Random thoughts on Religion, Politics, Contemporary Culture, and just about everything else!
Friday, January 31, 2014
"THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO FACEBOOK" --- My Reaction
I have just completed a really enjoyable reading of "The Gospel according to Facebook: Social Media and the Good News," by Bruce H. Joffe, PhD. I have stated elsewhere that I am by no stretch of the term a "reviewer," but I am happy to give my "reaction" to Dr. Joffe's work:
I believe that three themes underlie and run through the book: First, that while God may have spoken primarily through prophets and other individuals in past ages, in today's world the Word of God comes through very often and very clearly in the social media, including Facebook; secondly, that the truly spiritual Community of God must be absolutely inclusive, barring no one from full membership and participation because of one's social status, racial or ethnic background, sexual identity, or sexual orientation --- that last-mentioned seeming to be a major sub-theme of the book; and finally, that in this modern day and age, the spiritual Community of God should be moving from a primarily brick-and-mortar-church paradigm to an online presence. I wholeheartedly agree with the first two postulates, but the third one gives me pause.
Early in the book, Dr. Joffe writes, "Because of the Internet and its social media connections, the entrenched forces of organized religion everywhere are now being challenged by a dynamic new testament. Voices previously unheard now trumpet their messages across time and space, reaching and rallying an audience that’s receptive and responsive. The good news shared by the social media echoes the message of Jesus about grace, love, peace, compassion, inclusion, and social justice for all. That’s the Gospel according to Facebook. No longer is it possible for the church to conduct its 'business as usual.' Facebook won’t allow good deeds and bad, blessings and curses, to go unnoticed; no, it rewards the messages it likes and chastises those it doesn’t." I agree.
Further, he writes that "People who follow the Gospel According to Facebook tend to be spiritual, if not religious, more open-minded than closed. They worship God, not the Bible, and believe that there are many ways to encounter the Sacred … even though their faith tells them that Jesus got it right and is showing us the way." Again, I agree.
In the chapter called "The Heart of the Matter," beginning on page 59, Dr. Joffe engages in a very interesting exchange of correspondence with a knowledgeable, obviously well-educated person from the evangelical/fundamentalist wing of Christendom. I strongly suggest that you read it carefully and thoughtfully.
At another point, he challenges one of the arch-conservative Dr. Laura Schlesinger's anti-homosexual rants in a rather humorous, but sharp and incisive, manner.
Beginning on page 93 of his book, Pastor Bruce outlines pretty much outlines the parameters of his spiritual quest: "So, I guess it comes down to this: I’m looking for a spiritual community that’s doing church differently. One based on beliefs which don’t necessarily resonate with most other churches that I know: a mustard seed growing in a place where a Christian’s old wine skins may no longer be fitting." Then he goes on to list several "service marks" (he's averse to using the term "creeds") of this new spiritual approach: *Faith is not about concrete answers, religious absolutes, creeds, or dogma. *Following Jesus is counter-cultural, radical, and disrupts the status-quo. *Recognition and affirmation of the differing belief systems of others whose faiths offer a way into relationship with God and call upon them to further God’s love and grace on the earth is imperative. *Creating fellowships and communities dedicated to lifting up, affirming, and equipping one another for God’s work calls us to stress being active in peace-making, striving for justice and equality of all people and nations, loving those who are labeled by our government, society, and – at times – ourselves, as “enemies,” caring for God’s creation, and bringing hope to the poor and poverty-stricken, the hungry, and the hostages. I agree wholeheartedly with him on all of those points, but I must say that there's absolutely nothing new or original about them; they lie at the heart and core of every brand of progressive spirituality.
Where I slow down in my enthusiasm for Dr. Joffe's approach is in its poo-pooing the idea of a physical, material presence of Church. At another place in the book, Pastor Bruce writes that "It is not good to be alone. So, regardless of where we are along the way, it’s welcoming to share a message of the sacred that bespeaks grace." And that is precisely what I find in a worshipping community or fellowship. I happen not to think that the plethora of Christian denominations is necessarily a bad thing; people are different, and what speaks to the soul of one might be a complete turnoff to the next person. When we have different approaches, different worship styles, a person can gravitate to the one which speaks most loudly and clearly to his or her soul. To be honest, I don't think that Dr. Joffe has a real issue with brick-and-mortar churches and congregations gathering there, nor does he seem to think that Facebook or any other online social media is an appropriate "replacement" for existing churches. What he does seem to believe is that --- for whatever their reasons --- some people feel uncomfortable in or choose not to attend churches established by organized religions. And for those folks, the Internet --- and the Gospel According to Facebook --- provides a means to a spiritual end. In fact, he seems truly to believe that God has called him to serve in this capacity, to guide and counsel and pray for and teach souls from many corners of the world who cannot (or will not) go elsewhere. And he certainly may be right.
Let me pause here, though, and explain why organized religion in general, and a specific spiritual fellowship in particular, are important TO ME: First, I believe that humans have a social nature which needs to be nourished and cultivated just as are their spiritual, physical, and mental natures; as I understand Luke 2:52, Jesus developed in this balanced, four-fold manner. So I find it to be a very positive thing to join with others in an orderly, communal movement through all the aspects of prayer and worship, and I find that such is satisfied FOR ME in the order and symbolism of traditional, time-tested Anglican rituals; I find that the very real spiritual power generated by common prayer is evident when people of kindred spirit join together in prayer, as is done in congregational worship; and, not least, I find that the relatively small amount of time, energy, and money that I may contribute toward doing good for others is magnified exponentially when they are combined with the time, energy, and money of others --- the total certainly can be greater than the sum of the parts. Again, I emphasize, that's where I stand; people are different, and I recognize and respect that. At one point in this book, Dr. Joffe describes what would be for him an ideal communal worship experience; such a celebratory, praise-worship style would be as much of a turn-off for me as would our elaborate Episcopal liturgy be for a member of the Emergent or Emerging Church.
Actually, I don't think the author and I really disagree on that point; it's just that I personally wouldn't see it so much as an Either/Or situation, but more of a Both/And situation. On the really major points of his book, I think I understand what Dr, Joffe has written so well and readably, and I agree with him.
Now, all that I've said above applies to Part One of Pastor Bruce's book. Part Two consists largely of easy-to-memorize and -to-convert-into-affirmations proverbs and aphorisms.
As I stated in the beginning, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I strongly recommend that others who are serious about their spirituality do the same. I think it will be helpful not only to other progressive (read: liberal) religionists, but to those from every wing of spiritual inquiry and activity.