I’ve never used Twitter. I’m not really interested, and I doubt anyone would want to read my tweets anyway. But many christians use it, especially well-known ones – writers, leaders, entertainers and bloggers.
But I’m beginning to wonder whether a lot of this christian tweeting is counter-productive.
Twitter and tweeting
You probably know more about Twitter than I do, but just in case, here’s a brief rundown. A person sets up a Twitter account, which allows them to write short (140 character) ‘tweets’ (messages) as often as they want. If people ‘follow’ them (i.e. sign up to receive their tweets) the tweets appear on their web browser or mobile phone (probably along with many others). At its best, Twitter can provide instant news; at its worst it can provide “meaningless babble” – Wikipedia reports that one study found that meaningless babble and spam accounted for about 50% of tweets.
It is easy to talk without thinking, and regret later what we say. It is just as easy to post on a blog or a forum and regret later. When we get animated, it is even easier to be intemperate. Sometimes we can edit our words when the cold realisation hits that we have typed hastily and unwisely, but sometimes the words cannot be changed, and (unlike the spoken word) remain for all to see. When I post here, or comment elsewhere, I try to consider and review what I write. I try to remember to pray that God will guide me about what to say and not to say. I am not always successful in this.
The rapid-fire nature of tweeting is likely to exacerbate these problems. It doesn’t take long to conceive, type and send a tweet. We have seen many examples in the paper of famous people tweeting hastily and regretting later. We need to be careful about what we say.
Case in point
This week, celebrated journalist and atheist, Christopher Hitchens died. And, as Salon reports, christian tweeters responded with commentary. Some examples: “Christopher Hitchens is no longer an atheist.” “When Christopher Hitchens died, he entered into eternity as every man does: as a beggar at the gates of the kingdom,” and “The death tonight of Christopher Hitchens is an excruciating reminder of the consequences of unbelief. We can only pray others will believe.”
I can’t help feeling these tweets would have been better unsent. Few would be in doubt about what these christian leaders think about atheism and Hitchens, so they merely state what is obvious. They seem to me to be crass and insensitive. I wonder if a little more prayer and reflection might have led to more creative, sensitive and insightful tweets – or none at all?
The cult of celebrity
In the twenty-first century western world, we seem to live in a cult of celebrity. Reality TV, fan magazines and websites, gossip magazines, all reinforce this. Is it good? Is it helpful? It is hard to think that it is.
More importantly, should we christians enthusiastically participate, creating our own celebrities and giving them undue attention, even devotion?
It seems to me that we already depend too much on our leaders. We flock to hear celebrity speakers, buy their books and DVDs. Many depend on sermons for their spiritual growth, and sometimes it seems that we need to have studied three years at Bible college before we are competent to interpret the Bible. God gave the many gifts to his people so we can all assist in building each other up, but the cult of celebrity seems to raise some people up to too great a height above the rest of us.
And Twitter tends to accentuate this distance between us. Do we really need to know what some christian leader or celebrity is thinking 5 times per day?
We shouldn’t be opposed to technology, but use it productively in our lives and mission. But surely that means praying and giving careful consideration to whether what we are doing is building the kingdom or working against its values? I’m sure there are many useful ways to use Twitter, but I’m not sure all uses are helpful.
Or am I being too harsh?
John Dickson recently got into a mini twitter debate with someone by the name of Jim Little.
On the one hand, it is a good witness, if you handle yourself with good character (as he did), and simply stick to the argument.
On the other hand, I couldn’t help but be reminded of an old phrase from the Bible, something about throwing pearls to swine.
It’s hard to imagine a debate with substance in 140 characters each time!
I think discussions are almost always worth a try, to at least see whether it might be productive or wasting both parties’ time.