Empty Deceit and "Christian" Self-Help

To the atheist, the conscience is the end product of a long line of evolutionary and social conditioning, so when it bothers them, they are not really guilty of anything. As James Sire puts it, they are really only guilty of guilt. Feelings of guilt are the problem, not a violation of moral principles.

This is why we live in a culture of therapy. The goal is to rid ourselves of the feeling of guilt instead of the guilt itself. Unfortunately, we see this way of thinking finding its way into many churches as sin and the cross of Christ are ignored and replaced with a “Christian” self-help regimen. Our culture only wants good vibes and talk of sin makes us feel bad. All we really need to learn to do is to forgive ourselves. James sire goes on to explain the biggest problem with this approach.

“In a universe where God is dead, people are not guilty of violating a moral law, they are only guilty of guilt, and that is a very serious, for nothing can be done about it. If one had sinned, there might be atonement. If one had broken a law, the lawmaker might forgive the criminal. But if one is only guilty of guilt, there is no way to solve the very personal problem. And that states the case of the nihilist, for no one can avoid acting as if moral values exist and as if there is some bar of justice that measures guilt by objective standards. But there is no bar of justice and we are left not in sin but in guilt. Very serious indeed.”

-James Sire, The Universe Next Door

Churches and “Christian” materials, that neglect sin, guilt, and the atonement, and only focus on the therapeutic, not only fail to help those in need, they lock them into a worldview where forgiveness is unattainable. Even under the name “Christian,” empty deceit can hold sway.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

-D. Eaton

When We Shop to Find Fulfillment

Spiritual emptiness can manifest itself in countless ways, but in our culture, one of the ways it reveals itself is in shopping to find fulfillment. This is the kind of shopping that seeks to medicate a dry and thirsty soul. In a consumer culture like ours, this fulfillment shopping is exactly what we should expect.

I am never surprised by the fact that so many people feel hollow inside or that they think shopping can fill the void. I have been guilty of doing it myself. Our culture, as Francis Schaeffer has so aptly put it, has fallen below the line of despair. Society today is operating from a worldview of hopelessness because we have denied God, and, in the process, lost any foundation for meaning, truth, and morality. Since there is no true human nature and no real purpose, all we are told we can do is to try to make ourselves happy; whatever form that takes

The more people hold to this worldview and push it to its logical conclusions, the more absurd it will become. This absurdity is why our culture is now adamant that we call men, women and women, men, and when these two choices are not enough, we add 56 new genders. That is right; when you sign up for Facebook, you can now choose from 58 genders. When we denied humanity’s nature made in the image of God, we did not set ourselves free; we enslaved ourselves to futility.

The secular world hated the idea that we are made in the image of God but that we had fallen into sin. They hated the idea that we are glorious creatures in an abnormal state because they said it was demeaning to think of humanity that way. Then they declared that “God is dead,” so man no longer has a created nature, but if God is dead, so is humanity.

A secular world without design from a personal creator can have no ultimate meaning. Sure, we can make things up to give us hope or purpose, but never forget our hopes are only fanciful imaginations. This worldview of despair saturates almost everything we touch. It is littered throughout our endless social media feeds. It is in the TV shows we binge-watch. It has even made it into employment policies and laws. Yes, a culture that says morality is relative enforces its morality with the threat of punishment. You may have no inherent nature so you can be whatever you want, but you will live how we say or face the consequences.

It is no wonder people are empty. Even Christians swimming in these waters are bound to take their eyes off Jesus and put them on the waves from time to time. When we do that, we know what happens; we start to sink. There is so much emptiness to go around that many marketers appeal to it to get you to buy their product or use their services.

If we shop to fill an emptiness in our lives, when we consume, we are the ones being consumed. We all shop, and we all need to shop, but we should not shop to find joy, meaning, purpose, popularity, fame, and even glory in the products we purchase.

Many people will head home tonight to a home full of beautiful things. They will sit down in front of a television screen six times bigger than the televisions they had growing up. They will sit there, and they will be empty and numb looking for the next thing that will be able to give them a spark of life.

