When it comes to idolatry and false gods, the “item” in question is seldom the issue. The danger is within us. The danger is found in what level of authority we give to the “thing.” The danger is found in placing our identity in the “thing.” Finding our peace in what it offers, or even attaching our purpose to it.
The “god of Social Media” was birthed somewhat out of my wife’s recognition that I have a problem. I think I’m fine. I don’t have a problem. I can stop social media-ing any time I want. Other people have it far worse than I do, and yet I probably spend anywhere from 2-4 hours a day with my phone in my hand.
My smart phone has this great time tracker on it, and it gleefully displays my digital failure each day. When you throw in the fact that I also tend to have Facebook open on my desktop computer, running in the background, it paints a grim picture of social media addiction.
Social media has created a constant portal for the outside world to reach me, at all times and everywhere. Even more insidious, social media is a constant portal for me to find distractions, connections, and fulfillment “out there.” When it dings, I respond quickly. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I’ve been conditioned well.
In the Age of `Rona, the false god of Social Media has gotten worse. Its call has grown louder and more prevalent. And Social Media offers some dark, destructive things. Censorship and shadow-banning. Gossiping and bullying. The Age of `Rona has given rise to an ever-growing marketplace, where you can buy almost anything, including people!
Social media has expanded into an arena where regular, everyday, ordinary people – some who you would never imagine – now sell their bodies for money and attention, “likes” and sex, in the form of that “pay to play with yourself” site: Only Fans.
Now before you write me off as some old guy complaining about the internet, the interwebs are not all wickedness and evil. Good has come from Social Media: Family connections and closing the distance between loved ones. Memes.. oh the glorious memes! I can’t tell you how many groups I am in, that are dedicated solely to the distribution of memes!
During the Age of `Rona, the Gospel proclamation certainly flooded social media as churches had to pivot to continue preaching and reaching. But to be honest, I’m not 100% sure that all the online church stuff has been a good thing. I cringe when people tell me that they love that they can have “church” running in the background while they sip their coffee or do chores around the house. In many cases, online church services is the epitome of “casting pearls before swine.”
Online church isn’t 100% bad, but it has created a lot of serious issues, long lasting issues, that few people are bold enough to tackle. Ringside Preachers have been trying to attack the problem for a while, no doubt some of you have been listening!
Social media, in the Age of `Rona, has created the expectation that we are to be comfortable in the presence of each other’s absence.
And it is exhausting!
The low hanging fruits for Social Media’s false deification is the way Social Media distracts and detracts us from our life’s goals. Social media keeps us constantly distracted away from things that truly matter. It snatches away precious time from family and friends. It kills productivity in work and in life. Families and marriages have been destroyed by social media. And I know that I scroll because of FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.
There is no doubt that social media, in some way or another, has the potential to rob from us of who God created us to be. If we let it.
But what’s behind it all?
Social media is just a tool, and the tool is always just a tool. The issue comes down to us and how much power and authority we give it!
Not long ago I read a quote about authority that really spawned my thinking on the topic of social media as false god. R.J. Rushdoony writes, “When you choose your authority – (which I suppose might include denying God’s authority) – you choose your god. Where you look for your law and your guiding principles, hidden behind that, is your god.”
Behind every system of law, there is a god, a ruler. That could be the individual. It could be: “We the people.” It could be the government or the courts. Regulations regarding Health and Safety. Expectations and rules for Happiness. It could be personal ego.
When it comes to social media, the authority and rule is the court of public and popular opinion. Social Media is governed and guided by mob rule. All carefully crafted to adhere to a system of arbitrary laws. Follow them, or else.
Consider just a few spoken and unspoken laws of social media:
Likes – whose stuff “can” you “like”?
Shares – whose stuff can you share?
Tags – can I tag you?
Screenshots – When are they appropriate? When are they not? Often they are used as weapons!
Friend requests – It is safe to assume that if a beautiful woman, with no mutual friends, sends me a friend request that it’s probably ISIS.
Posts to pages – who can and who cannot post publicly on your page
In addition, consider what authorities of our lives we relinquish to the god of social media.
What we post – Some things will make friends, others will destroy your social standing.
When we post – Some times get more traffic than others.
How we post – Certain platforms are better than others for specific things.
Editing & filters – Gotta look perfect!
Removing posts – Either forcing some to remove their content or being forced to removing your own
Blocking people – Oh the freedom!
Setting privacy – Friends of friends of friends only.
Social media invades sacred places like the bedroom, the dinner table, vacation, conversations, even the gym! Thankfully, the anger in a spouse’s eyes when you pick up your phone in the middle of a conversation, often goes unnoticed thanks to being engrossed in social media.
So easily we give the god of Social Media power and authority to define us and give us an identity. Yet every bit of it is carefully crafted and employed. Algorithms determining who you “are.”
So, is the god of Social Media ultimately our ego? That polished, loved image of ourselves, that we crave for the world to see?
In the post Covid age, is the god of Social Media, that ability to “make digital connections” “safely” without risking health and safety?
Social Media is the tool, but the idolatry is found in the power and authority we give it.
Years ago, back before the `Vid, I used to take kids up to the mountains of North Carolina. It was a great time. There was no cellphone signal, and we also confiscated all electronic devices. I relished standing there with a basket, smiling, and telling the teenagers not to worry, that it would only be a few days, and then they’d have their “gods” back.
I don’t think they were amused. Some of them even cried at the thought of being without Social Media for 6 whole days. Yet, by the end of the week, they appreciated being disconnected. They interacted with other people. Made new friends. Enjoyed God’s beautiful creation. And perhaps realized what social media had been taking away from them.
The Age of `Rona has made it easy to become immersed in Social Media. Chasing an identity, chasing distractions from life, trading real moments for digital experiences. Social Media promises an opportunity to live in a meticulously crafted, safe, digital world, whereas living in a physical world doesn’t even offer filters!
Through it all, Social Media isolates people from true connection. Isolates them from real contact and human relationships. The sad thing is, to say such a thing, is considered offensive and sparks emotional, negative responses. Does Social Media truly provide “more real” connections, as I was recently told? I don’t think so.
Covid, has certainly increased this tendency and draw. Creating connections that are as lasting as a mouse click and a delete button.
So, what are we to do about the false god of Social Media? How do we put it to death? How do we wrestle ourselves away from its grasp?
I think you start by recognizing the dangers and the draw. Realize those times when you are seeking your peace, comfort, joy and hope in the digital world.
And then repent.
Find true comfort, peace, and hope in the identity that you have received, not from followers, influencers, or digital algorithms. Find it in the identity you have received in Christ.
You are far more than your likes, shares, and follower count.
In baptism, you have been made a child of God. That is your identity. That’s who you are.
A child of God, our heavenly Father.
No mouse click, unfollow button, or forgotten login can snatch that identity away from you.
Your life is hidden in Christ, He has set you free.
This is an adaption of the presentation at the 1st semester of Ringside Community College, hosted at Grace Lutheran Church, Ventura, California on May 5, 2021.