If someone on the highway speeds past me and cuts me off, almost causing an accident, I don’t care if he gets caught by the police. However, if I do the same to someone else, I hope I don’t caught. We believe in justice. We just don’t like it when it applies to us. I can say the same thing about being judged. My flesh is repulsed by someone telling me that I’ve done wrong. I don’t normally like hearing from another person about how far off I am in some of my thinking. We don’t like to be judged.
All of us are going to be judged by God. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). What God knows about what we do is what’s most important. And when God judges, He’s going to judge based upon more than whether the activity was right and wrong.
The Bible doesn’t say facebook or social networking are wrong. Because of that, people don’t want to be judged for using facebook. When I start talking about potential problems with it, people often don’t like hearing it. They don’t like to feel judged by me or anyone else. Just because facebook is permissible, doesn’t mean that it is God’s will for you to use it.
To make a good decision about whether we will use an online social network or not, we must look at the principles God gives us to judge matters that the Bible does not mention. The first half of Romans 14 says that we should not judge people so harshly in non-scriptural activities. Verses 1-12 of Romans 14 say that it’s okay to use facebook. After all, it is a non-moral issue that Scripture nowhere prohibits.
However, the second half of Romans 14 says that we should judge ourselves harshly on the same non-moral activities that we had liberty to practice. If we’re going to please God, then we don’t judge them based just upon whether they are right or wrong. The strong Christian doesn’t flaunt his liberties or rights and demand them, but restrains himself in them for the sake of others. There is nothing wrong with playing pick-up basketball, but that doesn’t mean that I should play on Sunday mornings. There are reasons why not.
There are two related reasons why it is that we don’t just do anything we want even if it might be permissible to do so. We might have a right or a liberty to do something, but that isn’t the only criteria. We also must ask:
Will Someone Else Be Affected?
The Christian Harmed by a Stumbling Block
An activity may be lawful to do, but it could cause someone else to stumble. Facebook is a tool, but one that has trappings built into it. Paul wrote in Romans 14:13:
Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.
Instead of being concerned about whether we’re being judged or not, we should judge ourselves by asking if our continuation will harm someone else. God is our Judge, but He will judge us not just for what we do, but also for what impact what we do will have on others. There are many ways that a weaker believer could be harmed by facebook. We must consider whether our example could result in the potential spiritual hurt of others.
We can see some of the harm that we cause others in vv. 13-15. One of us might be able to handle facebook. However, there might be someone else who can’t. It may waste his time. It may result in him getting caught up with the wrong people. It might draw him away from God by his addiction. In the end, he is grieved by the problems he has because of facebook. At that time, he might remember that he went ahead and joined because we were there already.
What I am hearing from some commenting about facebook is something like: “There are numbers of ways that people can sin. If they were going to sin at facebook, then they probably would have chosen someplace else to sin anyway. Since they were going to sin one way or another, we shouldn’t be kept from facebook just because of them.” However, there are dangers on facebook. I believe that they are too heavy for many, if not most Christians, to remain obedient to God. However, they may not be too much for certain believers. Those Christians must think about how that their continued association with facebook might result in the future grief (v. 15a) or destruction (v. 15b) of others.
The Christian Harmed by Loss of Testimony
You may think that an activity is fine to do. It might be. But “your good could be evil spoken of” (v. 16). There is one verb in v. 16 and from it comes the English word “blaspheme.” Since it is a liberty, it is a good. However, if your good causes the world to see us in a different way, in a way that causes “men” (v. 18, not a reference to believers) for whom Christ died to turn from God, to blaspheme, then we should not do it.
Verse 17 tells a little about how this could occur. An unbeliever might miss out on a true understanding of the kingdom of God because we would rather prioritize what God has allowed us to do rather than what He wants us to do. It might be that our liberty keeps us from evangelistic opportunities. If we spend hours on a facebook page and never talk about Jesus in a scriptural manner with the kind of seriousness that would represent Him in a salvific way, then the lost will not understand Him, His kingdom, or His life. Someone can’t just “drop” the name of Jesus into a mass of commonality or profanity as an accurate representation of Him.
