Social Media, Prosperity Gospel, and Thinking About Eternity

The following is an excerpt from an article of mine which was published on Millennial Influx, “News, commentary, opinion, and analysis from the Millennial generation.”


Prosperity gospel has, for better or worse, become a popular trend within 21st-century Christianity, with mega-churches like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church having an average of 43,500 people in attendance each week. Prosperity gospel, in layman’s terms, makes claims that God deeply desires his followers to feel satisfied and fulfilled with their earthly lives, and that he will fulfill our material desires if we “name and claim” those things on faith.

Social media sites give us the impression that they can offer the same type of rewards. On popular sites like Facebook, most interactions are engineered to have a positive slant to them. We have Facebook “friends,” but never any “enemies.” We can “like” statuses, photos, etc. but not “dislike” them. We can crop and edit photos to death, and ones that still don’t look good enough we can omit altogether. We can even take back the things we’ve said–I personally have gone back through some of my old statuses and deleted things I thought were clever when I was in high school (they weren’t, in case you were curious). Online, we have much more control over what people get to know and see about us than we do in the real world; in essence, we are able to create our “ideal” selves.

To read the full article on Millennial Influx, click here.


“The Last Christian” by Adolf Holl – A Biography of St. Francis of Assisi


The feast day of Saint Francis of Assisi is observed on October 4 by the Catholic church. In honor of St. Francis and his legacy, I thought I would talk about The Last Christian (1980), a biography on the life of Saint Francis:

Francis of Assisi was “an obedient rebel” against the cruelty and greed of the increasingly capitalistic world that was beginning to close in around him. Adolf Holl argues that in Francis, the premodern world “gathered itself together before coming to an end,” and that he “[took] the powerful of this world by the arm, as a child might, to tell them the truth – with a force that [stunned] them to silence.”

From Holl’s point of view, Francis was “the last Christian” because he tried to emulate the life of Jesus Christ in the most literal sense possible, instead of taking the pious middle ground of being in the world, and of the world just enough to be a good bourgeois, but not so much that the fundamental values of the Christian faith are irrevocably compromised.

Francis’ goal of reflecting Christ in his worldly life (culminating with the stigmata) was either so intimidating or so disturbing to the institutional church that after his death, he was condemned as a heretic and the Franciscans basically had to go underground. Francis may have been slightly Marxist (or perhaps Karl Marx was slightly Franciscan) in his sensibilities, but Holl is careful to note how there is more to the story than “a brotherly handshake across the centuries;” he particularly highlights Francis’ upbringing as a member of a wealthy merchant in early capitalist Italy.

In presenting Francis as the “last” Christian, Holl invites the reader to consider what might have happened to the institutional church – and by extension, descendant “Christians,” if Holl will allow them to identify themselves as such – if the Franciscans and other like-minded Christians (like the Waldensians and the Humiliati) had won it over. Indeed, it may be this lost opportunity that leads Holl to call Francis the last Christian. In a post-Christendom age, the ability of modern-day Christians to present the good news of the Gospel may very well require them to study the life of St. Francis, if there is to be any hope of the arrival of what Holl might call “the next Christians.” This is why we can’t forget Francis.

Most individuals who endeavor to study the life of Francis of Assisi will discover – and this may ring especially true for readers of The Last Christian – that his life was an intriguing one. “The Franciscan spirit continues to be considered by agnostics and atheists, as well as believers, as the most genuine expression of Christ’s teaching ever approved by the Vatican”. But, though Francis typically receives great praise when spoken of today, his early life before he cut ties with his father would not lead anyone to believe that he would one day be declared a Saint.

Francis was born the son of a wealthy father, Pietro Bernardone, and a mother from whom he inherited a love for French songs and romance. He wore the latest fashions, was known for his singing, and threw rather extravagant parties; he had a comfortable life that may have led him to believe that he had no need for God. Ultimately, however, Francis began to see the futility and shallowness of the life he was living, and began his search for God. By his search, he began to see God in dreams and hear his voice and began, accordingly, to take practical steps to follow him. Others such as Bernard of Quintavalle and Brother Leo joined with Francis, and the Order of the Friars Minor was born. But as the ranks of the Order grew, many members began to be more moderate or radical in their views, which was disagreeable to Francis. Later in life, while at Mount La Verna, he received a vision as well as the stigmata (only after which did he begin to wear shoes, to hide the periodical bleeding of his feet).

