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By no means is this a conclusive run down on what I see as the need to find, and advocate for, a fair use of the vehicles we choose to communicate, and receive information through.  By pointing out inconsistencies, and connecting them to a possible cause, my purpose here is primarily an attempt to suggest, that when it comes to social media, we practice the proverb of looking before we leap.

A few years back an incident showed me the contrast between hard reality, and cheap comment. Comments from people, who in the comfort of relative security, only seem to be far more concerned with the side of the story that sells best, than with finding balance.

Surely, this is far from what media outlets mean by the term integrity and investigative journalism? To his credit, Bennett pushes back against the leading questions made by the anchor-man, quickly realising, not without some frustration, that the interview had ended before it had really begun.


“…You’re invited to a situation like’s just great sitting on the sidelines, just telling us how to react” {2:39} – (Naftali Bennett, Isreal’s Economic Minister)

At the time, Australian journalist and political commentator Andrew Bolt, in support of Bennett, rightly noted:

It’s easy to say “disproportionate” when you’re sitting in London

The same applies to social media. It’s easy to make criticisms when sitting behind a keyboard.

We need make room for each other. We need to look before we leap. We need to make room for giving consideration to context, details, and careful comment. Patience is the imperative (if not the virtue), mainly because we’re all still trying to figure out live in a technological society, and how to use this technological freedom responsibly.

In spite of the evidence, or any quest for the truth, and balance. Like some aspects of the main stream media, social media can become a misinformation behemoth.

In the hands of resourceful and ambitious communicators, it has the disturbing potential to become the ultimate propaganda machine.

As hashtags and memes trend towards the ridiculous. The misuse of the mechanism allows an industrial grade hysteria to push a smoke screen of emotions over the facts, extinguishing balance and respectful dialogue.

The march of memes takes to the virtual street, utilising the same mass marketing concepts of Edward Bernays (1891-1995) that was so fundamental to fascism and its control of images.

By calling upon those willing to mindlessly wave around clichés and slogans, a mob-in-revolt is created. Its cause gathers momentum, often recklessly damning anything that stands to speak freely in reasoned disagreement against it, as “hate speech or racism”.

The mob-in-revolt lowers protest to the quantity of “likes, shares or follows”. Sometimes asserting itself under a mechanic of anonymity, which denies their target of protest any right of reply.

The ivory colossus of cyber communities end up inadvertently propagating totalitarianism. Inviting a repugnant irony through the vitriolic intolerance, exhibited by irresponsible and repressive armchair activists, who live in glass houses.

With small amounts of fact, and information, these glass houses become the launching pad for mobile projectiles of shame and exclusion. The term “hate speech”, for example, is utilised as a toxic and ambiguous whip statement, and is thus thrown around flippantly and without qualification. This fuels an irate frenzy of boycotts, accusation and intolerance.

A restrained, and civilised exchange of ideas is set adrift, by an unrestrained tribalism. It’s members march alongside images, marked by oversimplification. At its core is a subjectivism,  full of dismissive ridicule and cynical discounting. Consequently, social media can tend to magnify that which is dysfunctional and shocking, over against,

‘…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable,  excellent, or worthy of praise…’ (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

An ‘activism’ like this measures efficiency by vanity metrics. This is because thoughtless approval can be translated into the currency of likes, shares and/or followers. In this case, why not mindlessly wave flags and howl with the wolves? The assumption being that if the price is right, so the comment should be also. Who cares if its wrong?

The questions then are:

Does self-interest, in a quest for approval, play a role in commenting, liking or sharing? If so do such considerations hinder an authentic, responsible but also vulnerable contribution? Does it drive out self-respect the same way that the mindless-mob-in-revolt drives out  decency and the respect for others?

American President John Adams, citing the prophet Jeremiah, wrote:

‘Let me conclude, by advising all men to look into their own hearts, which they will find to be deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer.17:9). Let them consider how extremely addicted they are to magnify and exaggerate the injuries that are offered to themselves, and to diminish and extenuate the wrongs that they offer to others. They ought, therefore, to be too modest and diffident of their own judgment, when their own passions and prejudices and interests are concerned…’[i]

Adams’ caution here cries out for a fair hearing. We should not politicise the pain of others.

We can do this by removing any hint of benefit to our social standing, and unmasking the transactions that hide self-interest behind indifference, or behind a facade of good intentions. We can do this by looking before we leap; giving real consideration to context, details, and careful comment.

As Australian scholar, Dr. John Dickson, in a comment about a recent debate on Facebook, once said, “redeem the medium”[ii].



{Dedicated to the memory of Jean Bethke Elshtain (1941-2013), a list of her works can be found here.}

[i] Adams, J. 1851 On Private Revenge #Adams_1431-03_2153 Sourced: 23/07/2014

[ii] Dickson wrote this in response to the suggestion that he move a discussion to another site, because of the communication limitations of social media.

