Growing up, it wasn’t uncommon to hear preacher’s rail against raunchy movies, television and music. It doesn’t take a lot of research to know that there are some serious dangers there, especially for impressionable young people. I’m convinced, however, that most of our congregations are at much greater risk of poisoning their souls with something entirely different, and for the most part, we haven’t stood against it, but encouraged it.
Many Christians seem to be possessed with some very weird and very powerful political demons over the last several years. In the rare times when I do go on Facebook and look at what people are posting, I’m shocked and dismayed at the things they are willing to say. The faithful as a rock, salt-of-the-earth Christians are transformed into vulgar, unhinged from reality political warriors in a battle they will never win.
1 Timothy 6:4 teach us that some teaching leads to ”envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, ” Paul was dealing with resentment towards the upper class (vs. 1). In our day, a spirit of envious resentment (that the left holds all the levers of cultural and political power) is leading to a constant spirit of combativeness (strife) which in turn is causing people to constantly level mean spirited accusations at others (railings) and float boogey-man political theories about their opponents they cannot possibly know to be true (evil surmisings.)
I think it’s time we recognized that something is causing them to have “corrupt minds” (5) and start speaking against it, here are what I think are the main culprits:
The partisan commentariat
Many of our people spend a huge portion of their day listening to or watching some kind of political commentary. Almost all of the “news” has devolved into talking heads telling us exactly what to think and telling us how bad the other side is. Corporations have figured out they can make billions of dollars (Fox News alone make 13 billion a year in annual revenue) by keeping us angry enough to keep tuning in. Podcasters and talk radio shows are raking in millions capturing our daily angry attention so they can shill mushroom coffee and waffle makers.
These people only make money if you pay attention and the way they keep you paying attention to what for centuries most people thought was boring and mundane is by keeping you angry and afraid. Whatever the news of the day is, you can be sure it includes nefarious bad guys, world-is-coming-to-an-end conflict and a healthy dose of injustice because that particular recipe is the crack cocaine that keeps us coming back and keeps them collecting their advertisement checks. Thirty years on this crack has side effects and we are seeing those side effects play out in the form of two nearly equal parties of people who share no common ground and who generally seem to hate each other. The scary thing is that their is no Mason-Dixon Line in this civil war – the enemy is your neighbor, the lady who makes your coffee at the local Starbucks, or the dentist you’ve been avoiding for ten years.
Just as crack addicts have to keep upping their doses to get the high they are after – the political commentariat has to keep ratcheting up the doom and gloom urgency and sometimes that has led us to…
The dictionary defines “surmise” as “to suppose that something is true without having evidence to confirm it.” So “evil surmisings” are assuming bad things about other people that we can’t possibly know are true. I can’t tell you how many otherwise good people I know who honestly believe, with zero verifiable evidence, that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophile ring out of a pizza joint in Georgetown, that the Newtown shootings were staged to further gun control legislation, that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, or that some mysterious figure who goes by Q is working within the Trump administration to bring down the “deep state.”
As soon as one of these things is proven false, they just move onto the next conspiracy and there is always some enterprising huckster willing to manufacture the next one either for profit or his ten minutes of fame. People believe things like this with zero evidence because they want them to be true. They want them to be true so that they can justify their growing addiction to increasingly hyperbolic, urgent and partisan views of their fellow Americans.
Speaking of addictions, social media has thrown gas on this fire with their…
Infinity pool algorithms
Just like Fox News and your favorite talk radio show host, Facebook and Twitter make money by exchanging your attention for advertising dollars. The difference between the social media companies and the other guys though, is that they have tons of data about you – your specific interests, your likes and dislikes and the kind of political stories that keep you engaged.
So they use an extremely sophisticated algorithm to provide you an endless timeline of political stories with one goal – keep you on Facebook as long as possible. It is there ability to do this, and the value this provides to advertisers, that has Facebook worth twice as much as Exxon Mobile. Exxon is sitting on the worlds oil supply and it’s only half as valuable as Facebook’s resource: your attention.
To keep your attention – they keep showing you what you want to hear – and as you get more and more of it, it has to get more and more potent to feed your addiction.
Of course, not all of this is bad. If it was all bad and untrue, no one would fall for it. Without social media, no one would read this. Without talk radio, we’d get 100% of our news through the filter of a heavily left-leaning mainstream media. Morphine can let hospice patients die in peace, it can also send masses of people into downward spirals of addiction.
Our church people have an addiction problem. It’s not causing them to stumble around the streets and dangerously drive drunk, it’s causing them to grumble around the house, view half their neighbors with suspicion bordering on hate, make increasingly ignorant pronouncements in the public square and run over the testimony of their churches. It’s past time we started talking about it.