Facebook is not merely an accessory to our relationships, it is not merely for sending pictures—we had email. Furthermore, Facebook is not merely a new space to socialize.

Rather Facebook is our means by which we re-create our world and ourselves in our image—it has redefined what it means to relate to one another. The internet, as well expressed by journalist Glenn Greenwald,

“…is the epicenter of our world, the place where virtually everything is done. It is where friends are made, where books and films are chosen, where political activism is organized, where the most private data is created and stored.”[1]

       With this being the case then, there are a great deal many questions as to why anyone would stop using Facebook much like abstaining from alcohol in social settings. Its panorama of ‘sins’ can be presented as a thought experiment, as if Facebook went to confession.

       “I’ve never confessed before. I’m married to venture capitalism; I’m eleven years old. I prefer brevity to thoughtfulness, reaction to patience, image to text, quantity to quality…”

         “What are your sins my son?”

       “First I have my own form of murder—I erase people if they have done something bad, and are serving a sentence for it—they don’t exist for anyone or to anyone.[2] Sorcery? Well, I put people in trances for hours on end, looking into my face like a cauldron. They went looking for something but by the end of it, I could have them enthralled with cats. Being a source of distraction may be my most underestimate personal quality.[3] Avarice is something I’m not prone to myself, but I enable every one of them—Coca-Cola, Verizon, Sony, anyone really… advertisers worship me! Not only do I give them space to advertise, but I also point them to all the right people! Theft is one sin I’ve never had to practice, because everything is given to me, especially information. If I’m the cool kid at the party, and I don’t know you, you may as well not even exist. There is some controversy about my father cheating his best friend out of a fortune,[4] but on this one I’m pretty clean. I’m most subject to glory of myself. Hell, everyone knows about me, and yet I still hang-up posters of myself just to make sure people don’t forget about me, and any time some other new source of attention comes around—well I have to buy them out![5] Hypocrisy and lying, again my father is much more the source of this than I am—there are even rumors that he has lied about being my father.[6] I don’t lie to people ever, I provide an accounting of what they can expect of me on my personal blog—I tell them just how much they can trust me. Though I prefer brevity, my post must be 20-25 pages—heck! I don’t even remember everything in it.[7] Just know that while I tend to enable others in their sins,[8] what I adore to the point of insanity, is how much power I have! I manipulate people into emotional frenzies,[9] I can create revolutions, and I can end revolutions.[10] I have half a billion adherents! I am idol crafter, altar, and inspiration for your face!….I….I Am…”

       The priest then quietly checks his phone for any new notifications—and to write on his Facebook page the troubles he is having in ministry.

       While many would concede that Facebook might have some bad side-effects if over indulged, they would say that at the end of the day, Facebook itself is simply a tool, more like a public utility, than a company. But like alcohol, while Facebook feeds on something natural like human relationships, it is mediated to us through someone else’s power and wisdom. Sure alcohol is a part of God’s world, but who necessitated that it be a social lubricant? So to human relationships are a part of God’s world, but who made it so that they should be mediated and interpreted through Facebook? If the post-modern Christian is to act as a translator of a Christian worldview then the question of virtual reality, and how human relationships are designed to properly function, are vital—if the answers are found in the image of Christ.

       Images, despite the word ‘book’, Facebook is about images. One sin not listed was idolatry, which is worshipping an image. In the biblical narrative, human beings are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Facebook’s message about who a human being is, is what they project, what image they make of themselves. In other words, if the Biblical narrative says that we are made in the image of God, that each and everyone of us represents who God is, the narrative of Facebook is that we are images of ourselves—we are what we imagine ourselves to be. While Facebook is for some merely any accessory to already existing relationships or a new space in which to socialize, what is not to be missed is the power in creating our own image. Greenwald likewise says that the internet is, “…where we develop and express our very personality and sense of self.”[11]