Originally published 23rd July, 2014, under the heading Truth & Balance Vs. The side of the Story that Sells Best. Also published on The Caldron Pool, 9th November, 2018 under the headline: Hate speech is a myth: It’s a shaming control technique used by those who can’t debate the issue.

In a recent article titled ‘Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure’ for Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics, Dr. Matthew Tan, a Lecturer in Theology and Philosophy at Campion College Australia, suggested that the Church needs to assert itself as an ‘alternative public’ in the marketplace.

Matthias Grunewald, ‘The Last Supper’. c.1500 A.D

According to Tan the real battleground where issues like abortion are to be engaged in is the ‘community called “the market”[i],

‘In consumer culture everything is reduced to a commodity and the market is the community’[ii]. He explains that ‘bodies become units of exchange. Greater value is attributed to those with the greater buying power’[iii]

Enter a ‘politics of visibility’ where bodies are:

‘reduced to a blank slate whose sole worth lies in its ability to exalt the logos that hang off it[iv]… Mere existence then becomes ‘dependent on performance and audience. Self itself becomes dependant on visibility’[v]

In response to this the Church needs to engage by seeing through the ‘lens of economic efficiency’. It needs to engage as a ‘public in its own right to challenge to the public circumscribed by state and society’.

This is as opposed to allowing itself to be simply relegated by society and politics to function in a private ancillary role e.g.: ‘chaplaincy’.

How can the Church apply its resources in presenting itself as an alternative?

Tan suggests that the language of the Sacraments meet the language of commerce, ‘in particular the Eucharist’.

Here the Church can assert itself as a direct:

‘counter-structure’ to the consumerist ‘logic of efficiency’ because the Eucharist (communion) ‘undoes the logic of efficiency by challenging the logic of resource scarcity that mandates the need to ensure efficient management. The Eucharist challenges this by positing counter-logic of plenitude where people ‘receive without charge [and] give without charge’
‘The Eucharist can challenge the very foundations on which contemporary socio-political arrangements are grounded. Because of this, the Church’s task of producing its own fields via sacramental practice will ultimately call into question the Church’s own political positioning’
‘This alternative public…contains an alternative structure and is one in which the imperative to consume others is seen as an aberration rather than the norm. If the structure of consumer practice is implicated in the normalisation of abortion, the Church can only comprehensively undercut that normalisation by supplementing its discourse asserting the personhood of the foetus with its own counter-structure.
In so doing the church will need to go beyond making claims that are allegedly recognisable to all endowed with reason. Through its own sacramental economy, it would need to be engaged in the production of practices that declare an allegiance that is contrary to the state/society/market complex’

Even though, they are in fact very political, I am not sure the sacraments (primarily Baptism and Communion – for those us reading Tan who are Protestants) should be employed as a purely political and financial tool. This is because the purposes of the sacraments are firstly about recollection. Secondly, relationship and then, only in a final sense, does it become about transformation.

I wonder though if Tan is in fact talking about marketing the church and its practices better. For example: Does this counter logic advocate that the Church view itself as a corporation and set itself apart from other corporations such as McDonalds, Apple or Microsoft?

If so, are we talking about taking up the very thing only God can do and does? Does this make or lead us to falsely make the sacraments purely transactional, bypassing Jesus Christ, to the point where something akin to the indulgences of the Middle Ages, salvation is taxed by the institution?

For the church the marketing of the message seems to be the evangelical outer workings of the people working with God, whereas the latter marketing of the church appears, at least in an exegetical understanding of scripture, to require and consist of the present participation of the Holy Spirit, in both external and internal evangelical work of God for the children of God.

Would this human effort to commercialise the sacraments then further diminish the transcendent point of reference which appears to be abandoned by modernity’s extreme focus on ‘surface over substance’; i.e.: material gain measuring a persons net worth?

I only ask this because it is my only hesitation in completely agreeing with his point of view. This doesn’t negate the strategic importance of Tan’s thinking here. There is potentially a lot good that can grow from what he is suggesting.

To witness the Church having its task of proclamation really heard and appreciated, on any level in real time, is energising. To engage as a serious alternative to the alternatives, is a privilege of freedom, that none of us in the church ought to remain complacent about or take for granted.


[i] Tan, M. 2014 Abortion in/as a Consumer Structure, Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol 4: Iss.1, Article 7,p.7

[ii] Ibid, p.11

[iii] Ibid, p.8

[iv] Ibid, p.7

[v] Ibid, p.9

Article originally published April 27, 2014

Active Remembrance

December 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

Advent, days 8 & 9: Grace


Advent could rightly be viewed as a discipline of active remembrance.

