I used to think that the worst thing about Facebook was all the other people on it. To be fair, I still like to think that, and yes, in case you're wondering that does include you.
The number of pet hates I have is so great I've split them into two lists. Those that merit instant unfollowing and those that I tolerate but still basically hate. The former list is reserved for anyone who does those ridiculous gratitude challenges, people who take selfies of their six pack and any individual who posts more than three status updates in the one day.
My second list is a lot longer and includes in no particular order: pictures of meals (either home cooked or at a restaurant) - I've yet to see one which doesn't make the meal look both unappetising and a little pathetic. "Cute" couple statuses along the lines of: "isn't my [insert name here] totally amazing" or an abundance of couple photos. Quoting the Bible too many times, too many baby photos, too many clubbing photos, any attempt at the ice bucket challenge or any other viral charity campaign which people share so everyone can glory in their generous nature. Any status with the word "blessed" in. Sports related updates. Everyone who shared their degree result online. Anyone who "pokes" people - seriously, like, who does that? Anyone who invites me to play some stupid game. Anyone who posts those: "I took a quiz and got 100%" things. Oh yeah, and Guardian articles, Nationalist propaganda, Left Wing nonsense and Liberal theology. Pictures of drunken escapades. Pictures of fake drunken escapades. The "so and so such a babe" posts. The like this to win competitions. The sympathy craving posts. I could go on.
So Ben, I hear you ask, do you like anything on Facebook or would you like an empty newsfeed to greet you when you log on?
I've given this a lot of thought and I've decided that there are things I always appreciate seeing in my newsfeed. Three to be precise. Videos or pictures of Jean Luc Picard, thought provoking articles (with an emphasis on the thought provoking) and funny internet videos. In other words either the extremely intellectual or the entirely superficial.
What I hate about Facebook is that it reveals people to be the self centred, narcissistic, petty human beings that they are. Each person crafting (consciously or not) some persona they wish everyone else to see. Someone I knew once called Facebook, Fakebook and he got it spot on. Every day we scroll through a whole parade of happy smiling faces, weddings, births, relationships, holidays, friends and sun shine. Life, in all its bountiful goodness. But we rarely see pictures of the aches, pains and sorrows of life. We see the smiles but not what is going on behind those fixed expressions.
But what I hate even more than all the things I've mentioned, what I well and truly despise with the burning passion of ten thousand suns, is that I am part of the problem. No, I am the problem.
Read the above, does it sound like I'm well adjusted? Is it normal to be so misanthropic? And the very things I hate: I do! I share witty comments purely for the number of likes. I share holiday photos to show what a good time I'm having and where I've been. I post thought provoking articles so others might consider me an intellectual. I delight to subvert mainstream opinion to show that I have a mind for myself. It's all about I.
Hark, denizens of the internet, hark at me and my life and how incredibly awesome I am.
I attribute the worst of attitudes to every action on Facebook. Doing the gratitude challenge? It's just a opportunity to rub in other people's faces how wonderful your life is. Sharing your degree result? Boasting, pure and simple. Posting an ice bucket challenge? Hypocrisy. Nationalist propaganda? You're an idiot. My conclusion is always that Facebook brings out the worst in people because I know that it brings out the worst in me.
On a recent church weekend away the speaker mentioned that it is the sins we commit ourselves that we judge most harshly in other people. I tried hard to deny this but I find it difficult to do so. I hate the narcissism of Facebook because I know, deep down, that I am a narcissist. I hate the boasting of Facebook precisely because in my heart I want to shout my praise to the roof tops. Despite my best efforts sinful thoughts bubble up from within: the soft whisperings of jealously, the small voice of envy, the booming shout of pride, all so close to the surface of my heart.
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17v9).
One of the principles of reformed theology is Total Depravity. Facebook is good proof in this doctrine. Many people think that Total Depravity means that man is as wicked and evil as man can be. But that isn't the case. Total Depravity refers to the spread of sin and how it affects every corner of our heart, fibre of our being and thought in our mind. It refers to the extent of the corruption of sin.
And we see this in Facebook - someone can't even share a picture of a meal without sin being involved (mine, if no one else's!). Even in the small, petty thing of posting an update on social media we see the corruption of the human heart.
Well did Jesus say: "For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come — sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7 v 21 -23)
We see all these sins writ small on Facebook not because Facebook causes them but because our hearts produce them. We can give up Facebook but we can't give up on our own sin producing hearts.
Opening up a newspaper gives us good reason to be humbled at the depth and horror of the wickedness man can do to man. Logging onto Facebook should be equally humbling not because we see the rape, genocide, child abuse, etc found in the world outside but because we see the selfishness, envy, deceit, arrogance, folly, hate and narcissism in the most mundane parts of life.
If we're seeing clearly, a scroll through a Facebook newsfeed should be enough to set us to prayer and repentance. Oh that all the petty, small, wretched, day to day evils of the human race should be on such a grand display! Oh that my heart should be so stirred up to jealously, envy, boasting, pride, and folly! Oh that I should wish to deny it.
Seeing evil when I read the paper is easy, seeing it in other people on Facebook I'm also quite the professional at, but seeing it in my profile, in my heart, that is the hardest thing of them all. But when, with God's help, we can see it - how it should send us running to God! For who else has the power to save us? Who else can purify our sinful heart? It is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who alone takes away the sins of his people.
"Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your loving-kindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight--
That You may be found just when You speak,
And blameless when You judge."
Psalm 51 v 1 - 4.