By Samuel M. Frost, Th.M.
I have been a member on Facebook for many, many years. At it’s infancy, almost. I saw the movie about Zuckerberg, The Social Network, and thought, “whatever.” The fact is, FB has become a social norm. In this link FB has the numbers almost more than Christianity. As a theologian, I pay attention to things like that. That is, I come from the Christian interpretative tradition that seeks to apply Scriptural reasoning and theory to every aspect of life; that Scripture has something to say about every aspect of life, and that is can be applied to every aspect of life. On one occasion I asked my twin boys to name one subject the Bible does not address in one way or the other. “Cars!” I replied, “Well, that would be horse power (from which we get the measurement of engines), or transportation. The way we use transportation has moral issues, like, why are their speed limits?” They said, “So that we are safe.” “And why do I care about being safe, or looking out for another driver’s safety?” They got the point: love your neighbor. Biblical law applied.
Now, someone may reply, “I don’t need the Bible to know that.” To which I would reply (the philosopher would come out), “know what? What do you know?” Yes, I am a Reductionist. Sorry. There is no such thing as “common sense.”
Now, then, does FB apply? Oh yes. Society and communication. “Go ye and make disciples, teaching the nations all that I have commanded you.” Letters are and were a form of media. Media is just a Latin word (plural – medium is singular) that means “in between.” The thing through which something else goes. Communication goes through various media, words, speech, written letters, books, newspapers, television, computers, telephones. These are forms of media, or medium-devices. The news happens. News reporters relate this news to you; they are the go between; the mediators. Media.
The Bible itself is a medium. The letters and books in the Bible are forms of media. It’s how communication is made. Before good, ole’ Zuckerberg there was Guttenberg, the inventor of the printing press. Christians seized on this device by the truckloads. They could get the message out far more quicker than sending individual letters, or copying them by hand. Then came the camera. The phone. Wire service. The typewriter and the word processor. All tools to use to foster the message; forms of media to use to further educate those who would listen.
Now, of course, these forms, as with anything else human beings create, wicked things that they are, have been abused and used for evil. After all, Mein Kampf was published as well as the Marquis de Sade. Pornography, perhaps one of the most destructive forms of media in the world then and now, is downright evil (downloadable evil). So, do Christians flee these forms of media because they can be used for evil purposes? Hardly.
Humans love to talk and communicate. Expression of this kind has been around since Adam was told to “eat this, it’s good for you.” From thought to expression of thought to another person, media is right there in the middle. But, enough of my rambling. The Church of Facebook, written by Jesse Rice (David C. Cook, 2009), is one of the first attempts to deal with the “Christian and FB” phenomena. FB started in 2004, so I expect to see more stuff like this, especially in light of the article I linked above. There are already several “blogs” on Christian sites, and some of them are good, but many of them come at FB from the perspective of idolatry. That is, spending too much time on FB. That FB is not real. The communication on there is not real. That its a loony bin for lonely people.
The church service I attended today, a Reformed Baptist community, had a new issue of TableTalk, published by Ligonier Ministries (senior Editor, R.C. Sproul). This year marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation (1517). And, I had already typed the first two paragraphs this morning before I attended their service. I picked up the copy, took it home, and this is what I read: “And oh what opportunities we have today for spreading the good news! Five hundred years ago, Guttenberg’s recent invention of the printing press meant that the light of the gospel could be spread at a speed never before witnessed. Tyndale’s Bibles and Luther’s tracts could go out by the thousands. Today, digital technology has given us another Guttenberg moment, and the same message can now be spread at speeds Luther never could have imagined” (TableTalk, October, 2017 – ‘Why the Reformation Still Matters’, by Dr. Michael Reeves, 10). Guttenberg to Zuckerberg in 500 years. Would Calvin have a webpage like “Geneva.edu” or something? You bet he would. The forms of media are arbitrary, whether a animal skin (vellum), or papryii, or type-set, type writer, xerox or PDF. The point is mass publication. How many trees have we saved with the computer?
Rice’s book focuses on the positive value of FB in particular and tries to pinpoint its success on a number of factors, mostly psychologically. FB “connects” us. “Connectedness mattered” (p. 43). “Authentic connection is described as the core of psychological wellbeing” (45), and so on. The lonely guy in the basement of his mom’s house can now “feel” like someone, and not just a face in the crowd, but with FB can be someone. He can be heard by whoever will listen, far more than he could ever be heard before. We all get this analysis. And, a very funny episode of South Park captures this very idea.
Kyle is happy because he has a new “friend”. However, Rice goes a little further. Zuckerberg is not just stopping with FB as a place to create some hoopla. It is predicted that FB will become akin to what the telephone was, and what the Yellow Pages used to be. This is the dream of Zuckerberg (62). That cranks up the stereo-type of South Park into the fact that FB is entering into a stage of legitmacy and seriousness. FB is here to stay. What’s being said on there is being used in the media, on your job and in your school or college. The FBI uses it as well as the CIA. The Oval Office has its own FB page. Professors, high academicians, universities and law firms use it. FB is just as connected now as was the Internet, and is so linked to the Internet, that with one push of a button on many websites, you can “like” this page on FB. In other words, what you say on FB stays on FB, and what you say on FB is what everyone can see.
“There is a force that is capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, thereby creating spontaneous order,” says Rice (84). This can be done in the area of education. I can virtually Google any subject I like and find an academic paper on it, written with all the rules of Chicago/Turabian Style. In other words, we have entered another area that affects education: overchoice, which is related to hyperconnection (101). Want to know the “real reasons” for the Civil War? Google it. You will find there virtually all the pros and cons, the versus’, the why’s and why nots, and the “support” of “footnotes” galore from “history” and “professors” to support whatever it is that you want to support. Was Jesus married to Mary Magdelene? Google it. You will find “proof” that he was! With scholars and footnotes to back it up! It must be true!
In another book, George Friedman’s hailed work, The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century (Anchor Books, 2009), the author sees an assault on what used to be called, reason. “The computer represents both a radical departure from previous technology and a new way of looking at reason” (61). The computer is binary, and operates on 0’s and 1’s. “To a computer, everything is a number, from a letter on a screen to a bit of music…it can play music, but it cannot write it, or express its beauty” (62). “The computer treats reason as an instrument for achieving things, not for contemplating things” (62). The language of the computer, Java, C++, or Basic is an artificial language. “It is the antithesis to natural language…[which is] filled with subtlety, nuance, and complex meaning determined by context and inference” (62). In turn, artificial language can accomplish an amazing amount of things. Natural language is impractical and shades of meaning (“what did you mean by that?”) causes conflict. If we could become like computers, think like computers.
Computers get results and Friedman links the American Philosopher Charles Pierce and Pragmatism. Pragmatism is common sense philosophy. It is a reduction of all language into “what matters” and “can you get results”. The fusing of this Philosophy, so American as it is, with the reduction of reason leaves us, quite possibly, with a culture that see no reasonableness at all to anything that smacks of metaphysical, contemplative, complex or the subtleties and nuances of thought. In short, Christianity is on the way out. Computers get results. Christianity gets you the Pope, Evangelicals, Donald Trump and White Supremacy. We know what we get when we use a computer language. But, entering into anything metaphysical, philosophical, theological is for the birds. All that gets is fighting. Enter FaceBook. FB is a world totally operated by .00001’s and .00000’s. And, yet, just look at the divisions of all sects, arguing all around, throwing names, shouting in CAPS, and belittling your ideas as, “like, totally retard.”
What has been invented, the computer, and its wonderful simplicity in code, a tool for uniting all languages and peoples, a tower of Babel if you will, is, in fact, not uniting the world at all. FB is a place that one can see just how divided the world actually is, from the armchair commentator, to the well, footnoted academician. Predicts Friedman, “The twenty first century will be a period in which a range of new institutions, moral systems, and practices will begin their first tentative emergence. The first half of the twenty first century will be marked by intense social conflict globally. All of this frames the international struggles of the twenty-first century” (64). The divisions of mankind were known, but not so pronounced. Now they are pronounced and given a platform on FB, the Internet in general. Fragmentation has gone global. What is united is that we are not united. What is taught is that we can teach ourselves. The creation of artificial language has allowed us to see, for the first time in history, the mess of natural language.
But, back to Rice’s point. What if these fragmented groups finds other of like minds? Their fragmentation in a local setting (say, in a small town there are only 4 people that “believe the way you do”), can now jump into the thousands globally who “believe the way you do.” A whole group never before able to be united and show numbers (strength) can now be united on the very tool that demonstrates just how un-united we are, globally. This can be good, or very dangerous (think, Terrorism). Let’s face it. What we had before ISIS were the bombings of the IRA in the seventies. You don’t hear about that anymore. ISIS united globally through technology. How many of them are there? Doesn’t matter. ISIS spreads itself on FB and the internet through education. So, why would not the Christian use this for the very same purpose?
We may be entering into an area where what was once described as “unreal” cyber connections (friends) are becoming real. A person “friends” another on FB, and there is no way to say that I have 1200 actual friends, is there? Well, there is. A “friend” is not just someone that you live close by, someone you grew up with, but someone you have something in common with in terms of “what you believe” – and that is powerful. We have to redefine the term, rather, expand the term, ‘friend.’ It is a meaningful connection, albeit a cyber one. But, what, would you rather actually hear and see Martin Luther in 1517? Of course. But, what we have of that thinker is merely copy-text, much like cyber-text. I only know of Luther, or any other figure in history I have never met through texts and my imagination. I am ‘friends’ with Luther. I’d like to think I know him a little through reading his profile (biography). There’s nothing new under the sun…
However, there is one dimension the computer, and FB does not have. A power far more greater than any power that can be named: Jesus Christ. He knows everyone. Communication is communication – it all comes from the heart, and he knows the heart of everyone pounding on the keyboard at 2:13 in the morning. What may appear as that which is being organized around a tool that brings together a billion people (FB) – the computer itself, is actually being cause by a much greater Power that is the Cause of All Things. FB is a tool no more complex than a printing press, or Paul’s fellow compatriots who copied his letters for the use to distribute them en masse. And, God used those means. Caused those means to work for a far more greater Good. Does FB give us opportunity to reach those who we could never reach? Absolutely. Does that mean entering into the much larger place of arguments and disagreements? Absolutely. Does that mean when you present a case or argument for something you better know what you are talking about – because I can pull up and “fact check” at the speed of light -? Absolutely. Although error permeates the cyber world, it can also be used (and in my experience is being used) to combat error on a massive scale -with the click of a button.
May it be even possible to have a cyber-church gathering on a Sunday? Already being done. I’ll let that last thought just stand there…..(I can already hear many pastors say, “but what about my paycheck!”). Well, they have Sunday morning television shows, and the Christians took to the TV like a fly on stink. Why not a FB church? Don’t throw stones yet….I don’t even know where I stand on that. But, the discussion must be had. FB isn’t going anywhere, and the cries that it is not “real” or not “meaningful” are becoming drowned by the numbers.
500 years, from Guttenberg to Zuckerberg. I say, Happy Anniversary!