Loneliness has become a normative condition. We as a culture have been speeding down that road for at least a couple of decades now. We have enabled ourselves to avoid the messiness of face-to-face embodied interaction with our fellow humans. We can effectively hide from everyone else, create a fake online persona based solely on our self-delusions and wishful thinking. Instead of technology making us more objective with greater resources we have succumbed to our sins and tribal tendencies.
Interestingly Britain has created a Minister of Loneliness for their nation the problem has become so bad.
People are lonely and many having never belonged to any community in a church for example or a civic organization are basically selfish and ignorant in their attitudes. So, to belong to a tribe or group even if the premise is absurd is attractive to many. After all, if we have rejected truth, biblical or otherwise then anything is possible, any truth becomes an option.
“When we encounter opposing views in the age and context of social media, it’s not like reading them in a newspaper while sitting alone. It is like hearing them from the opposing team while sitting with our fellow fans in a football stadium. Online, we are connected with our communities, and we seek approval from our like-minded peers. We bond with our team by yelling at the fans of the other one. In sociology terms, we strengthen our feeling of “in-group” belonging by increasing our distance from and tension with the “out-group”—us versus them. Our cognitive universe isn’t an echo chamber, but our social one is. This is why the various projects for fact-checking claims in the news, while valuable, don’t convince people. Belonging is stronger than facts.” Zeynep Tufekci article How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump (link).
Belonging is stronger than facts has been illustrated in a huge way with Trump creating his own reality based on a constant barrage of lies and half-truths to such a degree that those looking for a reality, a tribe to cling to could not resist. Trump did not care about reality or facts and neither did his followers.
You see Godlessness has many side effects and this is one of them. Invariably when you discuss any of this with people the discussion centers around what is true. Facts even if presented are outright rejected. Just as when people choose to sin or choose to not consider faith in Christ nothing not even the facts will alter their thinking. A choice has been made.
Our self-isolation is deadly. Life in the real world is about commitments to loving God and our neighbors in whatever way we can. When focused on these realities and not how many “likes” we get on social media we start to respond to current events with attention to the needs of our neighbors/communities as we participate in God’s Kingdom. I am not advocating no social media quite the opposite. What this will entail is sober minded Christians who understand the pitfalls of our sin nature, our pride and are able and willing to reach into the sphere of social media to help others and spread the Gospel but will also get back out into the world and into their community.
So, let’s not get carried away with the negative. Despite the fact our world is fallen (and Redeemed!) and so are we this is still God’s creation and there is much that is GOOD! Just consider all the websites, podcasts, community newsletters, small print publications, local papers etc. this has overall been a good thing. Digital technologies can and do amplify evil/deceitful voices and allow toxic communities to flourish and spread their false messages. We can’t erase those voices and get everyone to listen to the same TV networks or subscribe to the same publications.
There is this weird nostalgia for the 1950s anomaly of culture. Yes, there was civic unity in way we will never see again but nothing in God’s creation stands still and as we can see from human history we will not get better; we will not build a utopia and we cannot go back. This is a world filled with all of us sinners and is ruled by the powers and principalities both spiritual and physical. Our time is now, and we have been gifted with resources beyond the imaginings of anyone even ourselves. So, what will we do?
You and I as Christians must use the gift of social media to spread the Gospel, to disciple. That means we do more if possible than put quotes and truisms online we must actively engage with people who have different opinions. We must become better at dialogue online. Learn to apologize, admit we could be wrong, provide references and further the discussion beyond just a few lines.
All of us know the difference between right and wrong and all of us know that we should not be arguing and attempting to prove someone else wrong for the sake of argument. You are not a prosecutor, and this is not court. Frankly, most of us don’t gain any satisfaction in slam dunk arguments, there is no point. I want to have discussions, meet people, see what we all have in common, encourage. If you have fallen into the trap of being an online critic of everything then either get offline or change your attitude, pray and ask God for help.
We cannot delete white nationalists etc. from the echo chambers of our social media feeds. As Christian’s we must seek to foster intelligent, rich, vibrant, lively communities of discourse. Yes, tribalism can be awfully bad, but it can also be fruitful. Stop just sitting there, get to work with others to reach out and promote honest discourse. You will have resistance but when do we as Christians not have push back?
Fact checking is only one aspect of reality; ultimately, we must do what Christ asked us to do in the Great Commission. Dialogue with people won’t magically repair our divisions but it will require us to be humble and empathetic as we participate as co-regents in God’s creation in this time and place in redemptive history.