An unsaved man might ask, “If Jesus is really Lord, what doesn’t this man talk about Jesus like He is?” Or, “If He believes in Jesus Christ, then why does the subject matter of his conversation not differ from mine?”
While I was on facebook the short time I was there, I never heard anything good about Jesus or what He had to offer. The talk was a clean waste, but nevertheless just as much a waste as any unbeliever’s talk. These social networking sites are not conducive, I believe, to evangelism. They tend to weaken or cheapen Christian testimony.
And we also should ask:
Will It Build Up Someone Else?
Does facebook result in the building up of other believers? Will this be something that edifies the most in the most constructive way?
As other believers relate to our Christian liberties, they should receive us in non-scriptural issues (Rom 14:1). Facebook is one of those. However, as we judge ourselves and our use of our liberties, we should see our lives as the Lord’s. They aren’t our own liberties but God’s for Him to use. Our desire should be to do what He wants us to do, since we’re going to be judged by Him. If we see facebook that way, then we won’t be angry if we feel like someone is judging us in our usage of it. In matters of liberty, we’re called to think first of God and then of others. Will He be pleased as our Judge? Will we cause others some kind of spiritual harm or will we edify them?
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
And just as a reminder, this same Jesus, Whom God hath highly exalted, and given a name which is above every name, this same Jesus, that every tongue should confess as Lord, this same Jesus is Lord also of the Internet.
Social Networking is the new reality. Friends multiply daily, and rapidly. Whether we agree with it or not, our kids are involved. Some directly: they have their own Facebook page. Others indirectly: they hear their friends and cousins talking about their Facebook page. Like it or not, we are all affected by the Social Networks. They influence our young people, they entice our old people, they affect our ministries. Social Networking includes all the various ways of “connecting” or “communicating” via the Internet — including (but not limited to) blogs, forums, chat rooms, and so forth. But my intention is to deal directly with the issue of MySpace and Facebook. Before I begin, though, let me recommend a hilarious article on this subject… it illustrates through satire what I can only talk about.
Social Networking 101
As I understand it, Facebook and MySpace are more alike than not. Originally, Facebook was limited to the Harvard student body (A group of Harvard students invented it in their dorm rooms). It slowly expanded to other ivy league schools, then to college students (Facebook required an e-mail address with a “.edu” in order to join). Finally, in 2006, Facebook expanded to include high schoolers and eventually all users 13 and older.
MySpace, on the other hand, was created in 1999 by Tom Anderson, who (I’m told) is the first friend to join the network of every MySpace user. You might be interested to know that MySpace was acquired by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for $580 million (that $580,000,000 in Russell Anderson terms) in July, 2005.
Most of the differences between the two are merely surface differences. From what I can see, there are differences between who uses them, how they are used, and the features that are available. More women use MySpace than Facebook (by about 4%). College educated, career-oriented, and suburbanite people tend to use Facebook, while teens and inner-city people tend to use MySpace.
Some have said that the more creative types tend to gravitate towards MySpace, and that the pencil-pushers and account handlers tend to like Facebook. That could be the result of some of the user-features of the two. MySpace allows more control of user profiles by the individual, enabling a user to be more creative. This design feature often leads to a very amateur and cluttered “look and feel.” Facebook profiles tend to be more uniform. Also, many MySpace users will use a pseudonym of some sort, or will attempt to hide their true identity. This has made MySpace more of a hotbed for sexual predators. I have not been able to verify this, but a friend told me that within the last six weeks, MySpace removed 90,000 sexual predators. As I understand it, Facebook will remove any user that they have good reason to suspect is using a fake identity.
As far as I can tell, these are the major differences between the two. And, as I said earlier, they are more alike than they are different. Both have a stated purpose — to connect people. MySpace is more likely to connect total strangers, while Facebook tends to connect people with mutual backgrounds. Both are all about promoting the self.
