Let me say upfront that I am aware of the ironies that this article will contain. Like the complaint about other people complaining or the ambiguous post denouncing others being passive-aggressive, I am using social media to point out the flaws with social media. The irony is worth it this time.
Secondly, I write this as someone who has needed to repent of the lack of the very virtues I’m going to discuss. My own poor social media use has caused me to face my own sinful ego like few other things in the last decade.
Thirdly, I want to be clear that not all social media is like this. Some people are using it wisely and virtuously.
And fourthly, I also want to be clear that social media is often the scapegoat for these things when in reality social media is merely the vehicle that shows us how depraved humanity is. But just as you cannot truly blame the bar for the alcohol abuse, you can note that some arenas are a breeding ground for certain sins. Social media creates an environment where we are fiercely tempted to cast these virtues aside.
So, with current events in mind, I offer this list of virtues I think we as Americans, and especially Christians, need right now:
In Luke 18, Jesus Christ tells a story of a Pharisee who prayed to God by bragging on his own righteous deeds, while scoffing at a sinful tax collector. “Thank God I’m not like him.” The tax collector prayed with his head down and simply asked for mercy. A couple of years ago I played off of this in a social media post and modernized it. I referenced three Pharisees, however. One liberal, one conservative, and one moderate. “Thank God I’m not like those virtue-signaling SJWs.” “Thank God I’m not like those Trump supporters.” “Thank God I’m not like those in such extreme tribalism.”
I included the last one because I have found that when I see Pharisees on social media, especially in politics, I become the Pharisee in response.
Another way this is evident on social media is in how we post because we have to let people know what we think. Our opinion is important! Yet I know from personal experience that I often post my opinion for narcissistic reasons, NOT to try to edify others. The biggest tell-tale sign to me is how often I check for approval, i.e., likes, shares, and affirming comments. Of course, you can share an opinion for selfless reasons. But the entire culture of social media pulls against that. It makes everything about our voice and our platform. It gives the illusion of our life, our world, and our wisdom being of great value to hundreds or thousands of people. When that is not reality at all for the vast majority of us.
I think there are two types of patience in the Bible. There is long term patience where you have to wait on God, as Abraham did for 25 years for Isaac. And there is short term patience when you are tempted to respond poorly to something out of anger, as in 1 Corinthians 13:4. I am speaking to the latter.
Any time a controversial event happens in our culture, social media becomes the place to react—immediately. And this often leads us to overreact. We frequently do not care to wait for more facts to come in before pontificating. We watch the news or read an article; it stokes emotion in us. And instead of waiting to respond, we utilize our instant access to a mass audience on Facebook or Twitter to passionately speak out. Any semblance of being slow to anger or slow to post and quick to read further is trampled by the lure of social media.
Social media puts us in contact with other people and gives some semblance of community with them. But it’s a cheap, convenient, and superficial version of it. It’s a facade most of the time and a poor substitute for what God desires. Real community cannot log off at any time and has to look people in the eye. Real community is messy, intimate and it costs us something. Typically speaking, Facebook and Twitter are the opposite of those things.
Additionally, when we post something, the recipient of the post is a vague group of people. It’s a collection of people that range from our family to people we met eight years ago for two weeks. And haven’t talked to in-person since. Some may read our post and others may not. We are not directing ourselves to anyone in particular. This contributes to my previous point about it being about us more than the audience. But it also robs us of the benefit of transparent, personal conversation. We were created to foster community face-to-face, to see people’s nonverbal communication and understand them instead of merely being understood. When this happens, our opinions matter less and deep communion with others matters more.
Recently I have heard two different people speak about this. One said he was thankful he recently got married because when he reacts to controversial events in conversation with his wife, he now realizes how unimportant it is that he shares those same opinions on social media. Another guy told me that after the events at the Capitol Building on Wednesday, he texted with a man from his church. And they debriefed it with each other and ended by praying the Lord’s prayer together. I have no doubt that we need to vent and need to talk through our emotions and reactions to major events. But If we are sharing with our church or familial community as we should, I will guess that our desire to share in nebulous social media ‘community’ will be reduced.
Contemplation and Meditation
Social media is a sea of information and opinions that essentially all come from biased sources. Much of what is out there even comes from a place of evil. And the intention is to stoke negative emotions in people. There is disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda on the internet in mass. A lot of it is under the guise of “news” and even comes from mainstream media.
I once fell down a rabbit hole reading about a topic from an opposing viewpoint to my own. This is a good idea in theory. But what I was reading was from such an anti-Christian point of view, it began to affect me mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Phill here at REO told me to log off and focus on Philippians 4:8. I did and it was the best advice.
I’ve also discovered that if I try to read my Bible or pray after I’ve been on social media (especially during a time of controversy), it is exceedingly difficult to get my mind to slow down enough to concentrate. It distracts me while on it, but even after I log out. The very design of social media gets your brain to jump from post to post to gif to meme to baby picture to a short video and weaken your attention span. When you add in emotions of the controversy of the day, the average person’s ability to focus well is hindered. This is poison to Biblical meditation.
Complex Thought and Thoughtfulness
I also hasten to add when we do not spend time in contemplation, our ability to think critically is hindered. And our desire to respond to news thoughtfully is hurt. I do not want to bow down to nuance and balance because Christianity at times is bold and extreme. But on social media, it is much more important than normal to me.
It is healthy to take things in, but social media typically tempts us to become a Dead Sea of information and entertainment. Water comes in but doesn’t flow out, so to speak. We were created to create and be creative. We need to be writing, building, painting, arranging, knitting, and all sorts of other things that prove that God’s creative imprint is on us. I feel social media scrolling is addictive to me and I can lose 30 minutes in the blink of an eye. And I lose time I can be pouring out what God has poured into me. The pattern of reading-contemplating-creating is much more healthy.
There are several others I could discuss, but these are at the top of my heart today. I welcome discussion below in any respectful form.