Crucial to understanding the life of Francis of Assisi is an awareness of who influenced his spiritual development. While Francis, like most children of Assisi during his time, probably heard stories of the Christian martyrs who first brought the Gospel to that area, it is undeniable that the biggest influence on Francis’ life was Jesus Christ himself (and the entire Godhead). As Brother Thomas of Celano puts it in The Life of St. Francis,

“His highest aim, foremost desire and greatest intention, was to pay heed to the holy gospel in all things and through all things, to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and to retrace his footsteps completely with all vigilance and all zeal, all the desire of his soul and all the fervor [sic] of his heart.”

In his quest to emulate the life of Jesus, Francis sold all he had, including some of his father’s possessions. His father, infuriated by this act, took him before the bishop to make him return his family belongings. Francis replied by stripping the very clothes he was wearing, leaving himself completely naked: “Until now I have called you father here on earth, but now I can say without reservation, ‘Our Father who art in heaven,’ since I have placed all my treasure and all my hope in him.” God would continue to speak to Francis by way of dreams, visions, and sometimes his voice. All such encounters were deeply formative for him.

While Jesus was clearly Francis’ preferred mentor, there were a few others who influenced how he chose to lead his life. Among these are Bishop Guido of Assisi and his brothers in the Order of the Friars Minor. Francis had a deep understanding of the reciprocity that should exist in a fellowship of Christians, and thus often subjected himself to the authority of his Brothers; he was not only influenced by them, but was able to influence them by way of the reciprocal community he was fostering.

Like Jesus himself, Francis sought to lead by example. Before he had any followers, he was practicing a particular way of life. After hearing the passage from Matthew 10:9-10, “He immediately took of his shoes from his feet, put aside his staff, cast away his wallet and money as if accursed, was content with one tunic and exchanged his leather belt for a piece of rope.” Being quick to obey was something that characterized Francis’ life; he practiced what he preached. He preached wherever he could find an audience, and he spoke in the language of the common people, not the abstract theological jargon of those who had been able to become more “educated.” His approach was kind, yet challenging. It’s no surprise that he was able to gain such a following.

So, what do we do with Francis? If he was the last Christian, is there a way for one to become the “next” Christian? A few insights from Francis’ unique way of life may be beneficial, for example: living in a more Christ-centered way, developing a communal rule of how to live life, and falling in love with God anew each day.

Like the time in which Francis lived, people today typically love Jesus, but hate religion and the church as an institution. Many people likely echo Gandhi’s feelings: “I love your Christ, but I hate your Christians, because they are so unlike your Christ.” Following the example of Francis of Assisi doesn’t just require scholarly study of the life of Christ, but a desire to imitate him more closely. In a capitalist, consumer culture, those who would seek to emulate Francis should be encouraged to live more simply and be better stewards of the environment. In a world where Christians and Muslims often come into conflict, Francis can remind modern-day Christians that all humans are made in the image of God. In a world where thousands die daily from preventable causes, Francis serves as a reminder that Jesus befriended the marginalized. In these ways as well as others, Francis serves as a model for those to wish to live in a more Christ-centered way.

(Consider also Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina, who took Francis as his papal name when he was elected Pope on 13 March of this year, in honor of Francis of Assisi.)

Today’s Christians should also remember that faith in Jesus Christ should encourage a distinctive lifestyle, not a complex set of theological systems. As Francis communicated by his own life, it is practice rather than knowledge that holds true transformative power. The communal way of life for Christians, therefore, is about paying more attention to living out what they believe.

Understanding the life of St. Francis of Assisi can indeed be difficult. To explain the idea of falling in love with God, and how that helps to dispel some of the mystery that would otherwise make emulating Francis’ faith seem a daunting task, G.K. Chesterton puts it thus:

“And for the modern reader the clue to asceticism and all the rest can be found in the stories of lovers when they seemed to be rather like lunatics. Tell his life as a tale of one of the Troubadours, and the wild things he would do for his lady, and the whole modern puzzle disappears. In such a romance there would be no contradiction between the poet gathering flowers in the sun and enduring a freezing vigil in the snow, between his praising all earthly and bodily beauty and then refusing to eat, between his glorifying gold and purple and perversely going in rags, between his showing pathetically a hunger for a happy life and a thirst for a heroic death. All these riddles would easily be resolved in the simplicity of any noble love; only this was so noble a love that nine men out of ten have hardly ever heard of it… The reader cannot even begin to see the sense of a story that may well seem to him a very wild one, until he understands that to this great mystic his religion was not a thing like a theory but a thing like a love- affair.”

