Is Your Facebook Feed the Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea?
Evangelical Christians in Brazil are seeing early popular success with an alternative to Facebook, bearing the delightfully Brazilian name of Faceglória. According to an article in TIME,
Faceglória prohibits content that is profane, violent, erotic or features gay couples. More than 600 terms are banned from use on the site, and more than 20 volunteers at a time patrol the site for content that violates the rules.
The network's founder says,
On Facebook there is a lot of violence and pornography, so thought we’d found a network where we could talk about God, love, and share your word.
The Daily Mail offers a reflexively contemptuous response, describing the site as a "squeaky clean," "sin-free" social network monitored by "morality police" who feel "morally superior" -- and the comments dutifully pick up the theme that Christian = hypocrite and discernment = unjust discrimination. Hurr hurr hurr, morality is stoopid! Thus spake the internet.
Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith at the Catholic Herald UK isn't crazy about Faceglória, either, but his reasons are more, well, reasonable. He first points out that Christians have tried, many times in the past, to retreat from the world, and that it's simply impossible. Sequestered Christian communities are either destroyed -- or, more commonly, they self-destruct.
But the more compelling reason not to retreat, he explains, is that "separation from the world is not in the least bit Christian." He says that Catholics on Facebook should not, for instance, threaten to unfriend everyone who rainbowiefied their profile photos in support of SCOTUS' gay marriage ruling. Fr. Lucie-Smith says,
I don’t think this is the way to go. We must attempt to stay friends with people we do not agree with, and people who do not hold our beliefs, and even with Catholics who dissent from Church teaching. We should do this, I think, because we hold to the values of civility and because we are committed to dialogue. After all, dialogue is the only way we have of promoting the work of the Holy Spirit in converting people. So, if we were all to go off and corral ourselves into a Catholic Facebook ghetto, this would be our loss and a loss for the world too.
It is a very good thing to cut bad influences out of our lives, but we go to far when we cut ourselves off from the world completely. In his book Your Questions, God's Answers (Ignatius, 1994) Peter Kreeft speaks of the difference between the Sea of Galilee, which is "full of fish and life and fresh water" and the Dead Sea,which is, as the name implies, a dead end, salty and stagnant. He points out that the Jordan River flows into both seas, but it stops at the Dead Sea, whereas the Sea of Galilee has an outlet. Kreeft was illustrating the idea that it's necessary to forgive others as well as to receive God's forgiveness; but the image works well for other kinds of relationships, as well. He says,
[W]hen we receive the waters of God's love and forgiveness, we must pass them on in order to keep them alive.(57)
The same could be said about the kind of things that we receive and choose to pass on through the waters of social media.
Let us continue talking to everyone, not just talking amongst ourselves. Above all, let us keep on talking. There are plenty of secularists who might like us to go off into a holy huddle on our own. Let’s not give them that pleasure. We have our place in the great marketplace of humanity. Let’s keep it.
I love that phrase "great marketplace of humanity" because it implies that goods and services travel in both directions. It's a very good thing for Catholics to recognize that we have wonderful things to offer to the secular world, and that we shouldn't hog it all to ourselves. But if it's a "marketplace," that means that we are buying as well as selling. We are learning and receiving, as well as teaching and offering the truth. The Catholic Church contains the fullness of the truth in the world; but it does not follow that truth will always come in a container clearly labelled "Catholic." I don't have non-Catholic and secular Facebook friends merely because I want to proselytize them (although I try to answer any questions they have about my faith, and I'm delighted when I hear that they have learned something about the Church through me!). Instead, I have non-Catholic and secular Facebook friends because I like them, and find them interesting -- and yes, I learn from them. Of course I do.
But what if we just want to protect ourselves from things that don't want to see, or shouldn't see, like pornography or graphic violence? A legitimate goal. It's not about being "morality police" or feeling superior -- it's about protecting our souls from being damaged by things that should have no part in our lives. But it's fairly easy to turn social media into whatever you want it to be. I don't get pornography or graphic violence on my feed, because I immediately block anyone who posts it; and I control what ads I see by shopping for innoculous things like shoes and coffe pots. Easy peasy.
We can't be in the world but not of the world if we're not in the world. Simple as that.