And both are highly addictive. The information I have on this is a little over a year old… but in October of 2007, MySpace and Facebook were both in the top 10 domains visited on the web. MySpace accounted for just under 5% of all Internet visits. Facebook for 1% of all Internet visits. I realize that this is old information. As I understand it, Facebook is quickly overtaking MySpace in popularity. but the point is that when you consider that these two represent just 2 domains on the Internet, the numbers are phenomenal. In addition, the people who frequent these places tend to spend hours going from one friend to another to another. It is the Internet version of bar-hopping.
Slumber Partying 101
At our youth camp this last year, in a discussion of these Social Networks, I made the comment that MySpace reminded me of a giant, virtual slumber party. In fact, I find the whole idea of young men frequenting these social networks to be very troubling — and I think it leads towards effeminacy. To further illustrate my point, Facebook has what is called a “status” feature, where users note how they are doing or feeling at any particular moment. MySpace has also added a “mood” option. It reminds me of those mood rings that people wore back in the ’80′s. You’ll have to excuse me if you did that, but I was always a little weirded out by guys who wore mood rings. Especially if they wore one on their pinky. And played the piano. Or wore leather pants. But that’s just me. I do think there is something very effeminate about a guy who wants the world to know what mood he is in.
But if we are to deal with the larger issues surrounding the virtual world of the Internet, we really must discuss the voyeuristic and escapist elements of Social Networking. We must understand that Social Networking is a cultural issue. It is but the next step in a culture consumed with itself. And, naturally, with amusing itself to death.
With that in mind, MySpace and Facebook are first and foremost voyeuristic. This is in keeping with the times, to be sure. We live in a supremely voyeuristic age. We much prefer watching to doing. We like reality shows. We love American Idol. We like to watch people try and we like to watch people fail. We like to watch the making of the next Elvis. And, considering the rampant obesity that afflicts our youth, we must be more into watching than into doing. Consider our fetish with pornography, with video games, with spectator sports. And, consider our fixation with MySpace and Facebook, a fixation that has made these domains million dollar industries.
There is something effeminate about all this video stuff… guys who are the big heroes on the virtual gridiron, who couldn’t stay in for a set of downs on a real football field. The Bible commands our boys to “act like a man” (I Cor 16:13). Among other things, this requires some real action on their part. It also requires diligence — associated with doing, not with voyeurism. What are video games associated with? Industry, or sloth? And what about Social Networking? Instead of video games and social networking, we must teach our young people how to play some real sports and real games, how to make some real friendships, how to be a real friend, and how to build a real friendship. In the realm of social networking, voyeurism meets friendship. We no longer try to be a friend. We now try to get friends. We try to “friend” people. We have become watchers of friendship.
Secondly, Fakebook and MyFace are escapist. Consider this quote from the New York Times online edition…
Facebook purports to be a place for human connectivity, but it’s made us more wary of real human confrontation. When I was in college, people always warned against the dangers of “Facebook stalking” at a library computer — the person whose profile you’re perusing might be right behind you. Dwelling online is a cowardly and utterly enjoyable alternative to real interaction.
So even though Facebook offers an elaborate menu of privacy settings, many of my friends admit that the only setting they use is the one that prevents people from seeing that they are Currently Logged In. Perhaps we fear that the Currently Logged In feature advertises to everyone else that we (too!) are Currently Bored, Lustful, Socially Unfulfilled or Generally Avoiding Real Life.
For young people, Facebook is yet another form of escapism; we can turn our lives into stage dramas and relationships into comedy routines. Make believe is not part of the postgraduate Facebook user’s agenda. As more and more older users try to turn Facebook into a legitimate social reference guide, younger people may follow suit and stop treating it as a circus ring. But let’s hope not.
We have all sorts of virtual friends… but do we have any real ones? Having lots of friends (which I understand is one of the goals of networking) hinders many from having any sort of real relationships. The social networking scene is the gathering place of the socially unfulfilled, where people go to escape reality, to escape friendship. Besides being effeminate, the escapism embodied in social networking is yet another form of abdication… a way of shrugging off duties.
