catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 8, Num 13 :: 2009.06.19 — 2009.07.02


Live Feed: Christians and Facebook are in a relationship.

From Fishing to Facebook

Many Christians today are asking why the young twenty-something youth of our techno-savvy culture are not as interested in church as their grandparents were. These Christians lament that Billy Graham, Bill Hybels and even Bill Clinton have not been able to hold the young peoples’ split-second attention spans. Apparently, no one told them that sex scandals are so ten years ago. So after reeling in empty modernist nets that cannot seem to attract postmodern fish, Christians, as we have historically done so often (and so well), headed back to our proverbial beach towels waiting on the shore. (As an aside, actual “proverbial towels” can be found at your local online Christian bookstore. Incidentally, the author’s is embroidered, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest” [Proverbs 6:10].)

Before we Christians gave up fishing for men for sunbathing, however, we were lucky to remember Jesus’ post-resurrection fish-finding skills. We wisely decided that we had better throw our nets over the other side of the boat, hoping in a last-ditch effort to catch from the tributary of technology the youth who had so cleverly evaded Christian nets in the man-made modernist loch. And just as Jesus promised his disciples, Christians today found a lunker of a catch in Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. Furthermore, just like the disciples, we are not sure what to do with a cybercatch that is threatening to capsize the Christian boat.

The problem that faces Christians today, however, is that we live in an age in which we are more likely to catch ad companies phishing than find fisherman adding to their catch. As such, we are not sure we have the muscle required to pull the Net into our boat. So what has changed since the first century? Other than the blessing of the organ as the only instrument for worship, the coining of the name “Christian” as a belittlement by the democrat party, and putting a man on the moon, not too much seems to have changed. Granted, the last statement about the man on the moon is of a questionable authenticity. However, Jesus’ great commission, “Go into the world wide web and make cyberdisciples of all users, Facebooking them with ‘luv frm JC’” (Matthew 28:19-20 TNIV [Terrific New Internet Version]) has certainly stood the test of time. So too, should not the Master’s maxim, “Throw your nets on the right side of the boat” (John 21:6), still guide us today? In today’s postmodern world, however, perhaps we should be slightly more selective in our acceptance of Jesus’ advice. Seriously: while reining in a wriggling aquatic surplus may have benefitted the disciples, in the age of iPhones and emoticons we have little need for the pescal pests. Furthermore, we have been caught floundering, wondering why we cannot get the nets back on board and why, despite our best efforts, our carefully constructed craft has sprung a leak.


Fishers of Men?

Imagine you’re out on the lake in the middle of the summer, relaxing away a hot summer afternoon with three friends and a case of hard lemonade. Suddenly you feel the familiar tug on your line and, in your excitement, accidently drop your four-dollar drink into the lake, but you tell yourself not to worry because you have something on the other end. The dark shape nears the surface, your buddy readies the net, but all of the sudden reels back in horror! You let the drag off your line (so nothing snaps) and look over the side of the boat to see that you have hooked not a catfish but a corpse-and right through the ear!

Besides illustrating the dangers of snorkelling where others fish, this story reminds us how un-fun it is to fish for men. The rest of the afternoon is spent marooned on the beach (without the comfort of your towel) giving statements to CSI officers while your commandeered boat drags the lake, looking for more bodies. What was Jesus thinking? Today we understand that becoming fishers of men is much more trouble than it is worth! So, like the excellent students of theology we Christians are, we have given up on the archaic net idea and pulled a page from one of any number of films, cracking out our Christ-approved shotguns and firing willy-nilly into the water in the hope that the fish will save us the effort by fleeing their aquatic home and joining us in the boat. Unfortunately for Christians, it seems we are worse students of film than we are fish finders. If we were better listeners, we might have remembered that characters who use metal slugs instead of wriggling worms get typecasted as the impatient bad guys who tend to be defriended frequently.


Friend Request

Perhaps the author is not the only one afraid to fish for men after imagining having to spend the afternoon with Horatio Caine and the CSI squad. So maybe the Christian ability to have collective nightmares explains our failure to fish for men. Alternatively, it could be that we have found culture much more interesting than Christ-that while looking online for signs of convertible intelligent life, the youth found online poker, late night television and Facebook, and have been baking their brains since. Then we are arrogant enough to wonder why the young people are leaving the church when our offering plates do not accept poker chips and even the best pastor cannot hold a candle to one of David Letterman’s witty one-liners. Yet, what response could be better than to look longingly back at the glory days when we played (and paid) with cash and Letterman was still a weatherman?

To their credit, certain Christians realized the cards were stacked against them and instead of folding, upped the ante. Unhappy to see late-night satirists upstage the church, they booked the television studio across the street and started knocking people over in the name of Jesus or promising divine reimbursement for all irresponsibly gained gambling debts — now, that’s entertainment! Today, you can even go online and have Pastor Peter Popoff pray for your penniless purse or ask Benny Hinn to “Poke!” you over in the name of Jesus.

