Are we too busy playing devil’s advocate?

Anna Blanch Digital room of one's ownIt’s so easy to be polemical. It’s easy to pick and argue and disagree. That person is wrong. That person needs to be put right. That person or group of people don’t understand the way things are, or should be!

I yell at television sets and radios when I hear commentators declaring some opinion or other I’m determined is a generalisation or with which I fundamentally disagree. That is, of course, usually in the privacy of my own home, or head, and not a two-way conversation. So, given that much of social media is about broader conversations, why is it that so little seems to be about conversing with a view to understanding other positions or ideas and so much seems to be trumped up ranting monologues or yet another depressing example of callous one upmanship.

In the last week I was reflecting on the most discussed and most read posts on Goannatree over the last six months and it became apparent that about 6 of the top 10 were polemic in nature or explored some controversial or emotive topic. I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a polemicist by nature, but I admit there’s a certain temptation towards stirring the pot. If your measure of success in the online realm is whether you are getting comments, or page views then it seems that controversy is the way to go. I admit that I feel that tug towards narcissism and pride. I can even justify it as developing an audience and finding a community.Yet, there’s something unsettling about its lure.

This column and the next, thinking about collaboration and digital media, are written in light of Hebrews 10:19-25. I wanted to specifically reflect on these verses and consider how Christian communication in the digital age might be shaped by what we can glean from them.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The word that is often translated as ‘spur’ could also be translated as “agitate” or push or strongly encourage. There’s a certain imperative to its tone. So, I’m not saying that we should all “just get along” – but I am really interested in how we are and can spur one another on to love and good deeds in the context of digital media, in social networks with which we participate and engage, and time spent face to face with those in our church communities and those we come across in our daily comings and goings?

Do you find the heated discussions one often stumbles into online helpful, encouraging, oppressive?, or something else entirely? How do we challenge, edify, and encourage each other to have an attitude that is about building up rather than tearing down? How do we share points of difference without resorting to the same bullying rhetoric or “flaming” that so oppresses and injures open communication? How do we use the destabilising nature of digital media to agitate (that is spur) one another on towards love and good deeds – serving our communities, and speaking out for those without voices in the public sphere.

How do we encourage, challenge, and push each other, within the church, to be speaking carefully, honestly, and faithfully when “christian leaders” declare things that seem to us in opposition with we know of God’s character or his word – like Alzheimers is a good enough reason for divorce  – or should we consider other avenues for these discussions? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the no. 1 piece on the list I mention above was a reflection on calling out Christian Leaders in the age of digital media. How do we do that? what should be our motivation?

Are we listening to each other when we read and comment and engage in digital media and social media platforms? Are we really seeking to ‘spur one another on to love and good deeds’ or do we come at things like a bull in a china shop, and even more so besides, because it’s easy to forget there is a person on the other side of these “conversations.”

About Anna Blanch

Australian-born writer, arts critic, and photographer, Anna Blanch, spends alot of time thinking and talking about thoughtful and biblically founded engagement with arts and culture. She has had scholarly & freelance articles published in a wide range of publications including Englewood Review of Books, Australian Folklore, and Case Magazine and she often talks about literature and theology at academic conferences. With degrees from the Australian National University and Baylor University, Anna is presently in her final year of a PhD at the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts, at the University of St Andrews, Scotland where she is also a tutor. Her academic research focuses both on the work of iconic British author, E.Nesbit (author of Railway Children) and the role of literature in spiritual formation. She finds photography, enjoying her environment and its fruits, and being in community bring her joy. She can also be found at Transpositions, a collaborative project on Theology, Imagination, and the Arts, and even more often on her blog, Goannatree, where she provides resources for Christian Scholars, muses about Theology & Literature, and reflects on her expatriate life. She likes to ask people what's been inspiring them lately, because the answers inspire her and she loves hearing people's stories and she's find that this is a great way to get people talking.