When we think of real friendship, the kind that involves real people in real time in a real world, we have real duties and obligations that we really must meet. It has been rightly pointed out that virtual friendships, those that involve pixels rather than people, provide absolutely zero opportunity for fulfillment of those duties and obligations. That is not to say that people who have Facebook relationships never venture beyond the virtual and into the real, nor is it to say that they cannot. Just that neither Facebook nor MySpace require a person to venture beyond the profile. Facebook enables a person to escape loving his neighbor through long ‘friend’ lists.
Beyond that, Facebook is a place where a person can go to escape the pressures and responsibilities and problems of this life. If a man would have friends, he must show himself friendly. This requires him to do. But in the world of Facebook, one must leave the virtual on purpose, and enter the real world if he is to do his duty as a friend. Facebook provides fake friendship. Facebook friendships have all the depth of a spray-on tan. They look like friendship, but Facebook friendships are ended the way a spray-on tan is ended. One need not explain. One simply needs to delete.
If there ever were a day in which we need to re-learn the real-world work of friendship, it is in this day. Our culture is dying of loneliness and starvation. Ironically, we die this way in a day of ‘overpopulation’ and ‘overcrowding.’ We don’t know our neighbors, but we have thousands of friends. We haven’t done anything for anybody, but we have thousands of friends. We don’t love anybody, but we have thousands of friends.
Friendship, as we said, requires work. The man who attempts to escape the work of friendship in the real world will have no friends. A man that hath friends must give way. The self-centered will find few real friends. And yet, somehow in the world of Facebook, the most narcissist and self-absorbed among us are the ones with pages and pages of virtual friends. That fact alone should wake us up to the reality of virtual friendship. It is a form of escapism, and not true friendship.
Addictions Anonymous (101)
Besides the voyeuristic and escapist elements of social networking, these things are also very addictive. Those who spend a considerable amount of time blogging might have an idea of the addictive nature of the Internet. It is a difficult thing to put up a comment and then to walk away from it. And that is in a cross-section of the Internet that leans towards serious discussion and debate. How much more so is this true in a venue that calls, not for serious commentary, but for techno-grunts and lol’s and rotlmfho’s, and “like, cool, and stuff.” Virtually all of the features of the MySpace world encourage more MySpace. And we must remember that I Corinthians 10:23 and 6:12 apply to the Internet as much as they apply to anything else.
Finally, social networking is degenerative… it always tends towards entropy. Just like in the teen-aged slumber party scene (something that godly parents should conscientiously avoid), the conversation tends to move in a specific direction. We don’t expect to hear our teen-aged daughters, sleeping bags stretched across the living room, immersed in a discussion of William Shakespeare. Nor do we expect to find that sort of conversation anywhere in the social networks. I like this quote from Douglas Wilson in the most recent edition of his Credenda/Agenda, referring to what he called the Internet version of the slumber party (Facebook and MySpace):
“In any setting, when kids get together without parental direction and supervision, two things will happen – and they will happen for the same reason that weeds grow in your garden. The first will be that the conversation will drift downward into the silly and inane. Once that tone is set and established, some people will introduce some real sin. They will wait a bit to introduce it because teens steeped in the silly and inane are not equipped to stand up to real sin. Laziness is not preparation for battle, and so when battles do come to the lazy, they are usually short battles. Silly and inane conversation revolves around trivialities, superficial feelings, flatteries, flirting, and so on.”
This is the kind of thing that fills pages and pages of Facebook and MySpace. It is the reason why these places are so attractive. It is the reason why even adults, longing to escape their own miserable reality, enjoy the virtual world. It is the reason why these places are so addictive. And it is the reason why we must be on our guard at all times when we enter into the realm of the Virtual Relationship. Sin will be introduced. It is not a question of ‘whether,’ but of ‘when.’ At some point, that immodestly dressed girl is going to hit on your son. Or, maybe, on you. These sites do not move in a direction towards more sanctification and holiness.