“We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)

Although the forms of media, means of advertising and various aspects of politics available today may have changed, there are certainly still ways for us to emulate the life of Francis – and the life of Christ – today. Contrary to what Holl may suggest, Chesterton provides a ray of hope that the Christians are not extinct, so let’s make a fresh start.

Could Twitter Be the Path to Immortality?

Okay, let’s face it: whether we would seriously want to or not, most of us have toyed with the idea of what it would be like to live beyond the expiration of our current physical bodies, either as a ghost, a cyborg of some kind, or maybe even a Na’vi. While medical science might not be advanced enough yet for our physical bodies to live forever, living on indefinitely might not be as far off as we thought.

luke and ben

With an online service called Lifenaut, an operation called the Terasem Movement Foundation has presented the potential for you to digitally “clone” yourself, through a series of personality tests compiled with data from your social media profiles. Simply put, the idea is to create an online version of yourself that can live forever; a digital avatar that future generations may be able to interact with. Eventually, Terasem wants to transform these digital avatars into walking, talking robots, just like something out of The Twilight Zone. But as of right now, it provides a more primitive version for free.

Personally, I was kind of creeped out by this idea. A lot. But the Foundation (seriously, it doesn’t get much more sci-fi creepy than the fact that they’re actually called “the Foundation”), created by Sirius Satellite Radio co-founder Martine Rothblatt, takes this mission seriously, and they’re not the only ones to be looking to achieve this goal. Just this month, Google unveiled a company called Calico, which is also looking for ways to cheat death. Big names like Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel make sizable contributions to anti-aging research and longevity studies.

Terasem is just tackling the goal of immortality from a different angle: rather than trying to extend our lives, they want to preserve our consciousness (Microsoft researcher Gordon Bell is doing a similar project called LifeBits, where he creates a digital record of everything he does).

So here’s how Lifenaut works: first, you upload a personal photo to the site, which will be used to create an animated avatar, which features blinking eyes and moving lips. Then, you teach the service about yourself, answering a long list of questions and taking a few personality tests. You can also choose to link the service to your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, creating a sort of “time capsule” of your social media data, which the Foundation hopes will further shape the personality of your avatar.

Then, one day, you wake up chained to a chair in a dark room in front of a TV screen displaying the activities of your avatar, who has successfully taken over your life.

Just kidding; the Lifenaut project is still in its early stages. The avatars are kind of clunky (and creepy) and Terasem still has a long way to go before it can create true online personalities. It doesn’t currently make use of the data from social media sites; the data is just stored in Terasem’s servers. But, according to Foundation managing director Bruce Duncan, the hope is that people will upload their information now, so it will be waiting when the technology catches up.

“We thought making a single website for people to upload their data would be the best way to democratize it,” says Duncan. “We wanted to build something that was as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Of course you do. [Insert conspiracy theory here]

But, again the big question that will test the viability of Lifenaut in the coming years is whether people would actually want to move from just toying with the idea of immortality, to actually wanting to digitally preserve their identities. Duncan argues “yes.” He says, “Some people think about the legacy of leaving a really rich source of information about themselves. Others say it’s part of their personal development.” To flesh out this “personal development” idea, he suggests the idea of being able to talk with your past self. Say, make your avatar now and talk to it in 10 years or so.

Well, here’s my take: I’m personally not interested in living forever, and thankfully, Lifenaut isn’t trying to keep me (physically) tethered to this world forever. I’m also not totally comfortable with being able to see a clone of myself, digitally or not, but that’s just the sci-fi conspiracy theory side of me. But what about “resurrecting” people? Like, taking the writings and other recorded media of people who have passed away, and making avatars of them?

Clearly, the topic of immortality is a whole Pandora’s box of issues. To read the original article on Lifenaut, click the link below:

Pope Francis – the Church is “Obsessed” with Moral Doctrines

Has the church become “obsessed” with moral doctrines, especially surrounding topics such as gay marriage, abortion, and contraception in recent years? Pope Francis would answer with a resounding “yes,” making his opinion clear in a recent interview published Thursday, September 19.

“It is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time,” Francis said. “The dogmatic and moral teachings of the church are not all equivalent. The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently.”

“We have to find a new balance,” Francis continued, “otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”

In the six months of his papacy, Francis has quickly established himself as a Pope with a more “modern” view on doctrine and how that plays in to living a daily Christian life.

As his comments make clear, Francis believes that Christians spend too much time hung up on the moral doctrines of the Christian life, which in turn prevents them from recognizing perhaps the truest characteristic of all people in relationship to the Lord.

