Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general and the internet, smartphones, and “screens” in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc see the power these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and “spread the word”. On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we’re often asked to address, and even “fix”, those issues. In this episode, Josh Biggley, Keith Townsend, and Leon Adato explore what it means to be a tech expert in the pews. Listen or read the transcript below.
Kate: 00:00 Welcome to our podcast where we talk about the interesting, frustrating, and inspiring experiences we have as people with strongly held religious views working in corporate IT. We’re not here to preach or teach you our religion (or lack thereof). We’re here to explore ways we make our career as IT professionals mesh – or at least not conflict – with our religious life. This is Technically Religious.
Leon: 00:24 Religious communities sometimes have a fraught relationship with technology in general, and the Internet, smart phones, and screens in particular. On the one hand, churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, etc. see the power that these technologies have to build, grow, and maintain contact with the community and spread the word. On the other, technology is often perceived as a cesspool of evil inclinations and a scourge that is destroying families and minds. As IT professionals within our religious communities, we’re often asked to address – and even fix those issues. In this episode, I’m joined in discussion by Josh Biggley.
Josh: 00:59 Hello,
Leon: 01:00 And also our returning guest, Keith Townsend, Aka CTO Advisor.
Keith: 01:04 Hey there,
Leon: 01:05 And we are going to tell a few of our stories in this. Right. Now before we dive into any of that, I need to right a past injustice and give Keith a chance to tell everyone a little bit about himself and CTO Adviser, and what you’re all about. So shameless self promotion time, Keith.
Keith: 01:19 Oh, you know what it is the Technically Religious podcast so we’ll start with that. I am a Christian and I’ve been a Christian for almost as well… yeah, almost as long as I’ve been in IT. So I’ve been in IT a little bit over 21 years, and I’ve been a Christian for about 21 years. I blog and stuff, mainly talk to CTOs or infrastructure architects, and you can find all that goodness on http://theCTOadvisor.com.
Leon: 01:50 Fantastic. Alright, and the next thing I’d like to do is point out for people who have been listening to this podcast for a while – this is actually episode number 15, if you’re keeping track – that this episode is sort of counter to our normal style or story. Usually we talk about our life is an IT person who is recognizably or somehow visibly connected to a faith, moral or ethical worldview. And yet today we’re going to turn that on its head. Today we’re going to talk about our life within our community of faith, but being someone who is recognizably a geek. You know, somebody who is associated with technology in some way. And where I’d like to start the conversation is what is good about that? What is good about being a geek in the pews?
Josh: 02:35 So I just want to point out that I thought you were going to say that today we were going to be witty and insightful and funny.
Leon: 02:43 You are always all three of those things. I don’t know. I mean and self deprecating, so it’s all good. Right?
Keith: 02:49 You should’a known that that wasn’t the case because you guys, you guys had me back on the show.
Leon: 02:54 Oh the humility, the humility is just a rife around here. So, okay. No really what does it… what’s good about being a geek, you know, at our church or our synagogue or whatever? How does that help us?
Josh: 03:09 I mean, we’re usually the first ones to know the Wifi password.
Leon: 03:13 Okay. And we can share it with others. Yeah. And usually help them get their devices on.
Josh: 03:18 What do you mean share?
Keith: 03:19 And then when you know everyone, I think everyone’s service is going to the point where they’re using PowerPoint presentations to drive the sermon, which is, you know, kind of crazy. So whenever the PowerPoint doesn’t progress to the next slide or the screen goes blank, after about five minutes, you can get up and walk up to the AV guys and usually get it sorted out in 35, 40 seconds while everyone looks at you awkwardly.
Leon: 03:46 Got It. Okay. So I just want to hold down my leg of that conversation and just say that within the Orthodox Jewish community, this is actually not a thing. First of all, on the Sabbath, you can’t touch any of that stuff. So certainly no PowerPoint presentations at that point. But also it just, you know, weekday services tend to go very fast. They’re very businesslike. So none of that.
Keith: 04:09 So that’s interesting. Do you guys have AV at all?
New Speaker: 04:12 I will say for the most part, I say certainly there’s AV because there’s lectures and discussions, but in terms of worship? No worship is still a very analog experience. In fact, there’s a big push in a lot of Jewish spaces and certainly orthodox spaces to have people leave their screens, their cell phones and things, outside at the door and not even be tempted in between certain parts of the prayer or davening to even be tempted to look at their phone while it’s going on. You know, you’re there to talk to “the boss,” you know, as just as, you wouldn’t go into your CEO or CTOs office and in the middle of a conversation say, “Oh, hang on, I just got to check this text, oh wow, this is Facebook message, this is awesome!” Like, you wouldn’t do that with your boss. Don’t do that with the big boss.
