Truth and Social Media

Photo by Danielle Scott, via Flickr

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. Like everyone else, I love getting “likes,” and I love sharing and staying in touch with friends and professional contacts. It eases an introvert’s anxiety going into social situations if I already know something I can talk about with the people I’ll be seeing.

But the very thing that makes Facebook so great—how easy it is to share with others—also encourages us to share indiscriminately, without taking time to think through whether it’s inflammatory, whether it’s manipulating our emotions, and in fact, whether it’s reliable information at all.

Having been caught myself too many times by reacting instead of pausing to think–embarrassing for someone who strives to be fair-minded–I’ve become a huge skeptic of all inflammatory social media posts. I’ve spent the last several years fact-checking things on Facebook and trying desperately to get others to do the same–mostly without success.

There are plenty of non-religious reasons why we ought to be making sure what we share is actually true and not skewed:

-the ease with which outside powers manipulate us and endanger the trustworthiness of our elections;

-the way half-truths and distortions inflame anger, which leads us to abandon the middle ground–where compromise and fair progress are birthed–in pursuit of the extremes;

-the way families and friendships have been damaged by commitment to views formed by bad information;

-the shattering of lives in the wake of private mistakes becoming public humiliations.

But if we set aside all those reasons and focus solely on our faith, there’s another one:

We should fact check because honesty is in the Ten Commandments. It’s fundamental to right relationship with God.

Throughout Scripture, the righteous one is praised: the one who does not swear, the one whom everyone knows can be trusted to be truthful. One who speaks with integrity. Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no (a shot at the hyperbole that characterizes modern “communication”). The upright one is like a tree planted by a running stream. And so on.

Telling the truth is one of those basic rules of humanity we teach our kids. Dishonesty from our kids is one of the most relationship-damaging offenses, because it destroys trust.

And yet when it comes to social media, we forget all of this. We take every meme at its word, without even pausing to think, “Maybe I should double-check whether this is legit before I hit ‘share’.”

Or: “Does this even make sense?”

The misinformation, distortions, and misleading inflammatory things we share online may not be our own words, but they become our words when we speak them, and therefore it is our responsibility as Christians to make sure we do our due diligence before sharing. If a headline makes you angry, you’d better be on your guard, because it’s probably a sign that someone’s taking liberties with the truth in order to manipulate you.

Everybody wants lots of likes, you know, and too many don’t care if they bend the truth to the breaking point to get them.

It takes all of 30 seconds to type a search string into Google and see if something’s been flagged on one of the fact-checking sites. Also, we need to pay attention to the sites where we get information. We tend to trust any “news” site that agrees with us in their editorial slant, and we turn off the brain God gave us to think critically about what we take in. Some sites routinely shared by Christians ought to be boycotted altogether, because they’re among the worst offenders.

Honesty. It’s one of the foundations of our faith, let alone any successful society. If we want to stand before God with a clear conscience, we have got to check the accuracy of the things we choose to share.

Clinging to security

Background image by KasunChamara, on Pixabay

People are starving, not just for food, but for being treated with dignity and for acknowledgment of their wounds. Earlier in #49, Pope Francis talks about preferring a Church bruised and hurting from being out there with people to one that is “unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” That description seems uncomfortably apt.

He also names a fear that I think drives a lot of religious people: the fear of “going astray,” which I interpret as the fear that if we go out into a sinful world, we’ll be corrupted by it. (We put our kids in bubbles for this reason, too.)

It occurs to me that if our faith is so weak it can’t survive the challenge of being around temptation, then the solution isn’t to hide from temptation, but to do some good work strengthening our faith.

I freely admit that I am no model for going out into the world and getting my feet dirty. In my case, it’s a result of an introvert’s paralyzing dread of interacting with strangers. But it’s something I’m thinking about a lot these days, and feeling called to address in that intersection of my own faith and the real world I inhabit.

A place for everyone

Background image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Right now, the Church is doing a lot of soul searching about how to evangelize the “nones.” In my opinion, we’re driving the “nones” away by, among other things, insisting that in order to be welcome in our midst, they have to come all the way to meet us where we are, instead of us going out to meet them where they are.

