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G. Elijah Dann

G. Elijah Dann

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Facebook and Social Media: What Would Jesus Do?

Posted: 04/20/11 09:14 AM ET

I want to delete my Facebook profile. I'll probably do it by the time I finish this article. It's not really because I've considered what Jesus would do if he would have been born into today's world of social media. But, especially with Easter around the corner, it is an interesting thought-experiment that I'll get to in a moment.

Placing my profile on Facebook started innocently enough. It all starts innocently enough. It's a common feature of the "must-have" technologies of today's social media. Easy to find old friends, connect with family members living across the country, and to stay in contact with others. For me, easier to post pictures of my newborn on my profile than to send those pictures to everyone by email. Some of my colleagues even post interesting articles from time to time. But it now looks to me that all the virtues of being on Facebook lose their shimmer when compared to the vices they eventually elicit. Merely consider the abject banality of most of the posts we put up: "I just had the biggest bout of constipation ever! LOL!"

Life is short. And the powers behind Facebook have pushed me a bit too far. Albeit, by doing so, they've inadvertently brought my attention to how much time I've wasted with it. Their recent insistence, seen every time that I log in, that I make Facebook my homepage, is the proverbial straw. Without the accompanying box displayed on other sites -- "Do not show me this again" -- Facebook's managing crowd must figure that if they badger their users enough, incessantly asking without the option of "No" for an answer, we'll all just finally acquiesce in our jonesing for connectedness.

With all the overt massaging by corporate advertising that we already face everyday, intruding and weaseling into our lives more and more, it's getting to be too much. And if a corporation or service provider thinks that we are too dependent to dump their services, maybe that's the sign to decide if they are right or not. Time to cull?

Our struggle with social media could be thought through without considering what Jesus would do, not only with Facebook but also with the other technologies of modern society. I wouldn't want the new atheists or their disciples to think otherwise. Yet it's also interesting to think about how social media has so radically changed our environment, not since first century Palestine, but merely in the past decade. We could ask the following questions just as easily about thoughtful people of the 1990s as those living two-thousand years ago. But, for what it's worth, let's stick to Jesus. How would social media have helped things for him?

Would the wise men have looked to a star to get them to the manger or would they have simply MapQuested it? Whose voice would they have chosen for the verbal directions on their GPS? Something somber like Moses? Or more prophetic, even angelic like Gabriel? How about Mary and Joseph? How would've Joseph handled comments from his Facebook "friends" about his betrothed's pregnancy? Would they have had more success in finding an inn by Googling Travelocity? At the birth would she have posted pictures of the newborn?

Into his early adulthood, if Jesus were delivering his message today, popular culture pundits tell us, he'd have to get on Facebook and Twitter to connect with the younger generation to get his message out. Giving some sermon on a hill won't cut it. And forget long, drawn-out parables to bring the point home. Put it into a tweet. (All of the Beatitudes even fit the 140 character limit!)

Of theological importance, would he have been an iPhone or Blackberry man? If that wasn't clearly recorded, forget Arius and Athanasius and the First Council of Nicaea -- this is a real church council in the making! Would he Twitter or text? Would he put his talks on YouTube? Would he have podcasts easily downloadable to an iPod? And just like other young people these days who try putting aside their social media gadgets for twenty-four hours and reporting feeling "addicted, depressed, irritable, crazy", how would Jesus fare after forty days and forty nights in the dead zone of the wilderness? Would the devil have tempted him with the new iPad? In response, would Jesus have saved the temptation for technology with the classic: "Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve"?

Would the multitudes hearing Jesus ask to "friend" them? That way, instead of following him around in the heat and the dust, they'd be able to just look at his, "What's on your mind", news feed on Facebook. Would he allow GPS tracking on his iPhone (or Blackberry) so his disciples would be able to see where he is? And for him to see where they are? No need for omniscience with a tracking device! To embarrass him, would the Pharisees have posted videos on YouTube with him hanging out with prostitutes, tax collectors and other assorted sinners? Would he have the Last Supper with his disciples or would he just stay home and use Skype?

Before his crucifixion during his night of loneliness in the Garden of Gethsemane, would he feel better by posting, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death"? Or would he just text it as "2M2H" ("Too much too handle")? Would Jesus unfriend Judas on his way to appear before Pilate, or would Jesus just learn to live with some "friends" who aren't really friends? By that time, however, would Jesus already be unfriended by all his disciples and all those who once clamored to be on his profile?

When Mary finds the tomb empty on the third day would she text "ICYMI!" ("In case you missed it!") along with "OMG!", a usage finally proportional to the experience? Would she quickly post pictures of the empty tomb from her cell phone to her Facebook account? Would Jesus's last tweet have been "AWOL" ("Away without leaving")? More questions than answers of course.

Maybe this thought-experiment shows just how ridiculous our religious beliefs are, impossible to put into a modern context. Maybe gadgets defeat belief in God. Or, maybe it shows us how ridiculous our lives have become.

As for me, I still have my Facebook profile. Some day I'll delete it. But not today.