Subconsciously, they will be wondering what this life is all about. The TV will stream shows that subversively tell them there is no meaning in life, so look to fame, glory, and sexuality to fill your time while you are alive. Oh, and the only way you will ever find this personal peace and affluence is with the right products.

Ken Myers said it best when he said, “Popular culture is unimaginable without mass-media, which is, in turn, unimaginable without advertising, which would not survive in a cultural climate that places a premium on modesty, chastity, frugality, simplicity, and contentment. So those virtues will necessarily be alien to popular culture, even if the people wanted them there.”

Even the news is driven by advertising, and if you manage to turn off the TV or unplug from the internet for a while, advertisers will use billboards on your drive home to put their finger in your eye.

The next time we find ourselves looking to buy something to find a little relief from the boredom of our lives, remember, we are the ones being consumed. In a consumer culture, even the consumers become a commodity. Take a minute to be aware of the worldview that is driving this entire system.

It is a secular philosophy of life that says, as messed up as we are, we are not in an abnormal state. We are evolving creatures, and there was never a time when we were more glorious than we are now. So if you look around and see the despair, it is important to remember this is the best secularism can offer you.

The remedy to all of this is to look around and see that things are not the way they should be. Man is not in his most glorious state; something is seriously wrong. Sin has touched us all, but unlike the secular worldview that leaves us in our despair. The truth of Christianity lets us know that even though we have fallen, God has provided a way for us to be redeemed.

Our guilt, even though it is true guilt against the Holy God of the universe and not just an internal feeling, can be forgiven through the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who took our punishment on the cross. For those who come to him in faith, our relationship with our creator is restored. We, at that moment, are given a new life in Christ, and he begins a work in us that he promises to fulfill when he calls us home. For those of us who know Jesus, never forget that we are part of the greatest campaign ever imagined: to know God. Our calling is to glorify him and enjoy him forever. There is no reason for us to shop to find fulfillment.

-D. Eaton

The Entrenched Intellectualist

We first looked at J.I. Packers description of the Restless Experientialists. Now we move on to the entrenched intellectualist. May we avoid both extremes.

“Think now of the entrenched intellectualists in the evangelical world: a second familiar breed, though not as common as the previous type. Some of them seem to be victims of an insecure temperament and inferiority feelings, others to be reacting out of pride or pain against the zaniness of experientialism as they perceived it, but whatever the source of their syndrome the behavior-pattern in which they express it is distinctive and characteristic. Constantly they present themselves as rigid, argumentative, critical Christians, champions of God’s truth for whom orthodoxy is all. Upholding and defending their own view of that truth. Whether Calvinist or Arminian, dispensational or Pentecostal, national church reformist or Free Church separatist, or whatever it might be, is their leading interest, and they invest themselves unstintingly in this task. There is little warmth about them; relationally they are remote; experiences do not mean much to them; winning the battle for mental correctness is their one great purpose. They see, truly enough, that in our anti-rational, feeling-oriented, instant-gratification culture conceptual knowledge of divine things is undervalued, and they seek with passion to right the balance at this point. They understand the priority of the intellect well; the trouble is that intellectualism, expressing itself in endless campaigns for their own brand of right thinking, is almost if not quite all that they can offer, for it is almost if not quite all they have.”

J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

The Restless Experientialists

In the next two posts I would like to quote J.I. Packer speaking of two different kinds of Christians we find in the church today because he does such a good job describing their key characteristics. They are two sides of a spectrum and both are problematic. My hope is that by looking at these, we might examine ourselves to see if we lean too heavily to one side or the other and find the balance that is found in the word of God.

“Those whom I call restless experientialists are a familiar breed, so much so that observers are sometimes tempted to define evangelicalism in terms of them. Their outlook is one of casual haphazardness and fretful impatience, of grasping after novelties, entertainments, and ‘highs’, and of valuing strong feelings above deep thoughts. They have little taste for solid study, humble self-examination, disciplined meditation, and unspectacular hard work in their callings and their prayers. They conceive the Christian life as one of exciting extraordinary experiences rather than of resolute rational righteousness. They dwell continually on the themes of joy, peace, happiness, satisfaction, and rest of soul with no balancing reference to the divine discontent of Romans 7, the fight of faith of Psalm 73, or the ‘lows’ of psalms 42, 88, and 102. Through their influence the spontaneous jollity of the simple extrovert comes to be equated with healthy Christian living, while saints of less sanguine and more complex temperament get driven almost to distraction because they cannot bubble over in the prescribed manner. In their restlessness these exuberant ones become uncritically credulous, reasoning that the more odd and striking an experience the more divine, supernatural, and spiritual it must be, and they scarcely give the scriptural virtue of steadiness a thought.”

