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Social Media and creating God in our own image

We have become social media junkies just waiting for our next Facebook or Instagram fix to keep us sane. Janine Scott-dos Santos, our newest contributor, questions whether social media has just become a comfortable non-threatening medium that confirms her own biases without really offering her personal challenge and growth. Seeing the parallels that exist between her social media feeds and her spiritual life, she queries the image she holds of God. Does her image of God simply affirm what she already believes; if so are there opportunities for growth and challenge there too?

I spend a lot of time on social media – it’s a vice that I am trying to work through. 

Social media exposes you to the best and the worst of society.  It’s like this place where everyone can come and spew their opinions without a filter or policing of any kind.  But maybe that is not a bad thing.

Maybe, being exposed to these uncensored opinions on social media provides us with an opportunity to see what the real opinions of people are – what we are up against.

Without being a “fake-news” conspiracy theorist, I do think that the media controls what we see and hear to an extent.  Clever algorithms dictate what we are exposed to and what news keeps coming into our feeds. This places us in what experts have called an “online filter bubble

Recently, I read an article about a black man in America who made a fake alt-right profile.

On this profile, he followed the same pages that he had followed on his genuine profile, but he “liked” racist and conservative comments. He replied with alt-right sentiments and reacted with the “angry” emoticon to more liberal comments on posts. After a while, his fake profile started to get fed more conservative stories and he would be shown articles that fed his alt-right agenda.

His two profiles, the genuine one and the fake one, would get the same story from the same newsagent but with different perspectives. So, it seems that social media is designed to confirm our already held beliefs. We believe something, and then we read articles that confirm those beliefs. This is called “confirmation bias”.

I wonder if we do the same with our image of God?

I am a pretty “big-picture” person – the details aren’t important to me, and I like to simplify what I believe into concepts that I can understand and I can use to check my thinking against.

I do this with my faith.

I accept that Jesus said that there were only two real commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul” and “Love your neighbour as you love yourself”. These are big-picture concepts that are easy for me to understand and follow.  So, whenever I have a religious question, I check it against these two philosophies and act accordingly.

But, this “big-picture” God is not the same God that everybody believes in.

A quick look at religious articles on social media – even those specifically by Catholics who likely share my religion and much of my belief system – will show that people’s images of God are very different.

Some people see God as this rule-oriented, black and white kind of guy who is a stickler for detail; others see God as I see Him; still, others see God as a patriarch. For every type of personality, there seems to be a version of God.

It seems that each of us creates God in our own image. And then we use confirmation bias to affirm this belief. We find translations of the scripture passage or specific reading taken out of context to affirm our held beliefs – that God is just the best version of ourselves.

Is this right? Is this what spirituality is? How do we know who the real God is?

To be honest, I’m not sure that I am comfortable with a God who is super-judgmental and will send people to hell for breaking seemingly innocuous rules, like eating a cheeseburger on a Friday.

So, what then if that is the true God?  How will we know?  What is the true source – because everything can be interpreted through our own biases.

I don’t know the answer.

What I do know is that it works for me to believe that God believes in love and that God is love. I don’t have the headspace for all the rules. So, my personal spiritual journey is to believe in the “big-picture” guy that I created.

And maybe, that is just what it is meant to be – and each of us has our own, personal spiritual journey – or perhaps like Facebook and Twitter the familiar is comfortable, and I'm just happy to stay there for now.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.

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