Advent participation moves us into confrontation with our world. This happens through a developing grasp of how costly grace contradicts the instant gratification on sale everywhere at this time of year (primarily in Western communities, for the Christian and the Atheist).  Although buying and selling is not in and of itself a bad thing.Profit and loss terminology can drive our understanding of the personal and communal cost and benefit embedded within the Gospels.

Flooding our considerations with more intensity than at any other time of year, the concepts of cost and benefit can help us to identify with the participants of the retelling.

Throughout the Christmas season parents, among others, realise the significance of cost.

Cost dictates whether or not it we will feel the benefits of Christmas. These may include:  a few days off work, financial bonuses from corporate gifts or overtime, loss of work due to local or global economic shifts etc.  Traditionally, Christmas is a time to be proud of those well-earned special gifts – thoughtfully purchased at a cost –  through hard-work, sacrifice, and love. Generally we are taught that it is a time to bathe in the ”joy of our giving” . The result is that grace can become separated from any consideration about the cost of God’s giving; saying to ourselves that those considerations are for Easter, not Christmas.

In short, the cost of our giving can dictate our entire experience of the event. Cost and benefit becomes the measure of our joy. These economic terms usually focus more on the human efforts to summon happiness [not joy] on Christmas day, rather than on the special cause and purpose of our remembrance. Along with the subsequent celebrations, and the preparations for it, money can end up determining the momentum of our joy, our remembrance, and our willingness to give.

However, the terms cost and benefit, are correlated to the advent endeavour. This is because strange story of advent is not about a stranger[i]. It is about the God who gave advance knowledge of His coming as-one-of-us. The New Testament leans on the language of cost and benefit. It makes the point that because of Jesus; grace: ‘you were bought at a great price’ (1 Cor.6:20, ESV)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

‘That which has cost God much cannot be cheap for us…Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves’[ii]

Why, is it easy to reduce grace to a low-cost-at -no-cost-to-us framework?

The grand Advent discipline of self-examination[iii], reflection, and gratitude, summons us to remember that we are participants with God and yet, ‘we cannot bestow His grace upon ourselves’ (Bonhoeffer 1937:4 paraphrased).

I agree with James K. Smith when he suggests that:

 ‘the Christian observation of Advent marks a different orientation to time, particularly when it is recognised that Advent is a season for repentance’ (2009: 156)[iv]

What has cost God much cannot be cheap for us is no random thought.

Behind this lies a broken awareness about the reality of Jesus the Christ. Bonhoeffer’s message warns against the act of cheapening grace.

In order to map this out further, we could debate the definition of cheap comments in terms of messages communicated via the internet.  For example: comments are valuable and people are free to comment. Yet, being free to comment does not mean we are free to comment cheaply.

Cheap comments are passive aggressive “words-on-target”. Cheap comments are essentially ‘’cheap shots’’ at disqualifying the message through generalisation and personal attacks on the messenger. These can be viewed in the pseudo-application[v] of debating tools such as ad hominem; tu quoque: an attempt to label the messenger as hypocritical; or dismissing the message by reducing the argument to the absurd, such as reductio ad absurdum.

Likewise, cheap grace, for Christians and for the world, falls into these categories and can be labelled as logical and informal fallacies.

Bonhoeffer’s argument against the abuse of grace is summed up as:

                  • Costly Grace requests (if not requires) a response to God’s action on our behalf
                  • Cheap grace denies humanity the opportunity to respond.
                  • Because grace is ‘costly and it calls us to follow Jesus Christ’[vi]

Advent could rightly be viewed as a discipline of active remembrance. This means to reflect and respond to the fact that that ‘which has cost God much cannot be cheap for us’

The cognitive curiosity and obedience of the shepherds and wise men lead them to an outhouse shelter for animals.

…‘The people who walked in darkness   have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,   on them has light shined’ (Isaiah 9:2, ESV).

Their response to grace meets that of Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the New Testament writers who in their own understanding did not apply a concept of God to Jesus, but learnt that through His birth, life, death and resurrection[vii]. God had indeed made Himself known.

‘…they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us)’ (Mt.1:23, ESV)

They were participants in having God bestow grace them. They did not bestow grace upon themselves.

The justification of the sinner comes with the ‘obligation of discipleship’[viii].


[i] Barth, K. 1938 The Doctrine of the Word of God, CD.1:2:17, Hendrickson Publishers
[ii] Bonhoeffer, D.1937 The Cost of Discipleship SCM Classics, p.5
[iii] Smith, J.K.A, 2009 Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural formation, Baker Academic
[iv] Ibid, p.156
[v] The colloquial term is ‘’trolling’’.
[vi] Bonhoeffer, D.1937 The Cost of Discipleship SCM Classics, p.5
[vii] Barth, K. 1938 The Doctrine of the Word of God, CD.1:2:17, Hendrickson Publishers
[viii] Bonhoeffer, D.1937 The Cost of Discipleship SCM Classics, p.9