This is a continuation of my previous post, where I briefly discussed a theology of culture. The following is a discussion of the creational structures at work in Social Media. Please add more in the comments!
Structures at Work in Social Media
This post is not the place for it, but to discern the essence of a cultural product, it is necessary, as Clifford Geertz would say, provide a “thick description” of the complex forces at work in, around, behind, in front of, the product in question. This would include understanding its origins, how it relates to other cultural products, etc, etc, etc. You can see that this would be confusing to some, and laborious even for the inquisitive mind. If you interested in such a thing, Kevin Vanhoozer’s book Everyday Theology is a good place to start. In lieu of such a study, lets discuss just a couple of the more obvious ways in which Social Media reflect both the goodness of God’s creation and the imago Dei.
The two components of the idea of social media are “social” and “media.” It’s “social” because it regards how people relate to one another, how they communicate, through both words and technology and a host of other symbols. It’s “media” because it’s something that comes in between the one(s) talking and the one(s) listening, or better, the one(s) typing and the one(s) reading. Social Media is not direct communication, like a personal letter, or a casual conversation with a friend. It’s also not private communication (usually, except of course for texting and messaging), meaning that it’s intended to be read by more than one person, perhaps by millions.
Human speech and the ability to communicate is a gift from God. It is derived from God’s character itself, something theologians call a communicable attribute of God (meaning God communicates, or shares, something of his essence with humanity). Speaking is something God does; he reveals something about Himself through language. For instance, God created the world by speaking! In Genesis 2, God speaks with Adam, and gives Adam the responsibility of naming the animals (a speech-act). God created the diverse human languages at the tower of Babel, He speaks to Moses and shares his eternal name in the burning bush, his voice thunders from Mount Sinai, he speaks and has the prophets record his words in Scripture. All Scripture is God-breathed. Jesus himself is the Word of God. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He upholds everything by the word of His power. Language and speech are good things! Communication is a gift of God. We are created as social beings. Social Media, then, in the creativity of human language, reflects the image of God. In that it has the power to communicate truth, Social Media reflects the goodness of God’s creation.
Social Media is more than just words, though. It involves human creativity in technological expertise, in electrical networking, computer engineering and a host of other helpful human vocations in which men and women can serve God through excellent and Christ-centered work. Furthermore, Social Media often involves all the arts, music, painting, drama, etc. Each of these deserves its own set of posts.
One of the primary motivations behind Social Media, intimately related to communication, is the desire to create meaningful human community. Community, fellowship, society, even culture, are all gifts from God! Again, we return to creation. In creating humanity in His image, God reveals himself as an “us.” This is more than just the grammatical response to the plural form of the Hebrew term for God (what Hebrew scholars call the Majestic plural). God is one! And yet He is also plural! Let “us” make man in “our” image. As the biblical story unfolds, we find that God is triune—Father, Son, and Spirit. Notice, also, that making man in his image also means creating man in the plural, in community. So that “they” may rule . . . in the image of God he created “them,” male and female he created “them”. And he blessed “them” . . . be fruitful and “multiply.” Not only is he talking about having kids, but the implication is living as a people! So in Genesis 2, God shows us more specifically how he created humanity; soon after creating Adam, God says for the first time something is not good. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” We learn later that God desires a multitude of peoples who are to be blessed by the coming “offspring” (i.e. Jesus). Jesus redeems a people unto God, a fellowship, the church. And in the New Heavens and New Earth, this new people will worship God in the beautify diversity of a people from every, tribe, nation and tongue, but who is united in the praise, “with one voice” of the Lamb who sits upon the throne. Community is a creationally good thing.
As far as Social Media aids the creation of human community, it is a good thing. It is good to be able to keep in touch with friends and relatives who are separated by vast distances. It is good to be able to connect with people who have similar backgrounds and interests. As far as these are directed towards genuine human, and especially Christian community, Social Media are good things.
Again, with a more complex picture of Social Media, much more could be said.