By JIM NICHOLS
It was meant as a joke, but it causes grimaces when read. It said something like, “Before the internet, we thought the cause of stupidity was the lack of information. It wasn’t that.”
Some of the major information technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google are engaged in difficult decisions regarding the veracity of information posted on their sites. Faced with U.S. First Amendment rights of free speech, the companies struggle with how to handle unfounded and clearly incorrect “facts” that come not just from extreme nuts, but also racist, degrading, and sexist stances from often-anonymous submitters. This is facilitated by equally disturbing falsehoods that regularly seem to come from our government leaders.
What is a Christian to do with this bombardment of information that is not only questionable, but, frankly, ungodly in many cases? This may be one of the most challenging aspects of faith today, at least for me. Certainly, lies and deceit and prejudice have always existed, but the electronic nature of the swamp right now makes it difficult to avoid it. There are those who have decided simply to divorce from the electronic world and therefore not be disturbed by it, but there are some wonderful, hopeful, healthy items there that are lost in that divorce.
Particularly disturbing is that at least some of the irrational and destructive posts have a religious slant. Regularly, we see a complete ignoring of basic Christian facets such as the equal creation and value of all humans, the importance of tolerance, humility, and kindness, and the vast expanse of God’s grace. An unlimited grace, apparently.
Christianity is a serious business and, I fear, we are not engaged to an appropriate depth. Paul, in the third chapter of First Corinthians criticizes his readers as people of the flesh and infants in Christ. He says that he is having to feed them with spiritual milk because they are not ready for solid food. This should be a vivid image for us. What type of material are we reading, watching, and discussing? We have two thousand years of believers in the past who have struggled with the gospel life and have prayed, written, and grown as people after God’s will. Are we ignoring their contributions and substituting the latest tweet or other post? There are today rich pieces of fresh thoughts about God and His ways and we spend our time arguing about jots and tittles of our particular religious tribes.
Since this is the world in which we live, it can almost appear to be an overwhelming challenge. Perhaps the best we can do is to deepen our individual reflection of life. By this, I am suggesting the importance of more carefully weighing what we consume intellectually and spiritually as well as the energy and time we spend on pieces of our life.
Too many of us just read stuff. Just watch stuff. Just buy stuff. Just go places. Much of this is like the nutritional value of snack food. Entertainment and relaxation add to the pleasure of life, but they are not the major goal of life.
Some friends suggested that Christians do not have a place like Mecca or Medina, but we do have a story. Our responsibility is to do our best to understand the story and act on it as it calls us. We understand the story by theological reflection and letting God speak to us in many ways, including, but not limited to, scripture. We are to celebrate, share, and live the story as new creatures. I will give my opinion again when I say this is serious business. Unthoughtful and unconsidered stances do the cause of Christ no favors. Linking Christianity to a political party, a financial process, or a form of government dilutes our understanding of the power of God in our lives.
We cannot escape the barrage of falsehoods and exaggerations that hits us, not just from the internet, but also from life in general. However, we can strive to look past them for the ongoing actions of God. On a summer drive, numerous insects may smash against the car windshield. If our eyes focus only on the dead insects, we will not be able to discern the road ahead. Simply by looking past the bugs (even with their presence), we can continue to look to the immediate future in our trip. We can continue to ask questions such as, “Is this honorable? Is this just? Is this pure? Is this lovely? Is this gracious? Is this excellent and worthy of praise?”
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain