July 28, 2015

We Are Legion

I believe we need to move beyond the mundane to see our enemies in all their persona. Many will find this post offensive and some uncomfortable because of the truth it exposes about both ourselves and others. 

I will be discussing social media and the Bible today. No, Moses didn't have a smartphone and Jesus didn't need to access to LinkedIn to get the Disciples on-board with Him. There are no direct links to uploaded YouTube video showing Jesus' miracles either. That being said, there are plenty of indirect references to what God expects of us who do have smartphones, access to LinkedIn and videos of last year’s diving board mishap at the pool that gave you a foot-long road rash on your back.

In all seriousness...the outlook so far for non-believers and believers alike is pretty shoddy when it comes to social media usage. Let’s hit this nail right on the head. Social media and its trends are seemingly making us more anti-social not more social. The two main issues I see with social media of all forms other than the obvious failure to have face-to-face contact is it (1) It enforces a low view of authority and (2) It implements a mentality of no accountability.

Is social media inherently evil or unbiblical? No, but like anything else in excess, it becomes an enormous spiritual and therefore relational detriment if people are not careful.

Firstly, because everyone can hide behind a keyboard and monitor, there is diminishing respect for other human beings. There is dwindling respect of authority or authority figures. I believe this might also carry-over into personal interaction in society as a whole too, hence we see trivialization or contempt of other people. When online even well-meaning and benevolent people who do good philanthropically for others become targets for snarky comments and snide innuendos. People seem to become amorphous and less human on line when distance and electronics are put between them. People become abstractions not real humans. It is then easier to callously demean them because they have no true identity, they are only skins, avatars or persona. They are just formless entities. Everyone else looks  formlessly the same. That means the field is leveled for everyone.

To the person providing online comments on websites, blogs, or forums everyone else is fair game. Any attempt to elevate someone else is met with diehard resistance. This makes everyone of equal voice. Anyone that might actually have had authority on an issue then becomes plebeian or more accurately a member of a Proletariat. In Marxist language, the Internet becomes a Socialist Utopian playground. Why do we suppose a loosely associated international network of activist / hacktivist named Anonymous has become so popular online (and off) as vigilantes? They are a collective (noun), an amorphous identity-less, classless social construct that all appear equal and it is only in their unification there is power. In unification they form a gestalt or hive-mind. It is almost as if they become Borg-like in their concerted efforts. The  only true overriding characteristic of them all is that they are characterless with seemingly no centralized moral/ethical authority. Everyone is exactly the same.

This becomes a problem for Christianity and Bible believers in general because (1) God has made us all individually with unique talents and gifts for complimentarian purposes. (2) The Bible is the source of authority on all things spiritual, salvational and Christian. (3) Those that are learned in the ways of the Word of God and Jesus are to speak with the authority of Scripture. When I say Scripture is authoritative I mean it is authoritative over experience, authoritative over reason, and authoritative over tradition or dogma and/or how people behave. People on social media both Christian and non-Christian that do not adhere tightly to Scripture will always have a problem with this (and you if you do adhere to it). Social media gives everyone a soapbox, even those who probably shouldn’t really have one because they are merely propagators of hostility, false information, false teaching or just garden-variety stupidity.

Although this newer medium can be used for a load of good, it is beginning to lead to an egalitarian view of society at-large which is to say everyone’s opinion is just as valid and authoritative as another person's. This of course feeds the postmodern mindset of all opinions are equally valid and equally true which is just not logically tenable. Therefore a failure to allow for an absolute or objective truth claim undermines and subverts Christianity, morality and therefore society. Relativism then ensues from this postmodernism and breeds a community destroying pluralism. I guess you could say social media helps destroy the very network that makes it work which is a communal people network: A physical community. If it does this at the secular level…imagine the negative impact it has on individual interactions of believers who are supposed to physically meet together to worship God.

We end up with a busted disassembly of people with no discernible authority figure. That my friends is not a Church, fellowship or even a community. That my friends is anarchy and invariably a prison of solitude. Idle minds are the Devil's own. It starts with physical isolation then becomes mental and then finally spiritual. The Bible constantly shows the detriment of not having social order or an authoritative figure in society and in our lives: The Tower of Babel, Sodom and Gomorrah, the time of the Judges, the end of the Old Testament when kings were deposed at the end of the Kingdom period, etc. We also see it in the New Testament in the church at Corinth.