In his interview with Francis for America magazine, Antonio Spadaro, S.J. asked the Pope point blank: “Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?” Francis replied, “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition… but the best summary, the one that comes from the inside and I feel most true is this: I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon… I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.”

Francis’ unashamed admission that he is a sinner, but the Lord has looked upon him and the acknowledgment that judgment is reserved for Him and Him alone, is an attitude that seems lost on most of the church today. We are quick to judge, to the detriment of the marginalized.

Like St. Francis of Assisi, one of the early church fathers, Pope Francis has made it clear that his focus is on reaching and loving these marginalized people, rather than judging them as so many  in the church are apt to do.

And as he established in his interview, this comes out of his belief that judgment belongs to the Lord alone. It is the responsibility of the church suspend our judgment and to share the love that the Lord has shown to us, with the world.

For the full interview with Pope Francis, click the link below:


Don’t “Ad” Me on Facebook

What would it take for you to give up Facebook permanently? How about if you saw your face popping up in ads on the site without your permission?

Facebook kauft fuer Gesichtserkennung


On Wednesday, September 4th several privacy groups expressed concerns about proposed revisions to Facebook’s privacy policy. These revisions were to be implemented last week, but in light of the concerns that were voiced, the social network site has postponed the changes and will make its decision this week.

The updated privacy policy would clarify that the over 1 billion users of Facebook automatically agree to having their likenesses used by Facebook for advertising reasons, unless they say otherwise. This is not too different from the old privacy policy, which stated that members could control how their names and personal data were used in ads on the site.

Facebook has postponed the revisions to take the time to ensure that it is not in violation of an agreement in made with the Federal Trade Commission two years ago after the popular social media site was caught using members’ faces and names on the “Sponsored Stories” feed without the permission of some members.

“We are taking the time to ensure that people’s comments are reviewed and taken into consideration to determine whether further updates are necessary and we expect to finalize the process in the coming week,” a Facebook spokesperson told The Huffington Post.

Privacy advocates claim that the policy’s revision still violates Facebook’s prior agreement with the FTC because the site is able to use personal information in ads without sufficient explicit consent from members. The advocacy groups, including the Center for Digital Democracy and Consumer Watchdog, also take issue with Facebook not doing enough to protect teens.

Meanwhile, Facebook is also celebrating the anniversary of its acquisition of the popular photo sharing app, Instagram. Shortly after Instagram was bought by Facebook a little over one year ago, many critics did not waste time in letting their voices be heard on the matter, believing that the “establishment” social network site would ruin the app, causing many to abandon it altogether.

However, contrary to the many complaints that were made early on, Instagram’s user growth did not slow down after its acquisition by Facebook, but actually accelerated and has recently announced that it has reached 150 million monthly active users. This is rather significant, given that it took Instagram 19 months from its founding in October 2010 to reach 50 million members.

But that’s not all: Emily White, Instagram’s director of business operations, commented that Instagram will likely start selling ads within the next year. Perhaps once the ads arrive, people will finally declare that Facebook has ruined Instagram. Instagram has also recently announced, but then reneged on privacy policy changes, after which Instagram CEO Kevin Systrom commented,

“To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business. … Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.”

Back on the privacy policy front, Facebook gave its users seven days to comment on the proposed revisions to the privacy policy when they were announced, and the users’ responses were overwhelmingly, unanimously, negative.

One of the top comments – which had received over 7,000 likes at the time of writing – reads, “If, that proposal really is enacted, the first time ANY of my friends sees an ad with any of my information in it, I will be deleting my account, and encourage everyone else to do likewise. You [Facebook] need[s] us. We don’t need you.”

But is that really true? Would people really be willing to give up Facebook so easily if these changes end up being made? Will this revision of the privacy policy be the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back, where the implementation of the infamous Facebook timeline and acquisition of Instagram could not? If this incident doesn’t cause Facebook to fall out of grace with the masses, it’s questionable that anything will.

Remembering 9/11

Okay, I know I’m a little late. But in my journalism class last Wednesday we got to interview our fellow classmates on how they remember September 11th, 2001. I got to speak with Bond R., who shared his experiences. A small snippet of our conversation can be found on my soundcloud page:

Like Bond, I was also quite young when the terrorist attacks occurred, and I didn’t really get to furnish my understanding of the event until I was much older. How do you remember September 11? Do you look at it in a different light than you did 12 years ago?

My interview with Bond helped me to realize that even as young Americans, although our understanding of 9/11 may have changed over the years, we will certainly never forget.