More conservative Christian killjoys — those of us not quite prepared to do away with Jesus — avoided the theatres and studios, but dressed up the faith in our own ways. Failing to agree on a unified response, some of us took an e-nap with anti-social Jesus and waited for the televangelical and technological winds to blow over. Others of us gaped wide-eyed at the shiny new possibilities through an idyllic window and asked Jesus Santa Christ to put some virtual presents under the virtual Christmas tree on our newly created Facebook profiles (beside the “Verse of the Day” application we faithfully added to our account). Still other Christians decided to fight Letterman and Facebook with blood in our eyes and Crusader-Jesus at our side.

Yet all of our views, however distorted, make all the difference in the world-wide web: even secular news media giant MSNBC recognizes that “the Internet makes people crazy.” Writer Helen A.S. Popkin joins countless other web surfers in wondering “why people with jobs, families and social ties utilize the Internet as an outlet for typing words so hateful, and with such enthusiasm” (“Watch Out. The Internet Will Cut You.”). In these Christian cursoraders’ defence, they have recognized that it is much safer to punch an avatar than a real, live person; the worst you will receive in return is a virtual defenestration. Faithful as we Christians are, we have stuck to online complaints, criticisms and counter-arguments. Popular evangelical magazine Christianity Today whines that “the American public’s understanding of evangelicals on the whole has rarely been more misshapen” and that “news media’s relentless focus on controversy makes it difficult to remedy false impressions” (“Media In Motion”).  Of course, these perceptions are not our fault. We went out of our way to join the frenzy, not to face off against Facebook. How can they hate us when we have become as entranced in the virtual community as the heathens we love to slog (as in, slam on our blog)?

After harassing young Christians today for being unfamiliar with St. Francis of a See-saw or St. Ignoramus of Loyola, famed neo-luddite Richard G. Malloy in his article “Religious Life in the Age of Facebook” bemoans the fact that “today’s youth know Harry and Hermione better than Jesus, Mary, and Joseph”.  And he is right; you, the reader, are not even asking for Harry or Hermione’s last names (Potter and Granger), although to your credit neither are you asking for Jesus’ (which, by the way, is not H. Christ). Incidentally, almost any online thesaurus finds the term “biblical scholar” synonymous with “neo-luddite.” Had he known this, Mr. Malloy would probably have added Mark Zuckerberg to his H-list, recognizing that although no one knows what he looks like, all know em-zee as the Father of Facebook; the herald of the social-networking gospel movement that’s currently sweeping the nation, and at a much faster rate than its similarly named (but less-advertised) sibling the social gospel movement.

Today’s good news is that for a long time now — since 2004 — Facebook has been as much a staple in the lives of socialite college students, eventually overly-forthcoming high-school teens and finally even wish-we-were-young-again parents as bread and fish were for the fishermen with whom Jesus chatted. Why, then, did it take so long for Christians to get the divine voicemail saying that flooding the tube and the Net with Christian propaganda simply wasn’t going to bring people back in? While some conservatives tend to blame Benny and Pastor Peter for keeping the voicemails hidden with their ever-elusive divine PIN number, most of us look sadly at our desktop buddy-Jesus and wonder why he failed to mention it. The “It’s complicated” relationship status between Christians and the Internet has even confounded media mogul Leonardo De Chirico. Unfortunately, the more famous Leonardo was too busy filming his new flick Convert Me if You Can for comment, but supported De Chirico, who warns in his article “Ethics and the Internet, Starting from Theology” that “at stake is the ability of the Christian faith to interact in a significant and positive manner with the culture.” Yet since the titanic task of interacting with the Internet has fallen to the Christians, many Christians’ engagement of the online world and the self-proclaimed premier social networking site has left us with a choice to sink or swim.


The Fall of Facebook

Facebook currently boasts thousands of groups dedicated to academic, political, or socio-emotional defences of the Christian faith. Perhaps one of the most emotional appeals for the faith comes from the imaginative 4,000+-member group, “If facebook dont delet the group (fuck christianity) then fuck facebook” [sic!], identified as a Religious Organization. Replete with abhorrent grammar, spelling, and syntax, this group provides a timeless experience of Christian apologetics (sans apologies)! The group “Christian Guys are hotter because…” comes in a close second, followed by “10 Million Teens For Christ (ALL Christian Teens on Facebook)” in a distant third, owing to the fact that it is surprisingly over 9.9 million members short of its goal.

However, with such strong statements putting the ‘e-’ back in evangelism, it’s a surprise that Christians have not had better press online. It’s easy to imagine that if nothing else, groups like “AMERICAN BY BIRTHCHRISTIAN BY CHOICE” would draw in schools of Christian patriots. However, since neither our schools nor societies look any better for Christian involvement in Facebook, maybe it is time for today’s cyber-Christians to make sure we know what we are going for.


