After Church – Facebook, Conversation, and Holiness

Suppose somebody made this guidance for this life: believing in the Last  Judgment. Whenever he does anything, this is before his mind. In a way, how are we  to know whether to say he believes this will happen or not?

Asking him is not enough. He will probably say he has proof. But he has what  you might call an unshakeable belief. It will show, not by reasoning or by appeal to  ordinary grounds for belief, but rather by regulating for in all his life.

Ludwig Wittgenstein, Lectures on Religious Belief


I must say, I initially had huge reservations with using social media of any kind. Facebook or Twitter both promote a few different human tendencies, and not especially positive ones. Still, that doesn’t mean the whole enterprise doesn’t provide a space for conversation, meeting people from around the world, and the ability to learn about anything and everything simultaneously. Social media creates opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist, that much is true.

Social media, for me, sometimes feels like a sort of game we play as entertainment. A wonderful procrastination tool, sure, and also a great place to shout down those you don’t like!

Such place remain the perfect conduit for the worst kinds of human interaction – namely, “standing up for your opinions”. Have you ever had a person you don’t know, a friend of a friend, randomly comment on your Facebook wall? When this happens, I wonder whether I asked for that person’s opinion. My guess? No, probably not. Nor does their opinion add much of anything than to give me that temporary wave of anger. Why do people do this? It’s not as if they’re anonymous, and this would make perfect sense on an Internet forum somewhere, but why must they budge into conversations with friends? Honestly, who wants to set them all to private?

Or, imagine it like this: if two people talking on Facebook start talking with the presupposition of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God, what will this look like to people who don’t accept that particular belief? Like a bunch of crazy people, I’d venture a guess. I would also imagine that the word “bigot” or something worse would emerge, and then the feces will hit the fan, spraying all over my white Facebook wall. Not exactly the most pleasant of experiences. Honestly, I have found no great way to prevent this at all. How many times in real life do people butt into your conversations? Living in New England, the obvious answer is “never”. Either I’m not used to the geographical difference, or I just don’t enjoy having random people chime into a conversation to which they weren’t invited.

This makes me sound like a curmudgeon, but I’m not. Really! I just believe that true, genuine exchanges of ideas involve much more than “here is my opinion on controversial issue X that makes me so mad as to expectorate my words all over your Facebook”. Rather, I imagine it involves understanding that person, why they believe what exactly they believe, and operating within that framework. The art of a conversation isn’t a science where I instigate you in some sort of controlled experimentation, but an art where we alternately strike and riposte. Well, assuming that we’re debating, which usually doesn’t arrive in the form of conversation at all.

Most dialogues in this format – that I disagree with you – assumes a level ground of presuppositions. That is not often the case. Any number of different beliefs form our own opinions on everything, from the meaning of life to what exactly I had for breakfast. To assume, as most do, that we can simply talk about things and reach a solution isn’t often the case. If the Holy Spirit speaks to you in a sermon or some other way, that’s different, but any time two people talk to each other we will definitely misunderstand without proper context.

Imagine it in this sense. When I say that I “believe” something, what do I mean? Usually, we’d assume that we speak of religious belief, since that’s the context in which it normally derives. However, what if I am responding to someone asking a question, yet I am not entirely sure of the answer? For example, “Who do you think ate the pie?” “I believe it might have been you.” Obviously, this doesn’t mean the same thing as the version used above. And we might say, further, that “belief” changes in its forcefulness and strength depending on the context of the conversation and how we use language.

Social media makes discerning this context difficult. Often, you won’t understand the cadence of the sentence, nor the sarcasm or witty pun inherent in it, nor any number of other factors that make human conversation so fun and interesting. You hear what your reading voice hears, and most definitely not what the other person actually said. More than likely, asking for clarification will work much better than dropping the accusation atom bomb on someone.

I would add my own little reservation and say that stating your opinion always struck me as a bit of an ego trip, especially if it’s bound to cause waves. I’ve done it, so has everyone, in an attempt to criticize or disparage this or that thing we don’t like. Yay, you win! Your ego especially wins! It’s an awful thing, but the lack of communication clarity and our ability to freely speak our mind on the Internet with (usually) little reprecussions we can perceive makes it all the more easier for me to say dumb things. Holding back isn’t my strong suit, I’m sure, but I have learned to keep some issues to myself until the proper moment presents itself.

All of this comes down to progressing in holiness. Offending people isn’t going to do that. Unless their brain is screwed up like mine.

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

1 Peter 1

I believe we can add “being belligerent on Facebook” as a lust of a sort. Anyone trained in the art of philosophy and rigorous debate (read: me) surely continues to have problems resisting the URGE to fight people for no good reason. From my side, it’s just a fun game, but it might be serious business for them. Recognizing the situations where you can say/not say things, really, is part of the whole deal.

Our behavior, online and off, should reflect our Creator in some respect. It’s more the things we do, and less the things we say, that determine this. And our unshakable beliefs, the real ones, will come through in our actions rather than our Facebook words. The Internet turns our words into actions, so let’s be a little more cautious about it.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.