I received an interesting message last night from a former student who is now attending seminary. He emailed me while he was sitting in class — apparently not paying a great deal of attention, but that’s beside the point — to tell me that the professor was making the case that social networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) is un-Christian.
In the view of this professor, social networking leads to a heresy called docetism, which holds that Jesus was not truly human but merely appeared to have a physical body.
I didn’t immediately see the connection until my friend explained a bit further. The basic argument is that social networking pulls us away from physical human connections. We prefer to interact in cyberspace rather than in real life and consequently begin to devalue the physical body. The result of this, the professor argued, is that we are headed down the slippery slope toward docetism.
A few thoughts:
First, it is true that technology is not merely neutral in its effects on the human condition. For example, the industrial revolution had far-reaching effects that extended well beyond the invention of various tools and machines. Over time, the rapid expansion of technology led people to leave their farms and move into large cities. Large cities promote dramatically different lifestyles and family dynamics than farming communities and small towns. The technology actually changed the ways in which we live and interact, positively and negatively.
Similarly, social networking has inherent benefits and drawbacks that are not completely apparent to us yet. One possible benefit is the ability to quickly update my friends and family on major life events. I can keep up with people and share information in a very short period of time and with minimal effort. In that way it can contribute to my sense of community, especially if the people I know through social media are also real-life friends, people that are truly a part of my world.
On the other hand, social media can create a false sense of community, in which I believe that friendship consists of short factual updates about what I ate for breakfast, or of brief statements of opinion, like my personal feelings about Rebecca Black. Some studies even indicate that social networking contributes to narcissism, because I begin to believe that my friends are a sort of personal fan club, cheering me on as I eat my next bite of Shredded Wheat.
Second, we need to be careful not to rapidly jump to the best-case or worst-case scenario regarding a particular technology. It seems a stretch to assume that because social networking can lead to isolationism that it will therefore lead to a formal heresy like docetism. I’m not sure that it would occur to most Christians who use social media to make that sort of an intellectual leap.
On the other hand, too many of us wholeheartedly embrace technology without evaluating it. It is quite possible and even likely that using social media changes the ways in which we think and process information, and even our perceptions of God and others. For a great book on the effect of technology on culture, check out Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman.
Finally, we have a responsibility to carefully examine our use of technology in light of Scripture. How does my use of Facebook harmonize with Scriptural commands to make the most of my time here on earth (Eph 5:15-16)? Does Twitter serve as a self-promotional tool or as a tool to promote the kingdom of God? Are my interactions on social media encouraging and edifying, or silly and demeaning to the image of God in others? Does social networking, on balance, help or hinder my ability to enter into true and God-honoring relationships with other people?
These are critical questions, and ones that we ask too infrequently.
Questions for you: What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of social media, in your opinion? How do you go about evaluating your use of social networking in light of the Scripture? Are there other questions that we need to be asking as we interact with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media?