Fake Friends: Pastors & Podcasters

We (Aren’t) Your Friends

We’ve all been super busy trying to create these fulfilling, authentic lives. The election last year was a major bump in the road, but we are going to get through this together and we will not let apathy catch us. We are going to stay even more engaged and connected through… our podcasts.

I can’t keep up with the number of podcasts we are supposed to be listening to. There are podcasts about cum towns, shit towns, trap houses, and lots about crimes and criminals and the justice system. We are supposed to fill every minute of our spare time with podcasts: while cooking, cleaning, commuting, working, working out, hiking, travelling, resting, bathing, etc. We are old and we don’t get a lot of the music that we hear but we definitely get the podcasts we are all busy listening to. The hosts slowly become our friends, and their inside jokes become our own, and as listeners we become absorbed into the shows’ histories.

I looked around and realized that blogs are dead. We don’t have time to read anymore, we listen to podcasts. Maybe these podcasts aren’t much different than newspapers or magazines or books in theory, but we are relating to podcasts in a way that I am not sure they were created for. We move through the world with these little voices in our ears, their takes creating a filter through which we see the world. In a world without a discernible zeitgeist they act as a sort of voice in the dark, guiding towards home, at least an ideological home.

Our feeds online are cluttered with contradictory information at best, and at worst we have turned most of our online lives into echo chambers. Podcasts are the last bastion for focus, for a singular voice. We cling to the podcasts because the world around us is being turned into some sort of ad supported grey goo. The internet taught us too many things, we SUPed too far from from shore and we can’t just surf our way back. So what do we have to keep us company when the waves of IRL start crashing? The voices in our headphones that regale us with fantastic tales and hot takes and just enough call-backs to make us feel like we are right there with them sitting around the microphones.

There used to be a fine line between content and relationship. Newspapers were black and white in color and in subject. Magazines were static objects with a higher refresh rate than books, but not nearly as much depth. Books, with their gravitas, deserved more respect but were never as timely. All of our content had tidy boundaries and limited powers. Our relationships might have been defined by traditional gender, family, and community roles but there was less abstraction of those roles than we experience today. Compared to our tidied up Facebook relationships the analog world was full of mystery and blurred lines. We knew each other through experience, and we knew about the more distant parts of the world through limited and (supposedly) objective viewpoints. In the process of making a world that fit our desires for modernity we lost our connections with each other and magnified the illusions of our connection to the more far off things of this world. And if that loss is not alarming enough to there was a key relationship that was destroyed in the process.

An oft-forgotten role in communities for ages was the Pastor. Different cultures have different names for this person, and the role can either be formal or informal. Everyone from Shamans to Best Friends might have fulfilled this role at different times and in different places, but they all did essentially the same thing: they guided our relationship with the higher power. In more recent times they became the writers of books, the founders of Yoga retreats, and the creators of… podcasts.

This modern move from the creation of relationships to the creation of content and “experiences” has had a dramatic effect on the psyche of the spiritual seekers. Instead of the mystical connection between human beings there is a cold, hard, digital connection between iPhone and headphone. Our relationships with the spiritual realm have grown increasingly abstract as we relied first on the written words and now on the pre-recorded words of people we might never meet or have any sort of relationship with. Though our connection with other seekers has grown exponentially our faith has withered as the distance grows between our selves and other selves. I was at first surprised to see so many well-connected, intelligent people drift into apathy but it is the same feeling I get when I listen to too many podcasts.

We are overloaded with information. We do not need more stuff in between our ears, we need hold and to be held, to know and to be known.

But don’t go back to church.

The pastors have for sure lost the game in the digital realm. Drunk Ex-Pastors and Oprah’s Chosen Pastor have the monopoly on subscription-based digital spiritual guidance, and no surprise there that their messages are incredibly apathetic. If you head to a church you’ll either find a guy who wishes he was an author or a guy thats too busy reading books for his weekly message than to really get to know you.

Maybe this is why the catholic church wasn’t stoked to see the bible translated into the people’s language.

See, this whole podcast problem that we have as seekers didn’t start with iPods. It didn’t start with Serial. It started with the church. It started with televangelists, with pre-recorded sermons, with book deals and worship DVD and Nooma. We started retreating into our shells decades ago, centuries ago. It started when Pastors became Professionals and when Churches became Corporations. We abstracted the pursuit of a higher power into some abstract product we could sell overseas. We perverted our communities into little hubs for the production of these polished products. It was too hard to have real relationships, too hard to be real friends, and so we went and made some fake friends that we liked better.

Now we listen to them at our convenience, unthreatened by our disagreements with them, unhampered by messy opinions of our own lives and choices. We get the warm fuzzies of their voices in our heads without the weight of responsibility to them. Anyways I’m tired of writing. If I write too much here I will be just another fake friend to you. Go talk to your real friends or come talk to me.

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