-J.I. Packer – A Quest for Godliness

In the next post we will look at the entrenched intellecualists.

-D. Eaton

Fertility is Not a Disease

The sexual revolution has so altered the worldview of many, that we now often treat fertility as a disease. It devastates lives, there are prescriptions to keep its symptoms at bay, and there are surgical procedures to cure it altogether.

To our culture, it seems that fertility has its most devastating effects on women. Men only suffer from its effects tangentially through the pain it inflicts on women. Men can more easily side-step virtue and walk away if the manifestation of the disease becomes too much to bear, but women do not have that luxury.

For women, fertility has ruined careers, helps hold the glass ceiling in place, and, before the technology was invented to end its tyrannical reign, it even kept women from fulfilling their purpose in life by forcing them to neglect their careers and devote time to nurturing their families. Thankfully, to the secular mind, science has overcome this atrocity. If the unthinkable happens, we can now have the life-ruining cancer removed at any neighborhood Planned Parenthood.

Sexual pleasure has become the god of our culture to which all other gods must bow. One of its contenders is reproduction itself. We must separate the pleasure of sex from reproduction and fertility, or there can be no sexual freedom. “My body, my choice” is the battle cry of a generation who, whether they realize it or not, are rebelling against their natural design. Nature, not the patriarchy, is what our culture hates most.

Let us not be naive; this treatment of sex and fertility is the end of a long line of pathologies that have plagued society for centuries. Absent fathers, the breakdown of the family unit, divorce, and pornography; all of these often stem from the same root. That root is the desire to have sexual pleasure without constraint. It is impossible to lay the ax to the root of the sexual revolution without also laying the ax to the root of these as well. This shared foundation is why many people are, rightfully, often charged with hypocrisy when they stand against abortion but have no problem with the casual sex culture.

This desire to have sexual pleasure without constraint has culture suppressing the truth of not only biblical revelation, but also science. In order to be able to justify the extermination of the child, we must classify the child in the womb as either not a human in its natural course of existence or not alive. It is impossible to deny either scientifically, yet, on the altar of sexual autonomy, logic and truth must be sacrificed.

Is it possible to use birth control in a way that does not lead to the conclusion described above? Yes, but we are reaching the bottom of the slippery slope that exists in a world where we hold the shackles of our created nature in contempt, and the technological abilities to side-step those realities coexist. Birth control will only ever be properly used within the confines of marriage in a world that understands that we have been created by a good God who knows what is best for us. A world where we understand that moral restraint is a path to human flourishing. What our society calls constraints, are God-given structures to show us the path to sexual fulfillment.

This post may raise more questions than it answers, but hopefully by framing it this way, it will help us pause and think through the state of our culture a little more deeply. Until we fall in line with the word of God, we will continue to rebel against our Creator’s good intentions for our lives. In our revolt, we curse our blessings and pursue our demise, but praise God, since we have all fallen short, for those who place their faith in Jesus, he will forgive their sins. He will wash them, and they will be whiter than snow. From that point, he will begin to conform us to his image where we will glorify him and enjoy him forever.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! -Psalm 127:3-5

-D. Eaton

Social Media’s Attack on Meekness

Most people are quick admit that they rarely ever spend time on social media without something ruffling their feathers, and this should be expected. Research shows that posts that cause anger are more likely to be shared, liked, or commented on than any other kind of post. This is why, as Psychology Today reports, “Users with more radical opinions get larger followings, precisely because their tweets use expletives and polarizing rhetoric. More radical individuals have more social influence.” This type of behavior is virtually unavoidable online.