Of course, we have a vision we want others to share. But we also have to recognize that conversion is a lifelong process, and we’re not done with it, either. Nobody’s saying we can’t belong, so why should we say that to others?

We need to accept the imperfections in others, because we’re all walking the same path, even if we’re in different places along it. Jesus didn’t get tax collectors to stop being dishonest by standing apart and wagging his finger at them. He went into their houses and made friends with them, and they realized he had something they wanted, which made them want to change. He didn’t go to them with a pre-existing condition: “I’ll come eat with you if, first, you promise to change.” No, he went to them with no guarantee that they’d step up to the plate. He made the effort, and that was what made the difference.

Notice also, he didn’t go into the house saying, “I’ll come eat with you and give you a witness talk to convert you.” How off-putting would that be? No, he just went, trusting the relationship to do the work of conversion. And it did.

So I think evangelization begins with evangelizing ourselves. We need to work at excising judgment and conditional love from our attitudes, and replacing them with a genuine, unconditional desire for the best for others. Not a desire to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong, and how they should change for their own good. Not a great academic argument based on dozens of source documents.

Don’t get me wrong: I love that kind of stuff, and it’s good for our own growth in understanding. But if that’s how we start conversations with those outside the faith, we might as well not bother. No one listens to that kind of message. It’s a waste of time.

No, we need simply to wish the best for others, and model a life of joy and peace that will make others go, “Hey…I want that! How do I get some?”

Right Words, Wrong Message

I had to go back to the source myself on this one. There’s a lot to think about here, and Pope Francis doesn’t dig in and tell us exactly what he’s referring to. He just says sometimes we set up “false gods or a human ideal which is not really Christian.” He goes on to say that sometimes things we treasure, or which have been very helpful in the past, no longer are helpful because the culture, and thus the people we’re speaking to, have changed around them. I’d encourage you to read all of #41-43 (and beyond).

I see this dynamic play out when praiseworthy commitment to the teachings laid out by the Church leads us to judge and exclude people because they don’t measure up–even though none of us, in fact, measure up. I point back to the posts on imperfect practice of the faith and whether we view sin as a stumbling block on the way to something better, or a pit of mud we can’t escape.

As hard as we are on ourselves, most of us recognize that we can be loved by God despite our sins. But someone else’s sin, which takes a different form than ours, we often can’t or won’t overlook. We’re inconsistent about our approach to sexual sins, for one thing. And other sins–greed and dishonesty come to mind–we accept with a shrug…if we acknowledge them at all.

To me, this is an example of how we take a true message–what we are called to as Christians–and as we bring it down through the filter of our worldly biases, we corrupt it into something different. Something that achieves the opposite of what Jesus intended; namely, division and exclusion.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

Okay, But Who Is the “Other” We’re Talking About Here?

If you reacted to this with, “well, duh,” I hear you. This is the kind of religious platitude that we usually skim right over: so general and familiar, we can nod our heads and move on, totally failing to see how it applies in concrete ways in real life.

What if, in place of the word “others,” we substituted the actual people we struggle to love, i.e. will the best for? For example:

“to see God in and seek the good of…

…. that political figure I think is possessed by the devil. (And people have thought that about more than one recent figure, so be honest and don’t write this one off. It applies to both sides of the political spectrum.)

…those people who hold beliefs contrary to my own on important issues.

… that person who likes the OTHER kind of liturgical music.

…. that person who told lies to me or about me and deeply harmed my emotional well-being.

…. that school administrator/boss/coworker who is combative and uncooperative and makes my life miserable.

…that refugee on the southern border whose desire to come here feels threatening to me on some level.

If you didn’t squirm at this recitation, then you probably didn’t dig deep enough, because I definitely squirmed writing it.

This is the problem with religious platitudes: we can all, whatever our opinions on divisive matters within the Church and outside it, applaud and feel affirmed by such statements as long as we don’t dig down to what they actually mean in real life.

That’s why I’m here, doing this work at Intentional Catholic: because we don’t grow in holiness until we dig deep enough to get uncomfortable with the status quo.

Falling Down or Tripping Up?

