The first words of Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis read: “Everyone has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however, it sounds I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things they say.”
I would only add that sometimes it sounds heartbreaking, and to be caught up quarreling of any kind is tiresome at best, and wounding at worst.
Edward Abbey once penned, “How could anything non-controversial be of intellectual interest to grown-ups?” It’s a great question. The problem comes when subjects of intellectual (and I would add spiritual) interest cannot be so much as mentioned without the quarreling among grown-ups that ensues. (Now by intellectual here I don’t mean elitist or even academic, but rather engaging the mind, and stimulating to the soul.)
Do we really want to live in a culture, or does anybody really want to attend a church for that matter, where substantive conversation and dialogue cannot be tolerated concerning the most pressing ethical issues of the day? I fear we would rather see cat memes and baby pictures, content to shout each other into silence whenever a complex subject is brought to the fore. This makes for a false unity that scratches only the surface of human relationships, of the beauty of diversity.
Orwell reminded us that “within any important issue, there are always aspects no one wishes to discuss.” This is profoundly true for a variety of subjects — from politics to relationships, from spirituality to science. Additionally, we sometimes forget that issues which are politicized by many for momentary gains in power or air time are not political issues to begin with, but rather spiritual and ethical. This is especially true for people of faith, and especially true in our hyper-politicized culture.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love of God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is listening to them.” By this standard of love, Facebook is one of the most hate filled places I know — and all of our mean culture really. Don’t pretend you love people if you are not willing to listen, and listen deeply.
As an act of refusing to quarrel;
As an act of intellectual and spiritual integrity;
As an act of focusing on the spiritual/ethical side of issues and not the partisan-hijacked-version;
As an act of love for the sake of listening;
What if we refrained significantly from attempting any substantive conversations or dialogues on social media?
For all the time spent on bickering via social media or tamping down trolls on even the most (seemingly) non-controversial posts (and there are plenty of trolls to go around), is political conversation on Facebook even worth it?
In the last week, I have held back considerably on Facebook concerning a number of hot button political issues and I have had far less quarrelling in my life, and been able to listen to others more. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a time and place for political dialogue — far from it!
Since laying off political posts on Facebook, I have more time for meaningful personal conversations, for calling my representatives to express my concerns, and for engaging in the political process in other ways. When I politically post on Facebook, the time it takes me to manage all the replies and keep the conversation (among friends) civil, can be used for better things.
Moreover, when all my posts on social media are of a political nature, I’m increasingly convinced that the prophetic nature of the pulpit is diminished (at least in my church and I bet in yours).
“Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?” (James 4:1, NRSV)
What craving in you causes you to share that political post? To be right? To look smart? To jab the other side? To quarrel?
I’m done. Done feeding the cravings and temptations of Facebook. Done bickering with people in useless ways. Done with the stress of it all.
Thus, I find I’m free. Free to spend more time with family. Free to engage politically in ways that actually make a difference. Free, even, to listen.
In these days, don’t waste time on Facebook that can be devoted to living out the mandates of the Kingdom!