Jesus has called us to live lives of meekness. It is something all believers should possess and cherish. Meekness is closely related to humility, and one of ways it should play out in our lives is in a quiet and gentle spirit. The perfect example of this is Jesus himself. The sinless Lord of Righteousness takes on flesh, dwells among sinners, and he is gentle and humble of heart. As seen in his own life, there is a place for righteous anger, but regular outrage is not the proper demeanor of the Christian.

Jeremiah Burroughs once said, “Learn to set a high price on the quietness and sweetness of your spirit.” In practicing the beatitude of meekness, this means we should guard our peaceful demeanor and strive against being stirred to anger over trivial and unimportant things.

It is true that many of the topics on social media that raise our passions are not trivial, but the format in which it is being communicated usually is. The people or tweets that move us to outrage are people who have as little influence on the outcome of a social debate as we do. Our anger in this situation will almost always be in vain as it will have no real influence in their lives or the culture at large.

Burroughs goes on to say, “Oh the poor trifles and toys that men and women cast away their quietness for!’ Then he give us an analogy that drives it home. Imagine you have a ball of pure gold. It is a treasure you keep in hand because it is so precious to you. Now imagine that someone comes along and throws dirt on you. How foolish would it be to throw your golden ball at them in retaliation. Yet we do this repeatedly.

Someone says something online that we find offensive, and we retaliate with a harsh word, a quick jab, or a joke a their expense. What we have done in that moment is allowed them to steal our blessing of a quiet and gentle spirit to pay them back for their worthless words.

This is a spiritual battle that tends to rage every time we are on social media. It also happens in many other contexts our our lives. The world does not understand meekness. Like all of the beatitudes, it is upside-down compared to cultural standards. Most people believe the way to be happy is to demand what you want through a spirit of proud agitation. Only then will you find the blessed state you seek. Jesus tells us the exact opposite.

This is not a post to tell you that you should never be on social media. However, if you find your time online stirring up passions and moving you from a spirit of humble quietness to one of contemptuous frustration, realize what you are throwing away. Blessed are the meek. Is that blessing something worth casting aside because someone said something offensive online? We must learn how to control our anger or we need stay away from the temptation.

There is a time and place for righteous anger, but rarely is the frivolous nature of social media worthy of it. Finally, never forget, many of the people who stir our passions online are people like us who were moved to anger and were lashing out because of other radical tweets they saw online. Maybe our enemy is more like us than we realize.

-D. Eaton

Cursing Cancer

I am somewhat baffled by the fact that cursing cancer has become a thing. Do not get me wrong, cancer is a terrible product of the fall, and it is a natural evil that deserves our contempt. I am not surprised by the fact that so many people want to voice their hatred for it; especially if they have lost a loved one or are fighting the disease themselves. However, what is the motivation for people who usually conduct themselves with a sense of dignity to fasten an expletive to the window of their car in hopes to defeat the disease?

Cursing is becoming more and more mainstream, so the rise of its use in this context is not surprising. When I say I am baffled, I am not talking about people who’s language is regularly laced with vulgarity. When they do it, they are doing nothing out of character. I am interested in those for whom cursing is not the norm, but when it comes to cancer, they feel it is the appropriate thing to do. What inner reasoning drives that? It is as if cancer is such a blight that it demands them to step out of their usual decorum. What amuses me the most is that when they put the sticker on their car, in many cases, they still refuse to spell out the full curse word. They simply put the “F,” or they replace the “u” with another symbol like a skull and crossbones. It is as if they are saying, the evil of cancer deserves this, but not to the point where I can actually spell it out.

Cursing really only has one pragmatic use. The act of being boorish has a way of waking people up when they have stopped paying attention. In the case of cancer, when we are not alert to its evils, using a swear word does have the effect of making people snap out of it and take notice. For the first few people who cursed cancer, they may have received their desired effect. The problem is that it only works for a short time. After it becomes common, that utility is no longer viable, and we find people driving around with vulgarities on their car that fail to deliver. This is a major problem when profanity in general becomes common; it becomes meaningless. Of course, some people will continue to use it as a shibboleth to distinguish themselves as part of a specific tribe or group.

As Christians, I believe how we communicate is of the utmost importance, and using the Lord’s name in vain is always off limits. However, when it comes to slang, the rules are not as hard and fast. Outside of using the Lord’s name in vain, profanity unusually involves one of three modes. The first is taking something that is vulgar and applying it to things that are not. Scatological terms come to mind here. The other form is taking something that is not necessarily crude, like the term used for a female dog or donkey and applying it to a human or something else. Both are attempts to degrade or shock. The third usually involves using obscenities as an expression of fear, wonder, or some other emotion.

When it comes to cancer, using a word that denotes violent sexual activity to express disdain seems to degrade the communicator more than the disease to which it is being applied. There are times when words that highlight violent sexual activity are appropriate. Rape should be called rape when that is what it is. I will leave it to your Christian liberty to determine if you think it is ever appropriate to use the other word, but in the case of both words, intentionally misusing them reveals more about our lack of character than the thing we desire to demean. It is almost as if we are allowing cancer to win twice. Not only has it hurt us, or those we love, but we are allowing its pain to settle so deeply into our soul that it causes us to act in a way that also decays our virtue. If we want to express righteous indignation, it seems counter-intuitive to use profanity.

Perhaps this post is less about cursing and more about our cultural context. The real determination of whether there is any problem with vulgarity comes down to what we think it means to be human and to have dignity. I am aware that many, maybe even most, people who read this post will think this is the ridiculous pontification of a prude. The worldview of many is secularism which fails to establish a real basis for profanity. The biggest problem with this failure is that a worldview that is unable establish curses can have no real foundation for blessings either. When you lose one, you lose the other, and that is a major step backwards when it comes to human dignity.

Am I overthinking this? Maybe, but as Jesus said, it is not what goes into our mouth, but what come out of our mouth that defiles us (Matthew 15:11). In light of those words, a closer look never hurts.

-D. Eaton

The Costly Benefits of Social Media

As mentioned in a recent post entitled Social Media is Brain Poison, where I used hyperbole to lay out some of the problems with social media, I mentioned that there are some real benefits to this new technology. Connectivity to family and friends is always at the top of the list. The problem is the costs often outweigh the benefits. The reason why we tend to lose with social media, despite what it can offer us, is because we tend to use it incorrectly which the designers of these platforms hope we will do. So how do we use social media in a way that allows us to tap into the benefits while mitigating the costs?

To help answer that question, I will quote Carl Newport, from his book Digital Minimalism.

I conjecture that the vast majority of regular social media users can receive the vast majority of the value these services provide their life in as little as twenty to forty minutes of use per week.

We need to start by using it less. There are benefits, but those benefits do not merit hours of social media time per day. I have found his conjecture to be true. I have not abandoned social media altogether. Instead, I check it once a week and usually spend less than 15 minutes doing so. Any other posts are sent through a free posting service that avoids interacting with these platforms directly. You can receive the benefits you seek without spending hours online scrolling the infinite feed and checking your likes and comments.

Of course, you may ask, what is wrong with spending more time on social media? To answer that question I leave you with one more quote from Newport where he describes a conversation he had with a social media executive.

[The executive was] just raving about these people spending twelve hours a day on Facebook . . . so I asked a question to the guy who was raving: “The guy who’s spending twelve hours a day on Facebook, do you think he’ll be able to do what you’ve done?”.. . ..You can’t, in other words, build a billion-dollar empire like Facebook if you’re wasting hours every day using a service like Facebook.

The only way it would not cost us to spend long hours distracted on social media is if we literally had nothing better to do with our time. As Christians, we have a much higher calling.

-D. Eaton

The Problem with Commonplace Religion

We live in a culture that is saturated with Christian sentiment. Even secularism attempts to use the name of Jesus to get what it wants. This is clearly seen when a political figure who has no fear of God quotes scripture or uses a biblical illustration.

We see it in many of the popular manifestations cultural “Christianity” It is a thin veneer without any substance. It has rejected the word of God as its authority, and it has put self on the throne. This is greatest problem with commonplace religion.

For the man or woman rooted in scripture, it does not take much to see behind the façade. This type of religiosity is covered in references to self. Personal experience, feelings, self-esteem, and self-referential misuses of the words “love” and “justice”, litter its linguistic canon.

They want a utopia, and they think they can can usher it in through political power. What they are looking for is happiness, and the they think they can find it in earthly pleasure. They are looking for glory and they think they can find it in riches and popularity. The problem is that satisfaction will never be theirs because they are looking for it in themselves and in the things of this world.

When Jesus said, take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow me, he was not inviting us to a life of misery. He was calling us out of ourselves to the greatest campaign in which mankind can ever be involved: knowing God. There is no greater glory and there is no greater joy, but we must root our life in his truth. If we aim at anything less than God himself, we have settled for lesser things because there is nothing greater than God.

The problem is that the way to find this glory and joy in God is to do the exact opposite of what you think you should do. It is like being submerged under a waterfall struggling for air. The most natural thing to do is to try to swim to the surface, but you will never get there because the crashing water will keep pushing you under. The right thing to do in that moment is swim down. It is only by swimming down that the water will spit you out down stream. This counter-intuitive nature is the same in the Christian life. If you are looking for true joy, he must increase, and we must decrease.

All the world, including commonplace religion, is swimming up. It is trying to make itself righteous and find its glory in itself, but we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The only hope for us is Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. We must stop trying to justify ourselves. We need to admit our depravity instead of trying to hide it, and come to Him in faith. Only when we bring our sins to him, instead of our good works, will his sacrifice on the cross satisfy the wrath of God for our sins, and will his righteousness be counted as ours. This is the first counter-intuitive, but there are many more that fill the Christian life.

  • It is in our weakness that he becomes strong.
  • In Jesus, the last will become first.
  • The kingdom of heaven belongs to the poor in spirit.
  • Love your enemies.
  • It is more blessed to give than receive.
  • Blessed are those who mourn.
  • Lay up treasures in heaven, not on earth.
  • The meek will inherit the earth.
  • Life is more than food and the body more than clothing.
  • Blessed are those who suffer for Christ’s sake.
  • Walk by faith, not by sight.
  • Look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

In the words of Adoniram Judson, “I beg you, not to rest contented with the commonplace religion that is now so prevalent.” It will lead you to fear those who can kill the body and take away your earthly pleasures, and it will tell you to neglect him who can destroy body and soul in hell. Take heed to the words of Jesus, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it (Matthew 10:39).

-D. Eaton

Social Media is Brain Poison

Social media is brain poison. That is what runs through my mind every time I see one of the those nicotine commercials. Yes, I see the irony in that there is a good chance you found this post on social media. I am not saying that every aspect social media is negative. There are good things that social media can do for us, but my time on social media usually cost me more than it gives me. What I am getting at is that most people are not aware of how this relatively new tool is effecting them.

T. David Gordon, in an episode on the White Horse Inn called “Distracting Ourselves to Death,” pointed out that you cannot use a tool without that tool shaping you and the culture in which you live. For example, imagine a nomadic hunter-gatherer culture being introduced to good land and a shovel and a plow. If this group of people begin to use these tools repeatedly it will change them. The muscles used working these tools will develop. Their backs could grow stronger and their hands could end up with new callouses, and they would begin to spend more time in one place instead of moving around.

If the use of these tools is effective enough, it could even change the values of the culture. Once, the lean quick hunter was the most valuable body structure because it could provide food. Housing and supplies that could be quickly packed up and moved would also have been more valuable than those that are permanent. Now that these new tools have been introduced, and the people are settling into a specific place, the easily moved supplies are no longer as important. Along with that, the stocky strong body becomes better able to provide than the lean quick body. All of this change happens because of the introduction of new tools.

Social media is a new tool, and we must be aware of how it is changing us. Christians especially. Changes brought on by new tools which are positive or neutral are fine, but if you see changes taking place that move you away from what Christ has called you to be, it is time to either change the way you are using the tool, or abandon it altogether.

There have been enough studies conducted on the use of social media that the negative effects are unquestionable. Long use can cause anxiety, depression, unhealthy sleep patterns, negative body image, and unrealistic expectations. One of the most counter-intuitive effects is loneliness.

