Donald Trump and his cultists.
As Elizabeth Dias warned in her Times piece:
“The collaborations [between Facebook and religious groups] raise not only practical questions, but also philosophical and moral ones. Religion has long been a fundamental way humans have formed community, and now social media companies are stepping into that role.”
Heaven help us, one might worry.
“Corporations are not worried about moral codes,” stressed University of Edinburgh [Scotland] professor Sarah Lane Ritchie. “I don’t think we know yet all the ways in which this marriage between Big Tech and the church will play out.”
One thing is certain, though. They will be played, as commercial enterprises always intend.
But Facebook leaders are trying to put a positive spin on a worrisome initiative into promoting the dark arts of religion.
“Faith organizations and social media are a natural fit because fundamentally both are about connection,” Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the New York Times. “Our hope is that one day people will host religious services in virtual reality spaces as well, or use augmented reality as an educational tool to teach their children the story of their faith.” [boldface mine for emphasis]
Yeah, that’s all we need, more deceptive ways to indoctrinate kids in supernatural religion and other inventions of mind.
Far too many adults are already hopelessly lost in the miasma of misinformation now fogging reality in America.
If Facebook can ban Donald Trump for spreading violence-inciting lies, why not religion? It’s a rhetorical question, but still …