Joining the “Gang Wars”

If we truly want to make a difference in the cyberworld and on Facebook, Christians must find a balance between posting pictures of our newborn (baptized) babies and trying to poke our atheist friends to death. Of course, here the author is kidding. (You have no atheist friends.)  Author Nazzareno Ulfo, who shares his hometown of Nazareth with Jesus, warns in The Challenge of Cyberculture that while “any hostile attitude towards cyberculture is misplaced and impractical, [it] challenges us in a manner not unlike Goliath did in King Saul’s days.”  Hold the iPhones! Are all Nazarenes so opposed to technology and progress-obsessed with their Old Testament? While the reader may be wondering when and how the Amish ark (re)crossed the Atlantic and made inroads into the world of Nazareth, let us pretend for the sake of argument that the JC-Ulfo tandem has a valid question. If Facebook really is a technological Christian-killer, Christians should have a giant problem with this virtual Goliath, not nine feet tall but worldwide.

How can Facebook be a threat when the site simply claims to “help you connect and share with the people in your life?” Obviously, it was not designed with the slinging of e-stones and F-bombs in mind. Fortunately, after an hour’s extensive research and two cups of coffee, the author was pleased to find that the only people given to this sort of disrespectful behaviour are the Facebooking Christians from the earlier fuck-ridden group, and of course the heathens who started the fray with their “Fuck Christianity” group. But who can really speak to the true purpose of Facebook? From its humble beginnings it seems that Facebook, like the world, was created good but was tricked by snake-like public opinion and dreams of ruling the world into revolting against its maker. Moreover, not unlike the universe, it seems that Facebook has been virtually or metaphorically flipping off its maker ever since. For readers looking to pursue the subject further, the Fall of Facebook can be dated to September 2005, when the service was made available to high school students.

According to our Nazarene friends, the biggest problem for Christians is not that Facebook is inhabited by our tweens, but that we are even involved in the virtual rebellion, rather than enrolled in interpretive dance classes, learning the right steps with which to avoid the formidable giant. If, instead of being intimidated by Mark “Goliath” Zuckerberg’s challenge, we kicked it eighties and had a dance-off, we would not feel the need to trade our halos for Halo 3 or spill the virtual blood of virtual heathens, defending our virtually misunderstood faith. Though at the words “dance-off,” the electronic eighties might come to mind, the author is here referring to first-century eighties, when John “Rhythm” Patmos put Domitian “Dragon” Caesar to shame with his breakdown of R.E.M.‘s "It’s the End of the World As We Know It." Despite the dance-off, an unfortunate few heeded our Nazarene friends’ warning from under a rock, while the rest of us dropped our Davidic slingshots, holy hand grenades and gang war shivs to cross the battle lines not to fight the giant but to get the famous man’s e-mail address so we can send him a friend request or have him invite us into his Facebook gang.


News Feed

So maybe our cyber-problem is that Christians have believed, like the rest of the world, that we could hide behind our screens, profiles and cybernetic images of a plastic, painted Jesus and think, say, and do whatever we want to whomever we like (or hate) because “it’s not like it’s real.” We thought that our profile pictures of misty-eyed Nazarene Jesus with open arms, rosy-cheeked Jesus Santa Christ toting a big bag full of gifts, or even Orlando Bloom Crusader Jesus bent on protecting “The Kingdom of Heaven” would distract readers long enough for them to overlook the less than welcoming material on our walls below. Yet Christians are finding that though a picture may be worth a thousand words (and not all of them nice, either), the words that follow the picture speak much more clearly. Yet we wonder how we have made ourselves either indistinct from the cyberworld or repulsive to it.

Like the rest of the Facebooking world, it seems Christians are finally incredulously realizing that what happens online does not stay there. The virtual Facebook community is a very real force in shaping the perceptions and actions of those who, after leaving their Facebook home, translate what they read on the screen to who they see on the street. And like any public setting, it is unfortunately the rowdy, outspoken spoilsports who receive the attention and ruin positive perception for the rest of us —especially those of us quietly doing such good work.


Status Update

When it comes to Facebook, we Christians need to come to terms with the cyber-reality that anti-social Nazarene Jesus was simply just resting from a life devoted to the people he loved. Jesus Santa Christ does not fit down our e-chimney because he does not exist, and if he did would not spoil us with e-presents because we would miss the present of himself that he gave. Crusader Jesus was brought to life many years after the Son of Man actually lived and, in addition, no one has particularly fond memories of the battles for Jerusalem he championed. The Jesus that Facebookers will find attractive is the fish finder who walked on water. If Christians dare to get out of our boat — if we stop shooting at the fish, wake up from our Nazarene nap, look away from the book of autographs we are stuffing in Facebook’s face or slow the Kingdom charge — if we look up from ourselves and step out onto the water with our hydropatetic WebMaster, the world (online and off) might even experience the Lover of fish and of men treading out to meet them. If we act quickly enough, we might even pull it off before our boat sinks.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus