Facebook: Anathema?

Nun Toy - Michael Connell - FlickrCC

Twitter was abuzz last week with word that a Chicago parish had warned parishioners against using Facebook, MySpace, and other social media tools. According to the parish bulletin

Facebook and other social media violate a person’s privacy as it encourages young people a message to ‘Publicize yourself!’ The problem with this is that one’s pictures, actions, and thoughts are shared instantly, globally and permanently… This is exactly the opposite of the Christian culture where people go into the secrecy and sacredness of the confessional to blot out their sins forever.

While I am sympathetic to those who note the potential dangers of social media, this attitude represents an incomplete picture of social media’s relationship to the Church.

Certainly, for individual believers, we must resist the temptation to engage in unhealthy and spiritually destructive behaviors online — sharing too many details about what should remain private, engaging in gossip and detraction, and acting out to get attention. We must also remain diligent against online predators, exploitative advertising practices, and others who would seek to do us harm.

At the same time, the Church is not simply called to “go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matt 6:6) We are also called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) by spreading the Gospel. In this, social media is an indispensable tool.

All new communications technologies have their dangers. Concerns parents and educators have long bemoaned the evils of the television. St. Theresa of Avila even complained about trashy novels not long after the printing press was invented! But, as Bishop Herzog reminded the US bishops last November,

Although social media has been around for less than 10 years, it doesn’t have the makings of a fad. We’re being told that it is causing as fundamental a shift in communication patterns and behavior as the printing press did 500 years ago. And I don’t think I have to remind you of what happened when the Catholic Church was slow to adapt to that new technology. By the time we decided to seriously promote that common folk should read the Bible, the Protestant Reformation was well underway.

While I appreciate those who remind us to be discerning in our use of new and emerging technologies, to simply recommend walking away from the greatest communications revolution in centuries is both irresponsible and short-sighted. The Church should be  guiding us in these endeavors — not steering us away from them — so that we might fulfill Christ’s command and spread the Good News even on the Digital Continent.

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Author:Jonathan F. Sullivan

Jonathan F. Sullivan is the director of catechetical services for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois. You can follow him on Twitter @sullijo; he also blogs on catechetical topics at www.JonathanFSullivan.com.
  • http://adrims.com Adrienne

    Many businesses are afraid to use social media because they have little control over the content generated by users posting about their products/company. The reality is, conversations about their products are already happening, so it is simply a matter of whether or not they want to participate and guide the discussion. The same can be said for conversations about faith.

    I agree we should be using it to share the Gospel. Thanks for the great post, Jonathan!

  • Brad

    Huge applause! I saw the article you quoted and have experienced a similar conversation recently that left me just shaking my head. In fact, I encounter the same resistance in the work place as Adrienne pointed out. The point gets missed of the unique ability to “get out in front of the conversation” and to engage like never before.

    We can approach these new avenues and mechanisms with fear, but that is never productive. Should we then say that Catholics or people should not socialize? Should they be something other than themselves?

    As you stated, like any situation and environment we should be careful and respectful. We have a unique educational opportunity to teach our children using to use these services appropriately just as we teach them the appropriate behavior any where in the world.