Social Media: Where the Bible Goes to Die

04/12/2017 10:28 am ET

It’s not hard to explain why so many Christians don’t know what to say, let alone do, about politics these days. It’s because very few Christians today know much about their sacred book, the Holy Bible, and how it might speak to important social and ethical issues.

This widespread lack of knowledge is sad proof that the language of Christianity, especially as reflected in the Bible, is endangered and dying. Nowhere is this threat of extinction more obvious than on social media.

To be clear, it’s not that the Bible isn’t cited, which it often is, in the never-ending vitriolic Facebook debates and Twitter wars. It’s that it is cited so poorly, so dismally.

Looking at this situation in terms of linguistics and the life cycle of languages suggests that many people—Christian people, mind you—just don’t know how to speak their faith anymore, and so what one finds at best is little bits and pieces, lacking nuance and dexterity. This is exactly the kind of thing that happens when languages are in decline and about to die.

The online examples that could be cited are legion. I’ve witnessed the following three myself. These days, social media is like the tar pit of Scripture: it’s where the Bible goes to die.

1. Christians sometimes defend President Trump’s foibles because even the great King David had his fair share of problems but was still a “man after God’s own heart.”

Well, no, not exactly. That phrase occurs in 1 Samuel 13:14, sure, but is not uttered with reference to David precisely, since David isn’t introduced until three chapters later.

Even if the phrase does apply to David, it comes long before the many wrongdoings David committed (including adultery and murder). It is by no means a final, summary commendation of that king, especially as David’s dying wish on his deathbed is for his son Solomon to exact revenge for a verbal slight (1 Kings 2:9). Basic Bible Reading 101—simply reading the story in order—reveals social media posts like these to be inapt and inept.

2. I’ve seen other posts where Christians have appealed to the Apostle Paul, who admonished the church in Rome to “be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1).

Now never mind the fact that some who cite Paul today would likely not have appreciated hearing this verse during the previous administration. The point is simply that this one verse cannot be the end of the matter because there are other biblical texts that speak of appropriate, even required civil disobedience—for example, the midwives who disobey Pharaoh to save the Israelite people (Exodus 1:17-21) or the three young men who refuse to bow to the Babylonian king as if he were a god (Daniel 3:8-18).

3. The ultimate low point are Christians who claim that their religion is somehow apolitical (even if they themselves have strong political opinions—as they frequently do). I’ve seen posts that assert that Jesus would do nothing in today’s world, but would stay out of politics altogether.

The naivety in such a statement is mind-boggling. The Old Testament contains numerous laws prescribing an alternative society that shows great concern for the well-being of the poor, immigrants, and other needy individuals (it could easily be called the biblical welfare state); the prophets overflow with messages full of social and political content that were often delivered to heads of state; and Jesus, great heir of the prophets, proclaimed God’s rule in the midst of what was patently and manifestly Caesar’s empire.

These three examples and my brief responses to each are not intended as proof that the Bible can be cited to support any argument whatsoever—though that sentiment isn’t entirely wrong. Instead, the point is that the only way posts like these can be made is due to a profound ignorance of the Bible, which is supposed to be sacred to Christians everywhere and always. To the contrary, these posts are proof that Scripture is not very important anymore: it is endangered and dying, it lacks fluent speakers.

Fluency in the Bible isn’t simply knowing that “this verse contradicts that verse” so one can effectively troll a post or two. It is, instead, a thorough understanding of how the Bible works as a whole, just like a language does. Being fluent means that one knows when to use this word as opposed to that word so as to make an argument, write a poem, or live one’s life.

Without adequate knowledge of a language, people can do none of those things, but can only fumble along in greatly reduced dialects, called pidgins, in which a fuller, original language plays second fiddle to another, far more powerful one.

Without the full language of scripture, both Old and New Testaments, Genesis to Revelation, Christians speak only a smidgen—a linguistic pidgin—that has been combined with and is subservient to other languages: the language of patriotism, for example, or consumerism, or racism. But that is nothing new. Consumerism has been around for a long time now, civil religion is as old as the founding fathers, and racism is still older. The language of Scripture, however, antedates them all.

Its antiquity means it will be hard to learn—the oldest languages always are—but if Christians want to make thoughtful contributions in the public square, and if they want to make those contributions as Christians, they must dust off their Bibles, crack them open, and begin the arduous process of second language acquisition.

If they don’t, Scripture will die a slow but steady death, online and beyond, with Christianity as a whole not far behind, eventually completely overtaken by those other, more powerful but deeply problematic languages.

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