Keith: 05:05 That is a pretty good lesson.
Josh: 05:07 When I was a Sunday school teacher we used to have a box of technology, it was a box that we would put on the table and when the kids would come in – this was at the height of the Clash of Clans craze… ( that’s really hard to say.) – we used to make them put their cell phones in the box. Otherwise it was “Clash of Clans on your lap or underneath your scriptures or it was just a thing.
Keith: 05:39 You guys have inspired me. I think I’m gonna start leaving my phone in the car so that I’m not tempted at all. I really don’t pull it out after service, that’s for sure. Cause I’m usually talking and ministering, et cetera. But you know what, I do use it to look up scripture and you can get kind of sidetracked like, “Oh, you know, I’ll check Twitter or whatever.” And that’s a good point.
New Speaker: 06:11 I think one of the things that resonates with me. So in Mormonism, there are four books of scripture: The Bible, the King James version of the Bible; also the book of Mormon; the doctrine covenants; Pearl of Great Price. Um, in the Book of Mormon, there’s a prophet, King Benjamin and in Mosiah 2-17, which every Mormon out there, is going, “oh yeah, I know this verse”, right? It says…
Leon: 06:39 (laughs) “I know this! I know this one!”
Josh: 06:39 “I had to memorize this one!” Right. “…And behold, I tell you these things that ye may learn wisdom; that ye may learn that when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” And I think that that whole idea of serving our fellow man is intrinsic that’s what God wants me to do. So when it comes to fixing technology, it’s something that we know how to do and we’re really good when we see that person fumbling with our technology, our natural instinct, or at least my natural instinct is to reach out to them and say, “Hey, can I help you with that?” Or you see them, they’re starting to get frazzled and you know, Mormons use technology in their lessons and you see that individual up there and they’re trying to get that PowerPoint presentation or that streaming video to work and knowing that you can just step up and in a couple of seconds have it up and running and going. That’s very reassuring. That feels right to me.
Leon: 07:33 And I think the best part of that is we all understand that they’re not there for the technology piece. And so we’re watching is the technology is pulling them away from the holier moment. They’re there to teach a lesson. They’re there to share a thought. They’re there to share some of their experiences and they’re getting hung up, their rhythm, their pacing, their confidence is being hit. And you don’t want that and you can help get that back on track. And I think you’re right. That’s a great way of looking at it. I think the other thing is that as representatives of technology, we can help sort of de-escalate people’s feelings about technology. I said in the intro that a lot of times in faith communities, technology is looked at as something to be mistrusted. And we have a chance to be an ambassador of technology in the sense that we are part of the community. We are a trusted voice. We understand the rules of the road. You know, at no time… I’ll speak for myself… are we going to say, “Yeah, no, Playboy is okay. Just read it for the articles.” Like you’re not going to do that. You’re not going to say, “Oh, it’s okay. It’s…” Whatever. If it’s not okay, you understand that it’s not okay. And they understand that you understand it. So when you’re giving advice, you have a chance to point out where something is a true risk and where something is only a perceived risk.
Josh: 08:57 Yeah. So, you know, one of the big challenges that we have as religious people, is sometimes we’re perceived as being anti science or even anti technology. So, nuclear medicine is a fantastic innovation. But nuclear medicine and a nuclear bombs are cut from the same… chemical engineering is wonderful. It transforms our lives in ways that we now in the midst of chemical engineering. And I had read a great book in the last year or so about the CRISPR technology. Crazy stuff, right? But chemical weapons are horrible things that kill people and maim them. And then of course, because we’re geeks, we recognize that of course the Holy Trinity of Geekdom is a Star Wars 3, 4, and 5… Uh, wait, no, 4, 5 and 6! Right? And Jar Jar Binks is… uh, I think the word that you wrote here is “an unholy abomination.”