Image by Simon Matzinger from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to write this post for a while, but I can’t seem to come up with a hooky opening. (Or title.) Maybe that means there isn’t one. Maybe I just have to write it and hope you’ll all read it, even without a hook.

During a discussion of Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved” a year or two ago, I had this moment in which God pried my brain open and I understood something so liberating, it was almost dizzying.

My whole life, I’ve looked at sin as falling down in a pit of muck.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

But in that moment, I had a vision of sin as tripping over rocks while hiking up a steep mountain with a glorious view at the end.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Most of the time, we talk about sin as a huge, inescapable reality: a systemic failure to which we’re inevitably and forever doomed as part of our humanity. We can fight it and fight it, but we’re always going to get dragged down into that muck again, because that’s who we are.

It had never before occurred to me to look at discipleship and the Christian life as a lifelong hike up a beautiful mountain whose pinnacle is Heaven. Of course you’re going to get tired along the way. Of course you’re going to slip and trip. Mountain climbing involves rocks and uneven ground.

The difference between these two perspectives is profound. In one, we view ourselves as mud dwellers. It’s our natural state of being.

In the other, we view ourselves as good people seeking to be better. Even when we trip and fall, we get up and keep going. Notice I didn’t say “get up and try again,” as if we’re running on a treadmill sunk in the mud and will never be anywhere other than in the mud.

No. I said we get up and keep going. We acknowledge that we fell down, but we brush ourselves off and keep heading for the heights.

This is a tremendously liberating thought. It takes away the hopelessness of sin. I still recognize my need for mercy—the fact that tripping on the way up the mountain doesn’t get me kicked off the mountain is a grace I can never fully comprehend. On Earth, after all, tripping up is routinely used as grounds for getting kicked out.

But because I belong to God and God is my end point, sin doesn’t have to define me. I can see myself as beloved. As worthy of receiving mercy. I can see hope for getting farther up the mountain, closer to God.

And if I see myself this way, I can learn to see others this way, too.

If I see myself and everyone else basically as mud dwellers, then Pope Francis’ quote makes no sense.

We Christians have a tendency to take an all-or-nothing view of things. When we see what we perceive to be weeds growing in the field, we filter out any fruit those people might be bearing. If the fruit is being produced by someone who doesn’t look like we think Godliness is supposed to look, we don’t want it, thank you very much.

But “weedy” people have gifts and wisdom and worth to offer, too. Thank God, nobody has to be perfect to have a place in God’s Church. And if we go around making a big list of things you have to do to be “good enough” to belong, then we’re driving away the people we’re supposed to bring to Christ.

And who’s to say that one of these days, that “weedy” person won’t be the one offering us the hand up on that steep, difficult climb toward God?

Imperfect, but Okay? Really?

†

Background image by vargazs from Pixabay

This quote first struck me because it doesn’t make sense. I have a garden. And a lawn I’ve recently reseeded. If I see a weed, I grumble a LOT. In fact, I’ve been going outside lately and pulling crabgrass out of my lawn, in a nod to complete futility. I do not see the swath of green, I see the weed. I see the imperfection.

In this one area, at least, we’re consistent in how we handle the physical and the spiritual world. We are not willing to tolerate imperfections in expressions of faith, either. It’s got to be all or nothing, and the problem is that the more we cling to that, the more people choose “nothing.”

A few years ago, someone asked me for advice on convincing a reluctant spouse to embrace Natural Family Planning. I, in turn, asked advice from a friend, who said, “Tell them to practice NFP. It’s about practicing. You do the best you can. You’re going to screw up. Just keep practicing.

This was a real brain-stretching thought for me. To me, NFP was an all or nothing prospect. You do it or you don’t. It had never before occurred to me that maybe something so challenging and outside the cultural norm is, by definition, going to be done badly (and here I don’t mean mistakes in applying the method, I mean spiritual choices) and with lots of spiritual mistakes on the way to doing it well. Like practicing the piano, or the violin. You’re bad before you’re good, but that doesn’t make the effort any less laudable or worth undertaking.

Why have we never thought about the spiritual life this way?

My brain is exploding with thoughts on this, but I’ll leave it there for today and take up the question again after the weekend.