What if Hell isn’t actually just Facebook? (a response)

Today Matthew Paul Turner wrote a post called, “What If Hell Is Actually Just Facebook?” You really should go read it before you read this as I have taken much of what he wrote and rephrased it into my response.

What if Hell isn’t actually just Facebook?
Think about it. What if Hell isn’t a literal place buried deep in the center of Earth, but instead, it’s just anywhere and any system that keeps us from loving God and loving each other? What if Hell sometimes is a place or a decision in the hearts of humans? What if Facebook on the other hand is neutral and can become either the Kingdom of God breaking through on my iPhone or a portal of ugliness and as Mr. Turner postulates, hell? What if, as so many things in life the answer is in what you bring to it? It bothers me when we as Christians blame something that is simply a mirror for the image we see in it. What if Facebook is actually just a mirror?

What if, rather than being a place that burns the souls of humankind, Facebook allows me to connect in ways I cannot in person? What if it allows me to maximize my time, concentrate my energies, and connect on an emotional level with people I would not otherwise have the occasion to see on a regular basis because of time or geography?

What if instead of Hell’s wailing and weeping being the silent plea to be “Liked,” that plea to be liked and approved of was just our normal human cry for community and what if it was met with the unconditional love of Christ?
What if Facebook isn’t scary at all, but rather another avenue for community and relationships that we keep open on our laptops and scroll through on our smart phones like so many run-ins with friends at the local grocery store or dog park?
What if instead of the gnashing of teeth being the mostly inaudible noise we engage in our feeds, the complaining, the opinion-making, the sharing, the selfie taking, the oohing and ahhing, and the liking? What if those again were opportunities to be enlightened, to learn something, to reach out to someone in their loneliness, their success, their joy or their sorrow and let them know they are not alone? What if the opinion sharing and pontificating and debating was no different than the public squares of days gone by where people have persuaded each other or agreed to disagree?

What if instead of demons being trolls or online friends who seem to constantly challenge our ideas and opinions, leaving mean-spirited (sometimes hateful) comments in reaction to our status updates and pictures they they were real people in need of real friends, or rescue, or sacrificial love?? Or what if instead of comparing the friends who really like us, who innocently “Like” our virtual stuff, join our virtual causes, and virtually tell us we’re awesome aren’t demons either but people who actually want to provide encouragement and support?

What if Facebook instead of being Hell or even an innocent distraction, something that we engage when we are bored, lonely, insecure, proud, angry, broke, empty, aroused, or merely awake…what if it was an opportunity to bring the Kingdom of God in yet another way? What if Hell/Facebook isn’t just a grand entertainment, a leisure activity that diverts our attentions away from the who(s) and what(s) and where(s) that are most important? But is another way of engaging those very who(s), what(s) and where(s)?
What if, instead of joining Hell, we’ve been given a powerful opportunity; An intimate invitation into people’s lives at the moments when they are most vulnerable, most open? What if it actually allows us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? What if, amid  our best intentions to avoid Hell, we are blaming the mirror instead of the image we bring to it?
What if Hell is actually not just Facebook but a place within ourselves or a decision we make?
Would we be able to recognize it in our reflection instead of blaming the mirror?
Would we even want to?
Or would we rather go on believing that it is some thing outside ourselves, something we feel better about blaming rather than taking responsibility for the Hell of our own making.

The E-villes of Smartphones and Social Media


Is it just me or does it bug anyone else when people share memes on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest (or some other social media site) that say things like “This used to be social networking.” and then show a bunch of people sitting outside chatting around a campfire or having dinner together or hanging out drinking coffee? Ironically they are likely sharing these using the *gasp* that necessary evil…the smart phone. [cue foreboding music]

Last time I checked Facebook, people still go camping, sit around the fire pit on their patio with friends and talk, still go out to eat (actually probably more than before social media was invented) and I don’t know about you but every time I go to Starbucks there is always a line and the place is chock full of real live people having real live conversations. In fact, I personally know lots of people (one of them named me) that use social media to arrange to meet people for said, coffee, dinner or hang out time. Most of the people I know are going to concerts, traveling, meeting for a beer, going to the movies or participating in the Tough Mudder with other real live people. Know how I know? I usually see pictures, a check in or a call for more people to join the team…where? On said (anti)social media. (see what I did there?)

