When Facebook Is the New Daily Moral Reference

By Ben Sutter 2-07-2014
Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com
Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

Maybe it’s fitting that I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across this very clickable headline from the AP: “Go Figure: Facebook Read Daily More Than Bible.”

Ouch. That one hits pretty close to home. That aimless scrolling through my Twitter feed could just as easily have been time well spent in front of the Good Book. Has my daily devotion to social media really eclipsed my daily devotion to spiritual practice?

After 10 years of operation, Facebook has usage stats that put it in the stratosphere of dedicated readers. Just over half of adults in the U.S. and Canada use Facebook daily. The same cannot be said for the Bible or other religious texts. Really, it’s not even close.

The AP story notes that Facebook “says worldwide it has 757 million daily active users. Of those, 19 percent are in the U.S. and Canada, so that's more than 143 million people checking Facebook daily.”

Compare that to these numbers from the same article about those who read a religious text every day: “A 2006 CBS News poll found 15 percent of U.S. adults read the Bible or other religious texts daily. There are about 267 million adults in the U.S. and Canada. That means about 40 million people reading the Bible daily.”

In a country where 79 percent of adults claim some sort of religious affiliation, less than a quarter of that number statistically reads their religious text daily. Historically the term “People of the Book” has referred to the Jewish people and their reverence for the Torah, their holy law. Perhaps those of us in the U.S. should call ourselves “the people of Facebook.”

Bad religious puns aside, personally, I’ve never been one to read my Bible with much consistency, and certainly not on a daily basis. While I’ve tried my fair share of daily Bible reading programs, plans, and even Bible apps, I’ve yet to develop the habit of daily reading.

However, that’s not to say that I haven’t read most of the Bible (although I haven’t quite made it through all the Old Testament law books). I know most of the Sermon on the Mount by heart; I can quote you the Fruits of the Spirit and Ten Commandments; and I’m familiar with all the normal Sunday school characters (and even some of the abnormal ones).

I love paging through the pocket-sized, worn, black leather Bible my mom gave me for Christmas one year. I always say that has been my most used Christmas gift. I got into the habit of carrying it in my backpack wherever I went in college, and those patterns have mostly followed me into the working world. When I purposefully make the space, I do enjoy delving into scriptures. It’s when I don’t make space that things get a little dicey. This is where social media comes in again.

There is nothing inherently bad with using social media. Just as reading the Bible is one specific example of an important spiritual practice, Facebook is one specific example of interpersonal connection. From daily prayer to living in communities that uphold certain spiritual values, there are many ways for our beliefs to enter our daily life. In the same way, our daily social activities range from face-to-face conversations, reading letters and books written by others, and yes, even interacting with friends on Facebook.

Not surprisingly, what makes Facebook and Twitter so exciting — the instantaneous and fast-paced connection — is the same thing that makes it so dangerous. When we turn to social media in moments of boredom or temporary emptiness, we lose our center. When the meaning and satisfaction in our lives comes from likes, comments, and retweets, God is no longer at the center. Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest) tells us what other people are doing and we judge ourselves on our ability to keep up. Our desire to measure up draws us back to social media, checking our newsfeeds daily.

Thankfully, this is where the God of the Bible offers more consistency. The Bible gives us examples of God’s faithfulness in the past and hope for God’s continuing provision in the future. Jesus tells us: “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:31,33).

Maybe, we ought to be checking in on God in the same way we check Facebook. What would it look like if we prayed in the same incessant way? What would happen if, in our moments of emptiness, we turned instead to our Bibles? That seems to be a much better way to judge life.

Ben Sutter is online assistant for Sojourners.

Image: Facebook like in a coffee cup, Brian A Jackson / Shutterstock.com

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