Clarifying Views on Faith

Last week turned out to be a fantastic for Exodus. More than 2000 books were moved, and when I woke up on Christmas morning, the book was ranked #207 on the Amazon Kindle free rankings, and number six in the science fiction category (I engaged in a modified version of Brian Meeks’ strategies).


The success brought some interesting commentary (cough) from some more devout Christians who weren’t pleased with the depiction of a medieval-like fundamentalist state that used their faith to conquer others. This post is not a response. I did want to take the opportunity to clarify my views on fundamentalism, Christianity or otherwise, for friends and readers who may be curious.

As to the hate mail itself, I expected this when I published the book. I don’t believe hardliners will actually get the message. As soon as the more devout read the first chapter, they’re certain that I am a heretical liberal. By the fourth they may think I am in league with Old Scratch himself (thus the preface from Paul Dunn).

To be clear, I read every remark to see if it’s an actual critique of the book, or someone ranting that Christianity was used as an example of fundamentalism. If it’s the prior, I pay attention. If it’s the latter, I ignore it. Welcome to America and The First Amendment.

Faith and Christianity

I believe that any faith is capable of helping people enjoy life more. That includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Bhuddhism, and others. I personally believe in God. I also believe that humans are capable of taking any faith, and warping its words to achieve wrongdoing.

I don’t think Islam is a violent religion. In fact, I quite like Sufism. Unfortunately for the faith of Islam, violent extremists use it to justify their actions. And that creates quite a lot of ignorance and stereotypes about fundamentalism.

Back to the impetus for this post, I have seen many benevolent acts performed by Christians. The faith (in its various forms) offers incredibly powerful teachings for anyone who wants spiritual guidance. In fact, while not a Christian, I say the Lord’s prayer several times a week, my wife is of Presbyterian decent, and most of my friends are Christian or of Christian descent.

Yet like any other faith, people can use its words to justify great wrongs. You can look back at the Crusades for an example. Or more recently at the IRA terrorism of the 70s and 80s, or in the Unted States the KKK’s acts of racism and violence. I have experienced this personally in my life. Many people have tried to convert me, or explain to me how I was going to hell because of my decent. You could argue the Christian right’s political impact in our country could (not will, but could) create similar situations.

As for the faith of my blood, Judaism, some feel Israel’s hard line views towards Palestineans and other Islamic states is also in the fundamental extreme. People are dying in the Middle East, and sometimes at the hands of the Israeli military.

In none of these situations is the faith in question wrong. Rather, people make decisions, and use religion as a justification to take actions that impact their fellow man, usually in a negative fashion.

What’s worse, when blind faith exists or when people generally believe what they are told, we create problems. We see this today in the media and the violated trust we feel when the Lance Armstrongs and government officials of this world let us down. To be clear, this is the power of propaganda, not religion.

Now About the Book

Let’s look at several aspects of fundamentalism in the book. First, it was the Islamic fundamentalism of the present (and a fictional Christian right reaction to it) that provokes the Great Sickness, the apocalyptic event that creates the world of Exodus.

Why not continue with Islam as the faith of wrong doing? For starters, it’s too easy per the earlier stereotype discussion. As a writer it’s about as challenging as depicting Richard Nixon as a villain.

Frankly, I think we have a blind eye in this country to our own actions. Since the book takes place in America, I decided to use our country’s dominant faith, Christianity. And per the conversation earlier, Christianity has been misused by the power-hungry for such purposes in the past. Unfortunately for humankind, history has a nasty tendency of repeating itself.

Several of the characters have intentional names referring to Greek mythological characters and one biblical character, Mordecai. Mordecai represents the true Christian faith (at least as it appears to this Jewish fellow’s eyes). In book two, Mordecai attracts new Christians, but he does so through principled action rather than proselytizing.

The power-hungry leader of the Christian Empire is Pravus, which is Latin for depraved. That should be a clear tip off to folks who think I am engaged in blasphemy. I am not, this guy is fricking nuts. There’s a reason why Mordecai left the Emperor’s side to venture out on his own.

Without tipping my hat too much, the entire trilogy explores the concept that every single one of us is capable of rationalizing wrong with ideologies and belief systems. We think we’re right, that our ideas can protect us from wrongdoing, but in actuality we may be harming others.

This is true for every human, and there are many ideologies — not just religious ones — that can be used to justify wrongdoing. Evil is rarely a dramatic moment. It is often the result of small decisions that collectively point someone in the wrong direction.

OK, I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours.

Can We Handle Technology Responsibly?

One has to wonder whether humanity is capable of making a better world with technology. This is a central theme in many arenas, from government policy and online conversations to Hollywood movies (even kids movies like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 take this on) and science fiction books.

Some voices are very optimistic, beliveing we can change everything for the better with technology. Others feel it’s the devil’s work, arming bad people with tools for destruction. And others argue it’s not the tools, rather what people do with them.

I tend to lean more towards the middle with a slightly negative view.

Kim Stanley Robinson makes a powerful argument in his ecothriller/space opera 2312 that we generally build tools that we are incapable of handling, make a mess of it, then respond appropriately. This makes sense to me, as generally I think human beings don’t consider consequence until after the fact.

Just consider the mounting climate crisis and our unwillingness to address the matter. In the United States, we are simply unwilling to address this issue on a national policy level. We are gridlocked with partisan politics and a generally unempathizing public. This apathy exists is in spite of technological developments that can dramatically transform energy creation and carbon emissions.

Frankly, I don’t think we will do anything about the increasing environmental crisis until we experience a man-made ecothreat to humanity that causes significant death counts in the hundreds of thousands or worse.

But once humanity sees the true danger, I am sure we will use technology to help amend the situation. This seems to be our approach to the world.