I mean who among us has missed the Louis C.K. anti smartphone diatribe on the Conan O’Brien show? If you haven’t seen it you can watch it here.

It is all about how smart phones are toxic, “especially for kids”. (we must save the children!) To hear him tell it, smartphones have a life of their own and cause people to do evil things. First, Louis believes that smart phones are making kids less empathetic. For my money, kids are exactly the same as I remember them when I was growing up. I have two kids (who both own phones – in the interest of full disclosure) and they are both kind and funny and have actual friends that they do actual things with. Louis makes the point that it is easier for kids to say mean things online where they can’t see the other kid’s face and maybe that is true. But here is the thing…mean kids are mean kids and they don’t just say mean things online. It is not as though, if smartphones and the internet didn’t exist these kids would have been kind, handholding, Kumbaya singing peaceniks. I don’t know about you, but I grew up in the 70s and 80s before everyone had a smart phone and most of the people I talk to who are my age or older were bullied by someone at some point. Does social media make it easier to be mean on a bigger scale? You bet. Is this the phone’s fault or even Facebook’s fault? Not by a long shot.

Next Louis argues that phones have taken away our ability to just sit still and be ourselves. Only if you let them. Listen, I love my iPhone, my iPad and my laptop. I am also a big fan of the social media. But my phone does not tell me who I am, it merely reflects who I am. If you are a selfish narcissistic ass, social media will probably showcase that.  If you are a politically active person, it will probably show that, etc., ad nauseum. I think sometimes we dislike social media because it can reveal a side of ourselves we prefer not to admit we have. It is sort of like being a parent. Sometimes when I am getting on to one of my kids about a flaw I perceive in something they have done or neglected to do, I have an “aha” moment where I realize the reason why I find that particular behavior vexing is because I see it in myself, too. And in that moment I blame my kid for all my inadequacies. Um, NO! Why? Because my shortcomings are not my kid’s issue. They are mine. Just as my neuroses are not because of social media, they are just reflected in it.

Louis also says we use our phones to combat the feeling that we are alone, to distract us from our sadness so that we don’t feel it in the same way. He talks about sadness being poetic, he says we are lucky to live sad moments, that we should stand in the way of them and let them hit us like a truck. Then he says something any person who has ever been truly sad knows is bullshit…”When you let yourself feel sad, your body has like antibodies, it has happiness that comes rushing in to meet the sadness. So I was grateful to feel sad and then I met it with true profound happiness.” All, ladies and gentlemen, because he didn’t pick up his cell phone when he started feeling sad listening to Jungleland.  While it is true we should not laugh in the face of what sorrow brings, have any of you actually been able to overcome profound sadness by hopping on Facebook for 5 minutes or tweeting? Probably not. I know I haven’t. But what social media has done for me in times of sadness is actually to show me I am not alone. It has allowed others to reach out to me. It has helped me feel connected. I personally think that is a good thing.

Does social media have the ability to hurt people? Sure, as much as any other way we as humans have devised to communicate.

Lastly, Louis asserts that because of phones we never feel completely sad or completely happy, “you just feel kind of satisfied with your products and then you die”. I have news for Louis C.K.: People have looked for ways to numb themselves to their pain for as long as there have been people and pain. Do some people use their phones to numb out? Sure. Does that make phones evil? Personally, I don’t think so.

I have seen this interview on Conan posted over and over…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I see the memes about how much better life was and how much more connected we were before social media…ON SOCIAL MEDIA. And of course, I see statuses that say things about how social media makes them angry, or cynical or depressed…ON SOCIAL MEDIA.  May I humbly suggest to us all that perhaps the smartphones and the social media sites are not the problem; perhaps the way we are relating to them is.