       The prophet Jeremiah calls the power of idols, “a work of delusion” (Jer. 10:15) because even though they have no power in and of themselves, they have the power given to them over and by the very ones who created them. John Calvin described human nature in his Institutes of the Christian Religion as—“a perpetual factory of idols” (I.XI.8). Facebook is but one expression of this, as it has been funded and fueled by one of its first major investors, Peter Thiel, co-founder of Paypal and his futurist libertarian ideology.[12] Thiel essentially believes that, through the advancement of technology by a marketplace unhindered by law or morality, humanity will be able to create its own world, and create its own reality without death or suffering—Facebook is the democratized version of this utopian fantasy. But like any idol, though it promises redemption if you but sacrifice your personal information, and relationships to it—by which Facebook can profit—it has power over you because you have surrendered to a work of delusion, though it is ‘nothing’—by definition a virtual reality. Like all idols, it is an expression worshipping “…the creature rather than the creator…” (Rom. 1:25) with the creature, in this case, being ourselves. With Facebook you have communities without geography, relationships without relating, empathy without touch, knowledge without expertise, gossip without another ear, and connecting no longer requiring anything but an internet connection—because relationships themselves are commodified.

       With Facebook we have not merely a tool to connect, not merely a space to connect, but a very redefinition of what it means to connect. The cost of this redefinition however is our disconnection with what it means to be human—to have our very relationships themselves commodified. So then, if the Biblical narrative tells us that the truth that we are not made in the image of ourselves, but in the image of God, what do human relationships look like in the person of God himself, Jesus? What we find in the Gospels is that Jesus is constantly walking to villages, calling people by name, making public announcements, entering into homes, expressing empathy by tears, not drawing attention to himself, expanding his relationships with people who didn’t share his interests, and we find a Christ who knows people better than they know themselves. What Jesus in his relationships exhibits is a relational ethic of proximity, as opposed to a relational ethic of commodity exhibited by Facebook.

       Proximity requires relating to people as people, not merely as a profile of a product. Proximity requires relating to people you may not like, not merely erasing them. Proximity requires you to have a communal identity, rather than be an isolated monad with your own picture. Proximity requires you to serve and give, not merely ‘share’ and ‘like’. Proximity requires you to keep people in your thoughts and hearts, not merely on your ‘friends’ list. Proximity requires you to gather in public spaces, not merely be online together. Proximity requires you to respond in the moment, not merely take care of people when it’s most convenient. Proximity requires you to take action at imminent disaster, not merely hash-tag prayers. Proximity requires you to rely on the generosity of others, not merely depend on how many people are looking. Proximity requires you to confess and pray to God, not merely rant on some else’s ‘wall’. Finally, proximity in the example of Christ, often requires sacrifice, but in the commodified relationships of our Facebook world sacrifice does not even exist.

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[1] Glenn Greenwald, No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State (Metropolitan Books, 2014), 5–6.

[2] Sarah Shourd, Facebook Accused of Censoring Hundreds of Prisoners by Purging Profile Pages Without Cause, interview by Amy Goodman, August 24, 2015, http://www.democracynow.org/2015/8/24/facebook_accused_of_censoring_hundreds_of.

[3] On Facebook as distraction in education: Michael J. Bugeja, “Facing the Facebook,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 23, 2006, http://chronicle.com/article/Facing-the-Facebook/46904.

[4] The origin story of Facebook primarily told by Eduardo Saverin, who was its original business manager: Ben Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook: A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, (New York: Anchor, 2010).

[5] Mark Zuckerberg: Building the Facbeook Empire, YouTube Video (Bloomberg Business, 2013), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WiDIhIkPoM.

[6] Mark Zuckerberg’s, controversy concerning possible “theft” of the idea of Facebook from the Winklevoss twins: Mezrich, The Accidental Billionaires; Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg.

[7] On user agreements see: Cullen Hoback, Terms and Conditions May Apply, (Hyrax Films, 2013), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2084953/.

[8] On Facebook as an enabler of deceit: S.E. Whelan, “Facebook: Friend or Foe?,” Digital News, Life Ivy, (May 15, 2013), http://www.lifeivy.com/post/facebook-friend-or-foe/.

[9] Robert Booth, “Facebook Reveals News Feed Experiment to Control Emotions,” The Guardian, June 30, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/jun/29/facebook-users-emotions-news-feeds?CMP=fb_gu.

[10] Leonid Bershidsky, “End of the Facebook Revolution,” BloombergView, (December 22, 2014), http://www.bloombergview.com/articles/2014-12-22/end-of-the-facebook-revolution.

[11] Greenwald, No Place to Hide, 5.

[12] Tom Hodgkinson, “With friends like these…Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook,” The Guardian, January 14, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/14/facebook.

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