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Why I’m Leaving Facebook

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I’ve put up with it for a long time now, this nagging feeling that I need to make a change. Every time I’m on Facebook, I leave feeling a bit worse than when I started. It’s like an itch I can’t reach or a mild toothache, a low-level irritation that never quite rises to the level of something actionable. I’ve justified it by telling myself that everyone is on Facebook. Leaving it would cut me off from my friends and family, a genuinely serious concern.

The political climate has contributed to my decision, but it is not the determining factor. I have no trouble accepting people who don’t share my political opinions. But I’ve grown tired of having to always be on my guard, not against lies—that’s easy—but against vitriol, sarcasm and ridicule. Not that I am often a target. Indeed, I’m a mild-mannered, inoffensive guy whose interest in political subjects is mostly academic. No, it’s the negativity spewed toward politicians, government officials, and public persons that I find objectionable. Derision is one of the easiest modes of disagreement because it requires no evidence, no support. All you have to do is find something ridiculous and exaggerate it. Since mockery makes no argument, you can offer no rebuttal but to deride your accusers in turn. I’m tired of it.

I have argued vehemently against many of the President’s policies from his dismissal of environmental protections to his cruel and inhumane immigration policies, but I am tired of seeing him constantly pilloried by liberals. I’m equally tired of seeing the same treatment meted out to Democratic candidates and politicians. I’m tired of making the constant effort to see the good in people who make no corresponding effort to see the good in those with whom they disagree.

I’m tired of the self-righteousness. Of course, we all have a little self-righteousness. How can we help it? We want—sometimes desperately—to be right. We forget that there is a little bit of what we hate in the purest among us. Facebook somehow encourages moral myopia, magnifying the misdeeds of others while blinding us to our own. It feeds and justifies our sense of outrage and presents us with a community of like-minded people who will agree that what we believe is good and right and that what they believe—it matters not who they are—is stupid and wrong.

It is my own weakness, however, that has made me realize that Facebook is not for me. I have a weakness for intellectual debate. Facebook both feeds and frustrates this proclivity, making it seem that debate is possible, and then showing me time and again that most people mistake vituperation and abuse for debate. Moreover, I am arguing with people I can neither see nor hear, so there is a disconnection from their humanity that makes it easy to be less sensitive to them as people than if we were, say, arguing over coffee or debating in a study group. Despite being fairly aware of the humanity of my interlocutors, I sometimes say things that unintentionally give offense. Our debates lack context, becoming just so many words aimed at winning in some pointless contest while onlookers cheer and boo.

So I’m leaving Facebook. It is the only social media I’ve engaged in, so it will leave me with no social media presence. I will miss the friends I can’t visit, but I think I will gain something in having more time and less struggle against Facebook’s algorithms. I haven’t even mentioned how Facebook spreads misinformation or how people often mistake satire for news. Those are good reason for leaving, too, but they are less personal.

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Always the Poor

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You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.

John 12:8 (NIV).

How often I have heard this quoted along with the vague suggestion that giving to the poor is futile! Can this really be what Jesus meant? Did he mean that our efforts to eradicate poverty can never succeed, that giving cash to poor people is like trying to carry water in a sieve? Such thinking misses two very important yet obvious facts.

The first is that Jesus—as he often did when making a point—was referring to the Law of Moses. Take a look at what Moses commanded concerning the poor:

If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need.  Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin.  Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.  There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

Deuteronomy 15:7–11 (NIV). Emphasis added.

Moses commanded generosity toward the poor for the very reason that poverty was ubiquitous. The purpose of giving was twofold: it opened the hearts of those who gave to see the poor as fellow humans, and it alleviated their suffering. The purpose of giving to the poor has never been to eliminate poverty but to soften the blows of its buffeting. Moreover, those who give to the poor are promised God’s blessing in all their work and in everything they put their hand to.

John’s account also calls out the hypocritical concern of Judas Iscariot. He was the one who complained that the expensive perfume with which Mary anointed Jesus’ feet should have been sold and the money given to the poor. “He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” As treasurer, Judas saw a lost opportunity to embezzle more funds from the common stock of Jesus’ followers. In the end, his greed led him to betray Jesus to the authorities who sought to kill him.

