Like & Subscribe for a Chance at Eternal Life

This is a long article but I really appreciated the author’s honest look at how social media and faith have interacted for her. I can relate to having existential anxieties at a young age and also started a diary that was probably influenced by those fears. I wonder how many historical events, kingdoms, wars, etc. have been ultimately driven by this fear of being forgotten. And if that’s the case, it’s no wonder social media has become addicting for many people.

Here are some insights that jumped out at me:

Seeking to become known and seeking to elevate the Gospel were indistinguishable pursuits. The Christian figures we imitated commanded enormous audiences online; our favorite worship musicians had enough social media clout to hold brand sponsorships, and a few ministers we admired became such credible Instagram celebrities that when they offered an influencer seminar titled “Glow Up for Jesus,” a few of us booked flights to attend. The social internet intertwined spiritual devotion and personal gain. I loved that social platforms made me feel like I could be seen and known forever, and that I could pursue this feeling in Jesus’ name. Social media seemed like a boon to all of my existential anxieties, and, amazingly, it was free.

How had I embedded myself in platforms that promised connections with other people, but simply refracted my own views back to me as if every person I knew was merely an accessory to my opinions? How had I convinced myself this kind of myopic self-affirmation was a good thing? And how had I missed the fact that the self-absorption encouraged by my online environment was a form of advertising, and that I had fallen for it completely?

The internet is not a spiritually neutral structure. In Smith’s assessment, social platforms are constantly asking the question of how a person should be; in Tolentino’s assessment, they are asking to what ends a person should be used. These are spiritually fraught questions, and every time we use social media we are interacting with something that is trying to answer them for us. Even Christian communities, in which many of us believed in the internet’s capacity for good, are now reckoning with how we have been shaped by tools we originally thought ourselves to be in control of. How should a person be? How can a person be used? It is hard to look at the history and structure of the social internet and imagine its answers to these questions will be godly ones.

The Old Testament is, among other things, a meditation on our propensity towards idolatry, but it used to make me roll my eyes. I found it ridiculous to believe that people could be persuaded to make offerings to gods of their own making. Now I cannot think of a more accurate depiction of our behavior. On one of the last Sundays before the pandemic put a temporary end to in-person gatherings, I looked around my church and was embarrassed to see how many of us were on our phones. Our hands were scrolling and posting and liking under the pews as if these acts were components to a liturgy, each conducting our own set of prayers, probably to ourselves.


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