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God is a Predator drone: one Texas megachurch preacher's bizarre lecture series

Ed Young, preaching the drone gospel
Ed Young, preaching the drone gospel
Ed Young/Fellowship Church
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

"We need to rediscover how great and how awesome our God is," megachurch preacher Ed Young says in the second of an August lecture series posted to YouTube. "So I thought I would call this series [of sermons] 'Drones.'"

Wait — drones? The remotely piloted aircraft that also moonlight as tools for blowing up people in Pakistan? They're what is going to make America rediscover God?

Apparently, Young thinks so. His August lecture series centers on a central if bizarre simile: God is like a drone. Just watch the strange trailer for the series, featuring images of drones targeting kids on playgrounds, some spectacularly inappropriate dubstep, and an exhortation to "get your drone on" at church:

Each lecture in the drones series focuses on one of the three basic attributes of the Abrahamic God: he's omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), and omnipotent (all-powerful).

Apparently, so are drones.

"Drones would be a sort of a microcosm of who God is," Young preaches in the third lecture, before briefly explaining each attribute.

On a really simple technical level, it's not an ideal comparison. Drones aren't omniscient: one of the reasons where there's a serious civilian casualty count in the US drone campaign in Pakistan is that it's hard for drone cameras to distinguish civilians from legitimate targets at altitude.

They're not omnipresent: there are really strict Federal Aviation Administration rules governing their domestic use, and only a handful of countries use them for military purposes.

And they're definitely not omnipotent: drones haven't been able to wipe out al-Qaeda, and they're just not very good at a whole lot of military tasks. No drone that's been built so far can replace a manned fighter in a dogfight, for example.

On a deeper level, though, it's emblematic of the way drone technology is starting to work its way into broader culture. That's inevitable: once every new invention becomes widely used, it becomes normal. We use guns and firearm terminology as metaphors without blinking. People write movies and TV shows about the internet and tech culture. The fact that a preacher is using a drone as metaphor for God is just proof that people are starting to accept unmanned planes as a normal part of modern life, like any other common technology (military or otherwise).

It's also likely just a stunt to get people to pay attention. A piece on Young's Fellowship Church, by Matthew Gault at Medium, recalls that he advocated a "sexperiment" back in 2008: he told young couples to have sex every day for a week to see what it did for their marriage. Young and his wife put their money where their mouths were, taking the challenge and talking to the New York Times about it.

Young's Fellowship Church has nine branches: seven in Texas, one in Florida, and one in London. As Gault notes, a 2010 investigation by the Dallas ABC affiliate found that Young had bought a private airplane for the church's use, yet told no one that it existed. FAA records said he flew it to the Bahamas and a Mexican city near Belize.

Gault spoke to Young himself about the drones sermons. Young defended his choice of metaphor. "We try to use things that our culture can identify with," Young said. And besides, "they help us as we fight against the bad guys."

Young did concede that not everyone would like his choice of metaphor for a benevolent deity. "Drones are sort of controversial,"  he allowed.