Once upon a time, people who didn’t believe in the kind of God that spoke through those obnoxious GodSpeaks.com billboards (“What part of ‘Thou shalt not…’ didn’t you understand?”) could still talk about God by not talking about God. Instead, they could talk about the “God-shaped hole” or vacuum or void that existed in the heart of our being. It’s a pretty good maneuver when you think about it, one that was used by such luminaries as Saint Augustine and Blaise Pascal. No need to believe in the existence of God to engage in Godtalk. One could have a perfectly serviceable theological discussion around the circumference of that “terrifying bottomless abyss opening up inside us which we would do anything to fill” as a former history professor of mine described it. In fact, “God-shaped hole” is such a perfectly adequate metaphor or trope or image—I’m not exactly sure what it is—that it’s even been used as a title for a novel and as the title for a pop song in a movie soundtrack. Wait a minute. Now I do know what it is. It’s a cliché.
And like all good clichés, this one has pretty much run its course. Why? Because with every passing moment, humanity is coming up with more and more and more information to stuff down that “terrifying bottomless abyss.” In fact, it’s been said that “by some estimates in just a few years we will reach a point where all the information on the Internet will double every 72 hours.” Which means that the big hole that needs to be filled in our lives is no longer shaped like the Deity Formerly Known as God. It’s shape like Google. And if anyone out there can tell me what a Google-shape hole looks like, I’ll send them an invitation to Spotify. (Actually, I do have a few invitations to Spotify if you’re interested!) Oh, and by the way, at the moment “Google-shaped hole” is just a baby cliché, only about 70 results show up on Google, as opposed to 875,000 results for “God-shaped hole.” So feel free to use it for awhile.
Anyhoo. What this all means for those of us in the religion business (or the “prayer trade” as Brother Cavil called it on Battlestar Galactica) is that offering to fill the “God-shaped hole” in people isn’t going to cut it anymore. The DFKAG is losing ground anyway (see “Science and religion: God didn’t make man; man made gods“). People may still be trying to make sense of it all, but the traditional answers found by visiting the “Church Around the Corner” (even the Unitarian Universalist church around the corner) aren’t going to help them. The sphere of information we’ve surrounded ourselves with is on the verge of being so mystifying and so complex that it would bake the cookies of even the greatest minds of the past like Augustine and Pascal. The good news is that maybe, just maybe, people seeking to fill that “Google-shaped hole” might want to unplug for awhile and engage in a good old fashion face-to-face conversation about life, the universe, and everything. So there still may be a place for religious communities after all. But we’ve got to be ready. And this article is a good place to start: “Theology and the Church After Google: How This New Age Will Change Christianity.” If you haven’t read it yet, do. Really.