By Ruth Broyde Sharone
DETECTIVE ON THE INTERNET
California-born Greg Harder invests three to five hours every day in front of his computer screen as a “cultural detective specializing in interfaith,” a phrase he coined to describe his internet social-media activities.
Greg’s primary goal as a detective is not discovery but cross-fertilization. He tracks down important information about interfaith culture gleaned from multiple internet sites, then uploads them to a variety of other sites, including facebook pages, websites, and blogs. He is eager to strengthen the growing global interfaith community and simultaneously give voice to his own community which, he acknowledges, is often misunderstood or shunned: the Pagan community.
Greg, 62, became involved in interfaith engagement after marrying Rachael Watcher more than 20 years ago. Rachel, from a Jewish background, is now a prominent leader of the San Francisco Wiccan community and a long-time interfaith activist. Greg began his interfaith involvement two decades ago, helping Rachael pack lunches and dinners to the Interfaith Center at the Presidio in San Francisco.
Since then, the former college-TV-station producer has carved out his own terrain on the internet. He does so ever mindful that the growth of the interfaith movement, locally, nationally, and internationally, can be traced in part to the explosive expansion of social media. Greg, also an accomplished photographer, sees himself as a person who has taken on the task of unearthing and then delivering discreet packets of information where it can do the most good – photographs included! His Flickr page is one of the best sources of interfaith photos on the web.
Tens of Thousands Visit Interfaith Facebook Pages
Years ago Greg launched a facebook page called People of the Earth. The project emerged following a meeting for Indigenous people at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio to discuss Indigenous issues and Earth-related problems. That facebook page currently has 2,400 followers and is growing daily.
He explained how the local facebook page for the Pagan community, called PNC-Bay Area (Pagan Newswire Collective) is basically a local bulletin board for Pagan concerns. “Not all Pagans are interested in interfaith. Some support the work that others are doing in the field but don’t wish to participate directly. And some still fear the repercussions of exposure – being attacked or losing one’s job.”
Pagans themselves need to have places they are familiar with where they can establish relationships. Greg helped one of the largest Wiccan organizations, Covenant of the Goddess, start a facebook page five years ago and still actively maintains it. They’re up to 136,000 likes.
Letter-writing has become extinct, Greg laments. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter – the lexicons of our times – are what drive modern communication, and half the population seems to be engaged or even obsessed with getting information and uploading it,” he said.
Interfaith has done a fairly good job in that arena, but could be much better, he suggests. “Sometimes those activities are hard to track down in the ocean of postings, and usually that information originates from small groups. But the field is definitely growing and becoming more mainstream,” he observed. “A dedicated group of us around the world are trying to do that.”
United Religions Initiative (URI) has always done a fair job of information dissemination, he reports, but now it is making more use of internet technology and social media, especially because of the growing group of young people who are on-line and the increased activity generated by their Cooperation Circles. “What they write about, I re-post,” he said. The “cooperation circles” are the 649 (and growing) interfaith communities in some 84 countries, groups connected to each other through affiliation with the United Religions Initiative, each one committed to the idea of interfaith cooperation, collaboration, and peacemaking.
Anyone visiting the sites above – and the proliferation of stories, photos, and videos they gather – will see how Greg Harder is an amazing example of what one interfaith activist with vision and determination can achieve for us all. Particularly the Facebook-friendly among us.
Greg predicts there will be more social media outlets soon. “Facebook is becoming problematic. A lot of privacy issues need to be resolved. It seems to be increasingly advertising-oriented, so people are looking for other venues. I’m one of those people!
“We’re seeing a surge in more multi-media, more videos, more citizen journalism. What I hope doesn’t happen is that people get stuck in their own interest groups. Social media groups generally tailor information to what they think you are interested in, and that can also become a limiting kind of box.
“How do you talk to someone from a totally different culture, a culture that you fear?” Greg asks. “Learning the skills to communicate effectively among and between diverse cultures is the primary key to success in interfaith dialogue,” he says, responding to his own question.
“Too much information and media bombardment gets a lot of attention, and people react to that. Media can also be very potent in a negative way – as we have seen from ISIS’ recruitment of young people being fed by sophisticated social media,” he cites as an example. “In addition, one of the consequences of having access to a glut of information all of the time means equal or excessive access to negative media as well.”
Interfaith social media and blogging demand more than just writing skills, Greg emphasizes. The current trends indicate you need to have visuals and engaging interviews with people. If you are not an artist yourself, then you need skills to find the appropriate artist. “So I consider myself a media detective.”
'Sherlock Holmes’ Greg also goes on record with a further prediction. “Texting is a fad of a generation and will fade as new technologies come forward to replace it.”
But the ultimate question Greg Harder poses about our communication skills remains to be answered:
“Will we develop the ability to get along with one another?”