Culture

“A great TED talk is reminiscent of a tent revival sermon”

I grew up among Christian evangelicals and I recognize the cadences of missionary zeal when I hear them. TED, with its airy promises, sounds a lot like a secular religion. And while it’s not exactly fair to say that the conference series and web video function like an organized church, understanding the parallel structures is useful for conversations about faith — and how susceptible we humans remain. The TED style, with its promise of progress, is as manipulative as the orthodoxies it is intended to upset.

A great TED talk is reminiscent of a tent revival sermon. There’s the gathering of the curious and the hungry. Then a persistent human problem is introduced, one that, as the speaker gently explains, has deeper roots and wider implications than most listeners are prepared to admit. Once everyone has been confronted with this evidence of entropy, contemplated life’s fragility and the elusiveness of inner peace, a decision is called for: Will you remain complacent, or change? Jesus said to the crowds, “Whoever has ears, let him hear.” A skilled tent revivalist can twist those words to suggest that simply showing up to listen makes you part of the solution.

Megan Hustad, “The Church of TED”, The New York Times (15 March 2015), SR4.