Leon: 09:59 Yeah. Yeah. And I will say the character is ill-conceived. The actor is fantastic and I do not want to contribute to his struggles because he really… actors sometimes get jobs they don’t expect to go the way that they go. But yeah, I’m not a fan of the first three movies. Going back to CRISPR, it’s interesting because there was just a segment on NPR today that was talking about somebody who’s creating CRISPR babies and they thought they would make a person, a human that was HIV resistant. And it turns out that there’s all sorts of downstream consequences. However, that same technology can be used to correct some amazingly impactful diseases when used. So even within the same technology there’s a balance there. And I think that being a technologist within a faith community allows us to help point out that these are opportunities to make moral, ethical, I’ll say “righteous” or a “higher-power-directed” decisions about a tool. Whether that tool is a hammer or a CRISPR.
Keith: 11:08 I think the other thing that we hadn’t talked about is that personally, the discipline of being a technologist gives me the ability to ask critical questions. And even critical questions on my own faith so that, for people that spread the word of just believing in God – and we get challenged on that – as technologists actually come with a reputation of being critical thinkers. So I think it gives us this moral authority to speak on faith because we’re reasoned in our approach to our faith in most instances.
Speaker 2: 11:46 And it also lets us debunk. So there’s again, the debunking of, “No, that’s actually, you know, the IRS is not going to call you and ask you for your password” and things like that. There’s a story that’s told in Orthodox Jewish circles that I hate. It’s one of those apocryphal stories, but frequently in Orthodox circles, when you’re talking about technology that comes out. So there’s a, there’s a Kollel guy, a guy who learned scripture as his job, all day long, eight, 10 hours a day. This is what he does. And he needs to make a living. And so he goes and he gets a job and they put him in an office, and they give him a computer, and the next weekend he is violating the sabbath! And he’s doing drugs! And he’s having an affair! And…they tell it every time and every time you can hear my eyes rolling in my head and you don’t want to contradict rabbinic authority, but you have to stand up and say, “I think there might’ve been a couple of other problems with this guy. I don’t think the computer was really the thing that threw him over the edge, if the next weekend he was violating the sabbath and doing these things. And it sounds a little far-fetched, anyway.” So it gives you a chance to be, like you said, that critical voice that pushes back a little bit.
Josh: 13:10 Yeah. We call those “faith promoting lies” in Mormonism. I don’t know what else…
Leon: 13:14 Okay. I just call them “glurge”.
Keith: 13:20 This happens in technology too. We have this desire to further our point and not necessarily stretching the truth, but… and this happens on social media as well, not just technology. Our minister last week gave an incredible sermon on basically social media and revealed this fact that 70% of the stories [ed. about his religion] shared on Facebook are fake and in fact fake news. But it is an example of our bent on wanting to promote our version of the truth. And that is, I think, the thing that we enjoy about the technology space that you can spread information extremely fast. But also, part of that story is that you can spread false hoods or stretches of the truth extremely fast as well.
Josh: 14:25 Twice in a row, now, Keith, you’ve now made a comment that’s made me think of a book that I’m reading. It’s entitled “The Case for the Real Jesus” by Lee Strobel. And Lee is a journalist. Also was an atheist and then converted to Christianity, and he meets with someone who actually lives over in Nova Scotia. So I live on the east coast of Canada and he meets with this historian and professor. And he’s talking about the stretches of truth that have happened within Christianity since the time of Christ, and how we’re looking at these gnostic gospels that have come out over the last 50 or 60 years, they’ve really come to light, and challenging this narrative of Jesus, which was the Coptic Gospels… with these gnostic gospels, and saying, “Oh my goodness, these things that were written a hundred years after Jesus was on the earth, but they’re saying that Jesus really had three eyes!” (I know that that’s not what they’re saying), but it’s that idea that we can make these allegations and it’s really hard to back them up because the disinformation out there is there. It’s really difficult. And I will point out that there is one area in which this information I think really needs to be clamped down on. And that’s IT Security. You should use a password manager. Like, it is not just a scary thing. Do not use the same password on every single website. Use multifactor authentication. These are things, it’s not just the boogie man. You should do that.
Leon: 16:14 Yeah. And I think that goes back to debunking things that are patently untrue. Reinforcing good behaviors. I think that that allows us to do it. The other thing is that because we are representative technology, it gives us a chance to model good behavior. To quote Bill and Ted, to “…be excellent to each other” – online as well as in the pews, in our faith, building. There’s a local Rebbetzin – a rabbi’s wife – who is an author and a blogger, and she is known around here for saying that the only time she posts on social media is after she’s asked herself three things about the things she wants to say. 1) Is it true? 2) Is it kind? And 3) is it necessary to say it? And whenever she says that, the immediate reaction from the audience is “well then I wouldn’t post anything!” And she holds up her finger and says “Right. Exactly!” Maybe you should think about all the things that you’re posting. And I love that. And I aspire to it. I can’t say that I always meet that aspiration, but I like it. So it gives us as technologists a chance to say, “yeah, you can be in these spaces and use them to uplift, to, to shine a light, do all those things.” Like, you know, you can do that.