The second obvious fact is that Jesus was comparing the uniqueness of the situation to the quotidian concern for the poor. There are occasions in every life that call for extravagance, when we feel impelled to give a gift of extraordinary value because the occasion is extraordinary. What made Mary’s gift all the more luxurious was its utter uselessness. No one’s life was made better by it. No one received any lasting benefit from it. But, of course, that is characteristic of perfume. Its use is always a waste—unless you are trying to cover up the stench of death. Jesus regarded Mary’s costly perfume as a preparation for his own burial, then only a week away. By her gift Mary showed her gratitude to Jesus, who just a few days before had raised her brother, Lazarus, from the dead. Extravagant? What she gave was paltry in comparison with what she had received. Was any price too great to pay to show her devotion to the one who had restored her brother?

Everyone present knew what had happened: how Lazarus had died, how Jesus had risked his own life in returning to Judea, how Jesus had called the dead man out of the tomb, how Lazarus was restored to life, how Lazarus himself was there at the table with Jesus and his followers. No one could fail to appreciate the rarity of the situation. Except Judas. He evinces a sudden concern for the poor, and Jesus deftly exposes how improper that concern was under the circumstances.

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Where is Heaven?

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The languages of the Bible do not distinguish between “heaven” and “sky.” The sky was an unreachable expanse with lights moving in it, with clouds that watered the earth. Only birds and certain insects could travel there. Perhaps it was natural to assign it as the abode of God and to people it with winged beings—cherubim and seraphim, the angels who make up the armies of God. At some point, however, the meanings of sky as the expanse above our heads and heaven as God’s home turf began to diverge. By the time Jesus appeared, no one who heard him announce that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” thought he was talking about the sky.

Nevertheless, the idea of heaven as a place in the sky persists. In cartoons that show good people after death, we see them dressed in white and sitting on clouds, often with wings like the angels. God and his throne are always “up there,” and many people still refer to heaven as a place where the dead who have lived a good life go to remain in some sense alive through all eternity.

To the ancients, the sky was unreachable but not limitless the way we now regard space11 Of course, there is some dispute about whether space is infinite. We are told that the universe is expanding, but it is not clear whether the emptiness that it is expanding into exists as anything definable. Compared to modern conceptions of space, the ancient heavens were relatively cozy, near enough to be seen, an abode of invisible beings just beyond our grasp. Within my own lifetime, space has become unimaginably vaster and older. I remember as a child learning that the universe was 7 billion years old. Now it is more than 13 billion. New technologies seem to push the edges of the universe ever outward. It’s little wonder we feel lost and insignificant in such vastness. If heaven is simply up from earth, it includes such immensity that we can’t begin to understand the sheer scale of it. Current estimates put the actual size of the universe at 93 billion light-years across, most of it so distant that its light will never reach earth. It will be forever beyond our ken unless we discover some means of traveling faster than light without relativistic aging22 See, for example, Randall Munroe’s How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-world Problems.

When Jesus appeared preaching in Judea and surrounding areas, his message was strange. “Change the way you think33 The traditional English translation of “repent” carries with it a sense of remorse over sin and feelings of guilt and shame. The Greek word means something closer to regret, the sort of self-reproach you have when you discover you’ve taken a wrong turn. The remedy is to turn around. Jesus’ message begins with a declaration that we have taken a wrong turn in our thinking. We need to change the way we think. For Paul, this transformation of the mind needed to become a way of life (Romans 12:1-2).” he declared, “for the kingdom of heaven44 It is worth noting that Matthew is the only gospel writer who uses the term “kingdom of heaven.” The others use “kingdom of God” instead. Matthew (or his source) exhibits a very Jewish reluctance to refer directly to God. is within your grasp.” Jesus announced that the unreachable was within reach, the place of perfect happiness, where God’s good will is always done, was right at your elbow. You can take hold of it.

Some religious leaders once asked Jesus when the kingdom of God would come. He replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”55 Luke 17:20-21. If heaven can be found anywhere, it is in your heart. You can’t get much nearer than that. People with heaven in their hearts bring heaven with them wherever they go, and the influence of their heavenly mindedness spreads out around them and transforms their personal lives, their relationships, their businesses, and their communities. The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who took a little yeast and mixed it with 60 pounds of flour and leavened the whole batch66 Matthew 13:33.. This is not a political agenda; this is a subversion of all worldly systems of power and control. It is a love agenda. It is serving instead of demanding. It is giving instead of taking. It is vulnerability instead of invincibility.

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