When Ideas Go Viral

Personal Note: Sorry for stepping away from regular posting. I was working to complete my book on discipleship and disciple-making. It is a guide for disciple partners or small groups to walk through together. If you are interested in knowing more, feel free to reach out through the contact page.

After sitting in my “To Read” pile for a couple of months, I have finally had a chance to dig into John Mark Comer’s Live No Lies. Though I do not intend to review the book here (Five stars! Must read! Highly recommend!), let me just say Comer is one of my new favorite authors. He has a way of approaching deep, deep topics in a way that is light and easily accessible. I have been describing it to my friends as a well marinated steak–full of meat but so tender it goes down like butter.

The premise of this book is that Satan’s primary means of waging spiritual war is through disinformation. Through lies, Satan spreads “deceptive ideas that play to our disordered desires that are normalized in a sinful society” (Live No Lies, xxiii). Thus, we have an unholy trinity of the Devil, the flesh, and the world. It is this last one that I want to focus on today.

Among my friends, I am known as a bit of a meme-aholic. I am addicted to memes–internet jokes about life and culture often combining a photo with text–the more sarcastic, the better. Every few weeks or so a new meme will go viral, meaning it gains popularity and spreads rapidly, sometimes accumulating millions of views, likes, and shares. Think of it as an inside joke between a few hundred thousand of your closest friends.

While the latest cat video going viral is no big deal, ideas often spread through culture the same way. Sometimes people imagine conspiracy theories of people in smoke-filled rooms deciding what ideas get promoted in the world. The truth is that societies and cultures seldom operate that way. Rather, ideas spread their way through the culture like internet memes, from person to person.

“The classic example is yawning,” Comer writes. “When somebody near you yawns, what do you do? Likely yawn. This is a well-documented phenomenon. Yet it’s true not only of physical behaviors–yawning, shivering, smiling, etc.–but of moral behaviors as well. Smoking, not smoking, healthy eating, junk food, temperate drinking, alcoholism, civility, rudeness–pretty much any behavior you can think of has the potential to spread through a society person to person, and it behaves oddly like a disease. Consumer psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden noted that ‘sociocultural phenomena can spread through and leap between, populations more like outbreaks of measles or chicken pox than through a process of rational choice.'” (Live No Lies, 206)

Comer continues, “As Renee DiResta, technical research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, summarized postmodern ethics: ‘If you make it trend, you make it true.'” (Live No Lies, 207, emphasis added)

Two implications of this for disciples of King Jesus:

  • First, cultivate a healthy skepticism of popular opinion, all the popular opinions. Just because something is popular in the “mainstream media” does not mean it is correct. By the same token, just because something is popular among your preferred right-wing or left-wing media, does not mean it is correct. Satan has no trouble spreading multiple, contradictory lies in order to sow confusion and division.
  • Second, cultivate a community centered on truth. According to the apostle Peter, Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). A basic lion strategy is to go after those who are alone, separated from the herd. When all the resources of the world are literally hell-bent on screaming lies at you 24/7, trying to stand alone is foolish. We need community to help us stay grounded in the truth of King Jesus and the Word of God.

After the resurrection, the gospel of King Jesus spread through the known world person to person. In other words, it went viral, and it changed the world. It can and must do so again. But our enemies–Satan, the flesh, and the world–will do all they can to stop it. So as a word of encouragement, let me leave you with these words from our King:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 English Standard Version

Published by Sam Draper

Sam has been with Greencastle Christian Church in Greencastle, Indiana since 2017. He is married to Jessie and they have one son, Joey. Sam completed his Doctor of Ministry in Spiritual Formation in 2019. Sam’s favorite hobbies include biking, reading, playing board games, and eating Chipotle burritos.

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