A few days ago, our Sunday school lesson was centered on the first chapter of the Westminster Confession and its emphasis on the necessity of Scripture. In discussing how wonderfully God provided for our need to be certain about Him and about salvation, we also spoke about how often we feel certain but we shouldn’t. Along those lines, I’d like to take a stab at naming and disarming several lies often spoken to us through social media, especially in understanding the world around us. In naming these lies, I’m not necessarily advocating giving up on #facetagramsnaptweeting, but encouraging us to wise, careful and limited use.
Lie #1 – You can understand a complex subject in a very brief time. Whether its climate change, vaccines, racism, global trade, or the inner workings of Washington, D.C., social media whispers constantly to us, “This is easy stuff. Read a headline and a couple paragraphs and you’ll be ready to engage in the conversation.” This isn’t to defend a modern kind of agnosticism, one which says we can never really know the truth about anything, but it is to say that many of these issues require real research and deep reading to come to a knowledgeable position. Having read an article or a few headlines doesn’t mean we understand something. To fight this lie means both reading more deeply and thoughtfully while also having the humility to know what we don’t know.
Lie #2 – You should understand as many complex subjects as possible. There is no end to the sheer number of issues social media asks you to care deeply about. Everyone has their hobby horse, they all seem fairly compelling, and every time we open up Facebook or Twitter, we’re being asked to give attention and emotional energy to what Tim Challies spoke of as “Outrage Porn.” Perhaps the deeper lie is that we are unlimited in our capacities to know, care and act; in reality, we are extraordinarily limited in our capacities to understand and care for things. And in believing lies about our capacities, we may in the end be stealing from those in our lives who deserve and need that emotional energy.
Lie #3 – Your opinion on those many and complex subjects is valid. Now that you understand those complex subjects, social media constantly encourages you to share your thoughts. And in giving everyone an equal platform, the subtle lie is that everyone’s opinion is equally valid. But in reality, very few opinions actually matter and even fewer are valid in the sense of being well-founded in research and wisdom. Social media encourages us to narcissistic certainty all while we ought to be feeling less certain about many of the issues presented to us. Lie #3.5 might be something like, “Certainty is the only option; anyone who questions or withholds judgment will be suspect by society.”
Lie #4 – You are angry at all the right things. We have come off a weekend of great anger in our nation, including great anger expressed on social media. While the reason may be new, the anger isn’t. And while anger over white supremacy is justified, not all of our anger is. Here are observations based on my twitter feed over the last five days: (1) absolutely every Christian leader and thinker I follow denounces white supremacy and racism; (2) absolutely everyone else I follow denounces white supremacy and racism. The damning thing is that I’m pretty sure many pastors who feel the need to speak out against white supremacy (praise God they do), have never felt the need to speak out against abortion. Most local pastors here in central Indiana have released some type of statement against white supremacy. But I’ve never seen most of them do the same for abortion. Why? Partly because it’s easier being angry at racism; it’s a popular anger that doesn’t cost us anything, especially not respectability. But to speak out against the genocide and racism of abortion is to risk much more. In the end, my fear is that we are taking our anger cues from social media and not from God. Sometimes they will be the same; often they won’t. Faithfulness will be shown in the difference.
So what’s the answer? Quitting social media is surely an option, one which many should seriously consider. But far more than needing to leave something, we need to return to something. We need to return to the Word of God. We need to hear from God more than we need to hear from our friends. We need God to tell us what’s right and wrong more than we need Facebook to tell us. We need God to inform our love and anger or else it will be shaped by forces outside our control. We need to be Bible people long before and long after we are #facetagramsnaptweeting people.