Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, said (6/26/17) that the organization (and phenomenon), which he founded, can play a role in society that churches and organizations like little league used to play.

He noted that membership in various groups has fallen by about 25 percent in recent years. Perhaps Facebook can help overcome that drop by getting people plugged into various groups.

And yet, those who excessively use social media (of which Facebook is a major player) often complain of loneliness and loss of self-esteem as a result. There is such a thing as “Facebook-envy.” “How come all my friends have all the fun and are going to all those cool places?”

Loneliness is a serious problem in our nation. Theweek.com observed (4/24/17), “the so-called loneliness ‘epidemic’ is being called a public health crisis.”

An article in the dailymail.co.uk (6/13/17) blamed evolution for loneliness. Researchers claimed that supposedly “the cycle [of loneliness] evolved to make sure people survived when alone.” They said this was good in the short term (for survival), but bad in the long run. I don’t buy their evolutionary premise, but I certainly would agree that loneliness is bad in the long run.

One report (studyfinds.org, 3/31/17) even noted that if you have a cold, loneliness exacerbates it.

There are some people who take social media so seriously that they care about who friends them, unfriends them, etc. and take offense at any like or dislike.

It does seem, anecdotally, that excessive use of social media can make one even more lonely rather than vice versa. There’s nothing that can replace genuine human interaction.

I remember seeing a family sitting at a restaurant and each individual was clicking away at his or her smart phone. Instead of talking with each other and enjoying time together as a family, they were glued to their devices. It was sad, but not uncommon.

Zuckerberg did acknowledge the human factor in churches and little leagues: “A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”

I don’t know much about little league. But many studies of church membership show the positive impact that regular church attendance can have on the participants. Dr. Rodney Stark of Baylor University wrote a book, America’s Blessings (Templeton, 2012), which documents much of that positive impact. That includes the positive impact of faith on the family—the family being a key to overcoming loneliness.

Stark reports:

  • “Religious people are more apt to marry and less likely to divorce, and they express higher degrees of satisfaction with their spouses. They also are more likely to have children.”
  • “Religious husbands are substantially less likely to abuse their wives or children.”

Stark comments further on the impact of Christianity on the marital relationship: “…although most Americans rate their marriage as very happy, weekly church attenders are more likely to do so than are those who only attend sometimes or who never attend….weekly church attenders are only half as likely as those who never attend to currently be divorced.”

Other relationships within the family are also strengthened through an active church life. Stark quotes Valarie King of Pennsylvania State University, who said, “Religious fathers are more involved fathers.”

Ours is a lonely society. I think much of that is a symptom of the breakdown of our family. But the Bible says, “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6).

God made us to be in community. The Trinity itself is a community. What a tragedy that on one day, for our sake, the community and unity of the Trinity was dreadfully interrupted. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” asked Jesus. But God (the Father) made Him who knew no sin (God the Son) to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of Christ. It was a tragedy for Jesus, but a triumph for us—as His death is the key to salvation.

This culture continues to pull out all the stops to destroy traditional marriage, to destroy the family as God has defined it. And then we end up being lonely—and yet, we blame God for it.

Relationships often flourish in a church and family setting, and social media can help aid those relationships. I hardly ever posted anything to Facebook—until I became a grandfather. Now I’m grateful that my family and in-laws scattered around the country and the world can see photos of my grandchildren. But social media can never successfully replace human relationships as such.

###

Editor’s Note: After this commentary was posted, I received a thoughtful response (7/5/17) from Dr. Laura Hollis, syndicated columnist and Notre Dame professor:

Jerry:

Greetings! I hope this message finds you well! I am SO glad that you decided to write about that insulting quote from Mark Zuckerberg. I have to admit that it infuriated me when I read it. One thing jumped out at me immediately: SALVATION. If all we get from church is a sense of belonging and a community of people who are committed to the public good, then we can just join the Democratic Party. (Not to suggest that the Republican Party isn’t filled with people who are committed to the public good; just playing along with the narrative. And I don’t think Zuckerberg is a Republican. 😉

But if the role of church is to bring us to God; to help us establish a relationship with Him, to teach us about Him; to enable us to take advantage of Christ’s sacrifice and offer of redemption, then no human institution can ever take its place. How far have we come that someone as visible as Mark Zuckerberg can suggest in all seriousness that Facebook can take the place of church, and not even think of the concepts of redemption and salvation?

I think that Zuckerberg’s quote is just the most recent manifestation of the “Social Justicification” [yes, I know – not really a word] of religious belief. I cannot speak for Protestant denominations, but certainly I see this permeating throughout a good deal of Catholic practice. Ideally, I think, the commitment to helping others is grounded in the inestimable value of every human being, made in the image and likeness of God. Because Christ tended to others and asked each of us to do the same, we should. Somewhere along the line, this became politicized. Higher taxes, welfare, government programs became manifestations of grace, and collective acts satisfied the individual obligations for charity. Arguments against taxation or subsidizing poor choices – rather than merely explanations of more beneficial economic structures – became cast as individual selfishness and greed. Doing good used to be part of the faith. Now, doing good IS the faith. And even that is subject to conflicting interpretations.

Most notably, the inclination to point to religious traditions as a justification for political or economic policies lapses when it comes to matters of sexual morality – which the sexual revolution completely unraveled. Thus can (nominally) Catholic Nancy Pelosi defend the practice of abortion at all stages of pregnancy, but argue that withdrawing from the pointless Paris environmental accord is immoral and an offense against God.

And then there is the inconvenience of actual truth. Not only are we not permitted to point out that – in nature – homosexual unions cannot produce offspring, thus perhaps informing our understanding about marriage and human flourishing … now we have come to the point where sexuality and gender are not grounded in biology and genetics, but are purely matters of individual feeling and opinion.

When Facebook is “church,” you can choose to be surrounded by people who “Like” your every view, whether or not it bears any relationship to the truth.

Real church, after all, must be rooted in truth if it is rooted in God.

Thanks for all you do!!!

Best,

/Laura

Laura L. Hollis, JD

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Categories: 2017 Columns, Columns

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