In the world of social media, amid anonymous comments on blogs and clever Twitter avatars, or plain-out discourtesy and nastiness, how should Catholics navigate the online waters?
Let’s borrow a bit of classical wisdom. The ancient and medieval philosophers said that everything that exists has three basic properties, called the three transcendentals, because they transcend all beings and pointed to the transcendent God who made all things. These three are oneness, goodness and truth. Just as all of reality contains these elements, so all of our virtual-reality experiences — our social-media experiences — should be marked by these three, helping us to keep God central in cyberspace.
Also referred to as unity, this is the headiest of the three, but perhaps the most important. Oneness means that everything is itself and not another, that everything in existence is marked by an integrity and distinctiveness. This is the basis not only for good metaphysics, but for positive social-media engagement.
If we’re going to make good use of these platforms, we have to do so as ourselves — not pretending that we’re somebody else and not pretending we’re something we’re not.
Maintaining our integrity, our oneness, can help us to make real connections online. Others can get to know who we really are, what we really think and like, and true friendships can blossom.
Speaking of honesty, another essential aspect of all creation is truth. This means that everything that exists has a certain knowability to it: Our minds were made to understand reality, and reality was made to be intelligible to us.
One of our deepest desires drives us to come to know the truth of things. “All men by nature desire to know,” wrote Aristotle. As Christians, we know that fundamentally the truth at the heart of all reality is Jesus, the Word by which all things were made.
Online, we must never lose sight of the truth we’re trying to share, and we should not become more concerned with how many “likes” our comments will get or what our online audience will think than with sharing truth.
We need to remember to always seek the truth and to present the truth about matters of faith and any other matters. As Jesus said, the truth makes us free: free from our errors and free from the desire to use our words to please others. The truth, in charity, is attractive by nature, and when we focus on the truth — when our foremost desire is to help another come to know it — the truth will pull people in.
Lastly, as Genesis tells us, everything that God has made is good. Everything is made for some purpose to reflect his glory. As spiritual beings ourselves, we are able to reflect God’s glory uniquely through our choices. The command to love our neighbor as ourselves, to be holy as God is holy, is the command to fulfill our purpose, to act in accordance with our status as beings made in the image of God.
Yet all too often, safe behind our screens, we as a culture type things we’d never say to another person’s face, perhaps because it’s at least a little harder to forget the image of God in another when they’re staring right at you. Wouldn’t our time be better used sharing a joke or a heartwarming story rather than making a cynical or nasty aside about the scandal du jour?
Social media can be used for good — and used well. From sharing an uplifting news story from the Register to posting a saint quote or sharing the joy of family life, we can uplift the social-media conversation.
We are called to love every person we interact with — including those online! When we keep in mind what will be good for others and good for ourselves, we’ll avoid a lot of the pitfalls of online interaction and seek ways to uplift and transform this sphere of communication.
The transcendentals can keep us grounded, helping us to remember that we’re called to make virtual environments holy, too.
writes from Texas.