The Social Media Example

Social media provides another example. Many of us hoped conversations would elevate society. Though we have seen great societal good happen through conversational media, we have also witnessed a marked drop in civility, polarization of views, and the rise of a Grumpy Cat culture where pet pics rule supreme.

The truth? Social has just provided a very public mirror of where we are as a species. We hate, we posture, we seek attention, we love, we heal, we grow.

I believe that when the ugly side of social gets to be too much, society as a whole will evolve. Social norms will change, and what is commonly accepted will change for the better. Progress will occur.

You Can’t Run from Technology

What doesn’t work is running from technology.

This is actually a story ark in The Fundamentalists. Exodus (Book One) shows the absence of technology, a direct result of fear resulting from the ecological disaster that created this world. The absence of technology creates a societal power vaccuum. In the next book, the people of Harpers Ferry will have to embrace technology if they hope to have any chance to survive.

My intended point in this story arc is that even if you choose to avoid technology, others will use it to your disadvantage. Like it or not, avoidance creates consequence, usually for the negative. The impact is usually a deterioration of economic, personal and/or societal freedoms.

Those consequences can be subtle for those who fail to adapt, such as computer literacy’s impact on the graphic design and writing professionas. Graphic design has become an increasingly important skill as data visualization takes hold and people seek easier ways to understand information. Meanwhile, the newspaper industry is still evolving and diminishing as result of computing and Internet technologies. Could any talented writer or designer survive in the current environment without understanding how to use modern computing tools?

Good or bad, using technology is necessary for economic survival.

What do you think? Is humanity capable of using technology successfully?

Featured image by Scott McLeod.

Thoughts on Collaborative Social Innovation

This is Pensaola Beach, awash with tar balls from the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.

Recently I ran across a phenomenal crowdsourcing initiative last week, Lego’s NXTLog Senior Solutions Challenge, which leverages robotic designs to create better living for the elderly. It was a brilliant blend of brand, cause and community that empowers customers to make a difference.

I could not help but wonder how can B Corps and nonprofits and general do-gooders leverage the power of new models like the collaborative economy to share and make great things happen?

Social good is no longer the domain of big donors or causes anymore, but we haven’t gotten much further than crowdfunding, social sharing, and participatory access to campaigns. There is a stiff arm between cause and community.

What if mission trips were something that anyone can take, regardless of faith? Or if you couldn’t participate in a full four week mission trip, could you offer a portion of your work to another person?

Can we build stronger volunteering platforms to allow people to intelligently make a difference when a crisis like the Oklahoma tornadoes or the Deep Horizon oil spill happens? In both of those instances individuals were turned away from making a difference because their unorganized presence created more rubbernecking than contribution. Right now it takes an organization like Crisis Commons to try and harness general volunteering and good will.

How about technology? Could people donate minutes or bandwidth to a region on a temporary basis? Or could a company share its Salesforce database with smaller nonprofit partners so they, too, might benefit from a top tier CRM solution?

You can see how collaborative model could offer significant progress to the cause space. Yet, here we are, playing the same game.

Perhaps it is time for more.

What do you think?

A Content Marketing Debate

The Edge - U2 360 Tour
Image by Peter Hutchkins

The coupling of the words “content” and “marketing” creates a debate centering on the differences between publishing and selling.

By its very nature, marketing is a function of sales.

As such marketing communications activities, regardless of form — search, email, publicity (on behalf of a company), content creation, social, events, etc. — all represent activities to engage people in a sales process OR support brand reputation, which in turn, increases the likelihood of further sales, recruitment or investment later in time.

I can see why content purists, particularly those with a journalism background, flip their fricking lids at the very phrasing of “content marketing.” After all, they publish quality content.
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Practicing Loving Speech Online

Always Stunning, The Cherry Blossoms

I’ve been thing about writing and commenting online lately. Probably more than most, I have a history of mixing it up and leaving a comment or three that left heads spinning. In the past year, I’ve made a move to practice more loving (or benevolent) speech online.

Choosing to invest in kinder speech, and to not leave a path of strife on the interwebs requires mindfulness and acceptance of my character defects. I don’t pull punches. When it comes to tough discussions, I fight to win. That means someone’s going to be upset most of the time.

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Can Bad Jumo Become GOOD Vibes?


The social change side of the Internet was abuzz last week with the GOOD acquisition of Jumo. Everyone wants to know if the addition of the change media powerhouse turn around Jumo’s bad mojo.

Not much has been heard from Jumo since it launched in the fourth quarter of last year. The site promised to become the next generation gathering place for change activists. As you can see from the above traffic statistics, hype did not meet reality. Mainstays Care2 and barely felt its presence.


GOOD, however, has a competitive presence. A more social GOOD could become the number one online change network, uprooting Care2 and its 16 million users.

But it’s not as simple as that. Jumo has serious problems, including profitability (or cash positive as it is organized as a nonprofit) and low traffic.

Beyond that, no one has ever really answered what Jumo adds to the competitive mix. When Jumo launched, executives — including Facebook Co-Founder Chris Hughes — briefed dozens of influencers, and ignored their advice. The product launched with bugs, an over-reliance on the Facebook platform, and failed differentiate itself with any kind of distinguishing feature set or functionality. There was no evidence of strategic product marketing. Jumo was dead on arrival, and that’s why its traffic is still so low.

The combination of GOOD and Jumo may have potential, but only if GOOD seriously revamps Jumo’s interface and feature set to make it clear and valuable. Otherwise, the second coming of Jumo will also be dead on arrival.

On a larger scale, the acquisition acknowledges how hard it is to enter established markets with new social networks. New entrants need to do more than offer unclear and undifferentiated services if they are going to lure away their competitors’ communities.