Josh: 17:43 Wait, so based on those three rules, are you announcing the end of the podcast? Are we are disbanding?
Leon: 17:50 I believe that everything that we have talked about in our episodes is certainly kind, and true to the best of our ability. And I think it’s necessary.
Josh: 18:01 Okay. I’m willing. I was, I was just concerned. I thought you were firing us.
Keith: 18:07 But it was a very kind way in which he did it.
Leon: 18:12 And that’s the other thing is that, you know, everyone I think has become aware that people say more online to people than they might say face to face. And I don’t know your side of it, but I know that Judaism has very specific rules about what they call “rebuking” another person. You know, when you want to give them a little bit of a correction. And that’s: you are not permitted – in fact, you are commanded not to rebuke somebody unless you are able to do it in private, to do it with only love in your heart, and to only do it when you are certain that the other person will hear you. So, if the other person is not in a head space to understand what you’re going to be saying, you are commanded to keep your mouth shut. And the same thing, if – in saying it – you are going to become agitated or unhappy or upset, you’re not allowed to say it. All those things. And I think that again, social media gives us a chance to practice that and to model it.
Speaker 3: 19:16 Yeah. I try to be an example on social media. I am a bit of a pot-stir-er, to say it mildly, but I try to be provocative about being offensive, is the goal. And I think one of the things that I personally, like a personal failing of mine in which I wish I can get better, and I’ve kind of stepped away from talking politics for a little while, especially as Melissa’s sick, and I’m trying to focus on positivity for awhile. One of the areas that I fell is: I’m very passionate about systematic challenges of minorities. So whenever something happens politically in that space it’s really hard for me to balance Christianity and my desire to – and this a is not a godly desire – to get justice. Because it’s not for us to get, if, from a Christian perspective, that’s for God to provide. And so I try and model that and sometimes people will… I get a lot of compliments on my ability to just have very difficult but yet respectful conversations. But I have to be honest my heart is not always coming from a great place. But it’s really great advice to be the change you want to see.
Leon: 20:54 Well, and I will say that at first of all, struggling with, or wrestling with something is the work. So the fact that it’s not easy, it means that you’re at that point of growth, right? You aren’t in the easy space where everything is just simple. You’re pushing yourself. But I will also say, just having watched your social media accounts, that you focus on issues and you focus on events, but you don’t focus on people. You are willing to go after an idea, and you’re willing to go after – to call out – an event or an attitude, but you don’t call out a person. And I think that… now some people may feel threatened by you challenging an idea, whether that’s about virtualization or social justice or any of those things. But that’s what they brought to the table. You’re just calling out this situation, this design, this architecture, this financial structure – this is not, this is suboptimal. And they don’t like that.
Keith: 21:57 And I think the comments from our space, from being able to look at myself and people have shown me in the past where I just wasn’t Christ-like. Like in loving other people. Christians, we have a very difficult time with the concept of homosexual-ality and, and sexual identity. So we look at that as a different weighted sin than other sins. And I’ve had that struggle in my past. And then to not look at people with the same love of Christ that I looked at. So I try and address issues and not people. Because if I treated people… if people treated me the same way that I treated people in the past when I had those views, then I would have never have changed. So I try and give people the same grace I was given, which is, “you know, what, this person has the capacity to change. And if we focused on the issue, then hopefully they’ll have the space to change.” So we have to give the space to have the conversation. And this is going back to technology. Technology gives us the space to have the conversation, but we have to model what that looks like.
Leon: 23:11 We know you can’t listen to our podcasts all day. So out of respect for your time, we’ve broken this particular discussion up. Come back next week where we pick up our conversation with the things that challenge us as ambassadors of IT within our religious community.
Speaker 4: 23:25 Thanks for making time for us this week to hear more of Technically Religious visit our website, https://technicallyreligious.com, where you can find our other episodes, leave us ideas for future discussions and connect with us on social media.
Josh: 23:39 A Jew, a Christian, and a Mormon walk into a mosque…
Keith: 23:42 And none of them knew how to fix the router!