Social media is also addictive. Have you ever posted something and repeatedly gone back to check to see how many likes and comments it is getting. This is not something that has happened accidentally. It was designed to get you to do that. Posting is like inserting a quarter to a slot machine hoping you hit the jackpot. You sit and watch the wheels spin to see what is going to happen. One more quarter, one more post, yet the viral jackpot rarely ever arrives, but there are enough little wins to keep you coming back. It is addictive, but did you know it can also diminish your ability to concentrate?

When was the last time you spent 20 minutes on social media and had sustained concentrated thought on one subject? That is not how it was designed. It was designed to have your mind flit from one unimportant piece of information or entertainment to the next, rarely spending more than 30 second on each new thing. What this does is it trains your alert attention to be at full strength; constantly looking for the next shiny object presenting itself for your consideration. All this happens without a single deliberate thought. If you do this for hours and hours, your alert attention grows stronger, but your executive attention grows weaker.

Your executive attention is your ability to stay focused on one topic or task at a time. Nicholas Carr, in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, points out that long hours on social media, and even our constant alerts and notifications on our smart phones, programs our brains to be more focused on alerts, while at the same time diminishing our ability to concentrate. If you find it more difficult to maintain deep thought on something for a sustained period of time, social media may be one of the reasons. The good news is that this can be reversed by changing your habits. Knowing this, it is easy to see how social media effects productivity in more ways than one.

I could go on and on with example after example of the negative effects of social media, but let me end with just a few more points. Social media was supposed to help give a voice to the people, which is does to some effect, but have your noticed that we seem to have made it more of a megaphone for the fool?

Social media has become a bullhorn for ignorance, and it is our fault. This is how it works. Some person, way off their kilter, says something ridiculous, and they hold an opposing political view to our own. In order to show how stupid the other side can be, and to lump our opponents all into a nice stereotype, we share this person’s stupidity with all our friends and followers just to point out how bad the other side is. Our followers, in-turn, share it, and before long, this unknown person who has no grasp on reality has gone viral, and not everyone will think their idea is ill-advised. And we gave it a voice.

The fact that social media can be a megaphone for ignorance is one thing, but it leads to a greater problem because, as mentioned earlier, people are always hoping their next post will hit the viral jackpot. As they look around, they begin to notice that sane and normal thinking does not gain much traction in the likes and comments department. If you want your posts to rise above the noise, you will have to stoop to the level of social media, which usually involves half-truths, outrage, offense, and quick demeaning comebacks for the other stupid people on social media. It seems not even our president is immune.

Finally, have you ever noticed that cowards are courageous on social media? That is what trolls are. That is because social media gives a false sense of authority without vulnerability, and functioning this way will always fail to satisfy. As Christians, we are called to function with authority and vulnerability. The anonymity of the internet often causes us to act in ways we would never act in person. Social media, even with the good things it can bring, is mired in a cesspool of powerless tyrants. Then again, maybe they do have some social media authority because we continue to use social media like it is a tool we cannot live without, and they have figured out how to get their voice heard. Get enough of them together and you have an social media mob. This leaves us with a few options, either stoop to what works for them, or begin to devalue the importance of social media by changing the way we use it, or by abandoning it altogether.

Lets also not forget that these platforms are collecting all of your activity into a persona so they can market to you. They exist because you are a commodity. That is how they make money. They offer you their tool at a price, and that price is information about yourself harvested and sold. These platforms are also becoming more authoritative in the types of speech, or should I says views, they will allow to be communicated. Christian beliefs often fail to meet their standards of conduct. Even if you do have a multitude of followers and influence, if you continue to communicate the truths of scripture, it could all be taken away in a moment.

I have personally given too much of my life to social media. I have since made significant changes to how I use it. I only check my accounts once a week, and I spend no more than 15 minutes doing it. I still post continually throughout the week, but that is done through a scheduling tool which allows me to schedule posts without directly interacting with anything else on these platforms. I know you may actually be using these platforms for the sake of the gospel, or some other worthy endeavor, but that can continue without spending long periods of time scrolling through infinite feeds. Since I have made the change, it has been wonderful. I have been freed up to focus on things of greater importance. What about FOMO (the fear of missing out)? Well, I don’t fear missing out on brain poison.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. – Philippians 4:8

-D. Eaton