A lack of a unified individual, communal or societal interpersonal relationships in a face-to-face manner inevitably leads to complete social breakdown and polarizing division. Division which I suggest we see in out deeply divided nation already. Without the face-to-face element in a relationship there is no true emotional and spiritual cohesion, there is only two nodes linked together. Two connections linked together through conduit. Tied together likes prisoners in a daisy chain. We become like the computer circuitry that we use. This failure to have meaningful relationships on the horizontal level then bleeds over to the vertical one which leads to…apostasy. The system God intended breaks down completely without the human contact. There ends up being no loyalty, no honor, no morality. We are more than just social beings. We are tactile social beings.

The second detriment I see is along the same lines and might actually arises from the first. Because social media and the Internet in general are generally leaderless or ungoverned there is little or no authority figure to appeal to. There is no accountability. I believe this is why we have seen such callous online reactions to heinous crimes and world events. We’ve become highly connected and more intellectually aware but we’ve become more emotionally disconnected from the events due to geographic distance.

The farther the geographic distance the more the event's relevance to our lives seems to decrease. Some of the apathy or cruelty I have seen in comment sections or forums of websites are shocking in their total lack of humanity and compassion. My parents used to call it desensitizing or numbing of the masses. Remember folks, my parents said this in the 1980's and they said it about television and radio. They had no idea the Internet and social media was coming in the next 25 years where everyone who had a computer would have a public voice. Imagine how this medium has amplified the problem. Images and news are immediate. Cruel jokes can now be made sooner and spread faster in a wider geographical area because in reality, Internet is ubiquitous and place-less (decentralized). A group of attacking, faceless, intangible entities out to wreak havoc.

We are Legion. As the modern vernacular has rephrased it, we are Borg.

I believe much of the desensitizing is because social media requires very little from people emotionally, physically and usually spiritually. It makes us lazy in these aspects. We become consumers of visual imagery that is disconnected from our reality: Beheadings, bombings, sexual perversions, etc. There is no emotional investment. Viewing these atrocities or sins requires little or no commitment. It doesn’t require covenant, it only requires assent or a tentative mental contract. Covenants are primarily legally, relationally and emotionally binding. Contracts tend to be only legally binding. Covenants are often intended to be indefinite. Contracts are often intended to be finite.

Social media essentially being a detached relationship allows us nearly total control of the relationship, its intensity and level of contact and influence in our lives. I don’t know about you the reader but this sounds an awful lot like the counseling books I read for school when it came to counseling those with porn addictions. Is our social media a temporary suave for latent narcissism? Is there a psychologically addictive element in social media as there is in porn? I suggest there might be but I have no data to back that claim up, only intuition and a gut instinct.

How does this affect the church? I already alluded to it in the previous paragraph. The difference is in the difference between covenant and contract. Specifically the difference between spiritual covenant and social contract. Christians are called to spiritual covenant with one another which is a full on commitment with God at center as Judge and Observer of our wrongs in our lives. Social media and secular society only demand interaction based on an unspoken contract style obligation (social courtesy). Even this so-called courtesy is beginning to breakdown in the face of dehumanizing social networks because of distances involved. The truth is, there isn’t even a contractual obligation. Social interactions are capricious and based solely on whimsy. No one owes anything to anyone else.

There is a huge difference between the two. The biggest being that that covenant requires that God actually be the third party involved in a relationship. I suggest that except in rare cases in social media, God is often absent or is not present in the way that He should be. That is because He's not given proper authority in the social exchange. Where God is absent…there is usually a failure to take proper accountability.

Why? Because people tend to believe there is no one there to hold them accountable or they feel are beholden to no one. No moral arbitrator, no morality benchmark or measuring stick. You know the old saying, "Out of sight, out of mind." What happens on social media stays on social media (to quote the Las Vegas adage). The problem though is that nothing is out of God’s sight…all will be held accountable on the Day of Judgment. Especially if you've been playing fast and loose with your, fellowships, relationships and commitments…just like porn addicts do.

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