Social Media: The new horizon of evangelization, or a dumpster fire of anger and division?
“If you cannot be merciful, at least speak as though you are a sinner. If you are not a peacemaker, at least do not be a troublemaker. If you cannot be assiduous, at least in your thought be like a sluggard. If you are not victorious, do not exalt yourself over the vanquished. If you cannot close the mouth of a man who disparages his companion, at least refrain from joining him in this.” -
-St. Isaac the Syrian
Over the last decade, social media has offered us a virtual existence which has come to be known as the metaverse. Here, we are able to connect with our brothers and sisters in a unique way, bringing us closer than ever before.
On December 8th, 2011, I was privileged to join His Eminence Metropolitan Savas as he was enthroned as Metropolitan of Pittsburgh. In his enthronement address, His Eminence noted:
The Internet cannot be shunned or neglected as irrelevant to the Church’s mission. An Orthodox presence on the Internet is vital. There is in the electronic media a capacity to reach the unchurched and to draw them in, a capacity that far exceeds the power of print or any other media of decades past. … The dissemination of information about our faith and activities has never been so wide-ranging. But so much more is possible on the level of inter-connectivity. The potentials for entering into and maintaining meaningful contact have yet to be explored. … As the Apostle Paul took advantage of every opportunity, in synagogue and agora, both in and out of season, to bring people to Christ, we too must meet people where they are and fellowship with them, in a spirit of compassion and love.
True to his words, Metropolitan Savas is a radiant example of compassion and love in the metaverse. His Eminence could be described as the 'St. Paul of social media.'
There are, however, many others who do not live up to the virtuous example set forth by His Eminence. Far too often we encounter a vile, divisive spirit in the so-called metaverse, even among those who present themselves as 'devout' Christians. When encountering such a spirit, I’m reminded of the words of our father among the saints, John Chrysostom who said, “For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers and sisters?”
The legendary boxer, Mike Tyson once said, “Social media made y'all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”
While social media can be a very good thing, it can also become a cancer on our souls. Like most things of this world, the father of lies has a cunning way of manipulating our use of new media in an effort to fuel further division among the faithful. A few weeks ago, I offered a book recommendation that masterfully approaches this very subject.
Remember when the most annoying thing on Facebook was receiving endless invitations to play Farmville? These days, the most annoying thing about social media is that everybody seems to be annoyed about something.
Think about it. How often do we find ourselves posting judgements or complaints about someone or something? Do such posts outnumber the amount of times we offer a positive remark about someone or something?
St. John Cassian tells us, "More beneficial than controlling our tongue in a moment of anger and refraining from angry words is purifying our heart from rancor and not harboring malicious thoughts against our brethren."
In an effort to "purify our hearts from rancor," it is perhaps beneficial to think of anger as a serpent. We know in the case of Genesis, that the serpent was a cunning manifestation of the devil through whom came about the fall of man. Likewise, we know from nature that the serpent angrily wraps itself around it's prey, eventually strangling it to death.
I recall a story that serves as a worthy illustration of anger being a serpent:
There was a snake that crawled over a sharp saw and was cut. In anger the snake wrapped the saw with its thick body and proceeded to squeeze the life out of the saw. With each angry squeeze it felt more pain but continued because it wasn’t going to let the saw get away with the pain it caused it. The snake, refusing to let go of the saw, eventually died; not knowing the whole time, he needed to let go of the initial pain and focus on its future and where it was going. Instead, the snake unfortunately lost its life and didn’t even see it coming.
The moral of the story is to control your anger, forgive those that hurt you, and don’t give people or things power over you to spark anger. It can eventually kill you.
Indeed, the serpent, will eventually fall victim to its own vice just as evil will meet its end at the Second Coming. Surely none of us desire such a fate at the Last Judgment?
Please indulge me as I share one more story:
Once a snake ambushed a lizard and began to swallow him whole. Fighting with all his might, the lizard managed to clamp onto the snake refusing to give up without a fight. After a long back and forth battle, the exhausted snake was forced to spit out the lizard. The lizard scampered off in victory, the snake slithered off exhausted and defeated.
So you see, when the devil tries to consume you with doubt, fear, bitterness, anger, lies, envy, lust, pride, hatred -- fight it! Christ is your strength, and He is love. Letting go of anger is the only way you will ever truly experience that love. You cannot comprehend the deepest love God has for you until you realize that He has that same love for the person or people you most despise.
Sadly, the hatred and division we often witness online has managed to make its way into actual reality.
In recent years, our world has witnessed an uptick in vicious behavior that once existed only in cyberspace. What was once vile words aggressively pecked behind an anonymous keyboard now has faces and names in our day to day lives. Now, more than ever, we witness retail workers, service providers, medical professionals, even clergy being verbally abused and degraded on nearly a daily basis.
As a result, far too often, we are seeing precisely what Mr. Tyson warned about: physical violence. As the rhetoric and anger from the metaverse spills into our actual universe, we witness brother against brother, mass shootings in schools and public places, an increase in suicides, and a sense of universal division and despair.
Perhaps a more keen observation, therefore, would be that social media can sometimes be a dumpster fire of remarks that we would previously never dare say to somebody's face. When the anger of the metaverse is regurgitated into reality, it further flames the fire of hatred and division. It's up to all of us to change it -- and it starts with something absurdly simple: kindness.
Ask yourself: Am I fueling the dumpster fire or am I drowning out the flames with an outpouring of kindness?
Kindness is not the same as acceptance. It's a step above tolerance and a step below love. It has been proven remarkably beneficial for the health and well-being of your body, mind, and soul. Kindness can be exuded by anyone, to anyone. You can demonstrate it to friends and strangers alike. You can even extend kindness to your enemies. Likewise, it can be given to those with whom don't agree with you politically, profess different religious views, come from a different background, and even those who are from a different social status. Exuding kindness doesn't cost you a thing. If you've tried your very best to 'love thy neighbor' but you simply can't pull it off, give kindness a try. Once you've mastered it, you might even be capable of perfecting that whole love thing. So what do you have to lose? Try it! Not just within your circle, but toward everybody you encounter. The results will be life-changing, both now and in the hereafter.
by Ana Smiljanic and Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
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