As we interact on the Internet, we must remember that God promises to judge our every word — even the idle ones. Especially the idle ones. Is there a lawful use for Social Networking? Certainly… among family, keeping in touch, even for witness. Just that this is not the common use for such places. We must then set a watch before our lips (and our keyboards). And we must be sure that we do all things to the glory of God.
Read Proverbs 4:14-28 and think about facebook and myspace, especially for youth. I’m going to highlight parts that catch my attention.
Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart. For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
If you didn’t read the text, go back and do that. The first part of Proverbs targets the youth culture. God knows that people have certain problems when they become teens, certain new temptations. They need the help of their parents. In their trek to become an adult, and a godly one, they don’t need the dumbing down of the opinions of other young people. Nothing in scripture tells young people to look for the company of other teenagers. The Bible doesn’t recommend youth groups. If anything, God’s Word says no to it. We see the rejection of a peer group in Proverbs 1:8-16:
My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck. My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood.
Did you read those verses? If not, go back and do it. Teens have their family. During these unique times, they need to listen to their parents. See how many times Proverbs 1-7 tells a young man to listen to dad and mom. Again and again. Teens need a group, the same one that adults need. It’s the church. In Psalm 73, Asaph seems to have been going through some of the same kind of covetous desires that a lot of teenagers go through when they’re growing up, thinking they’re being ripped off. Asaph got caught up meditating upon how good it was in the world, very much like the prodigal son. What was the solution for him?
When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. Psalm 73:16-18
Teenagers feel pain, all alone and no one understands what they’re going through. They turn to facebook and myspace. Where did Asaph find what He needed? The house of the Lord. There he heard something from God. Today it’s the church and you hear God’s Word to give you the right perspective on life, what’s really important.
The internet is a worldwide web and it’s a place to get caught in something you don’t want. You think you are getting something, but in so many instances you’re just getting gotten. Bad boy-girl relationships. Busybodying. Introduction to sins. Havens for lust. It’s the same for adults too, but young people are getting heavy doses of exactly what scripture warns them in particular about.
Social sites are a glove fit for the youth culture, because so much of what teens think they are missing, they can get virtual loads of. And they are not ready to handle it. I haven’t met one teenager who the social networking scene really helps. They’re supposed to be becoming an adult, but they are served more immaturity and childishness, very much lacking in responsibility and sobriety.
Teens look out for acceptance. They need to look up and see they already have it in Christ. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily and we are complete in Him. They need to look to their family like Proverbs commands them. Facebook gives them another source to find acceptance. It won’t give them what they need. It is a lie in that way. We have to learn to say “no” to the different ways that sinners entice us.
Young people think they need their space. Now they have their space on myspace. And what does it turn into? Everyone needs accountability. No one needs a place where he is uninspected. In Proverbs 7 you see the young man without anyone around. He is loitering in a place that he shouldn’t be. He might be very intelligent, but there are places that will turn down any of our IQs and could reduce us, like it did him, to a piece of bread. We should stay away from those places—or spaces—wherever they may be.
We want to be your friend. No, really! We do. We want to be your friend, because then you’ll have to be our friend, and we want to have lots of friends. In fact, we want 6,529 friends. And more. So, check out our status. We were happy three hours ago, and contemplative ten hours ago. We’ll be updating our status to depressed if you don’t poke us at least once in the next half hour. And we might get down-right angry if we don’t get five more friends before the next time we update our profile (which should be every ten minutes for the next few weeks).
We’re delving into the Fake world of virtual friendships, also known as Facebook. Or My Space. Social Networking, 101. That is the target. We’ve got a Christian Worldview, and we’re not afraid to use it. On the Internet, for that matter. So hold on to your profile, because we’re gonna plaster some walls during the next month.
JackHammer hammers the Social Networks. Comin’ right up.
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