A Close-Up on Social Networks from the Christian Faith

A Close-Up on Social Networks from the Christian Faith

"Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization.” – Message of Benedict XVI on Social Communications for 2013

An 85-year old theologian Pope who has accepted to occasionally tweet messages has sparked much media attention, and at times, even controversies (which are now dying out) in some Catholic circles.

Due to interest in the new reality and great number of followers, journalists have given less attention to his reflection on social networks for the occasion of the 47th World Day of Social Communications. Here you can access the official text, upon which Family and Media briefly comments below.

Benedict XVI’s reflection is calm and balanced, free of particularly novel ideas, technologically- triumphalist tones, and disproportionate judgments. Wise and critical warnings, however, are not lacking.

His considerations are based on an affirmation that is full of realism: “The digital environment is not a parallel or purely virtual world, but is part of the daily experience of many people, especially the young. Social networks are the result of human interaction, but for their part they also reshape the dynamics of communication which builds relationships: a considered understanding of this environment is therefore the prerequisite for a significant presence there.”

Hence consequences do follow for all users, whoever they may be, with the most varied goals. Also for those Christians who want to make the truth of the Gospel present in this new public sphere that is shaped by social networks.

Authenticity should be demanded from all users if social networks are intended to establish true forms of human communication and not mere exchanges of information, opinions, or in the worse cases, persuasive manipulation tied to popularity or celebrities. In fact, the strongest social networks demand a defined identity from their users, even if it is to protect the commercial interests of the networks themselves. To be true social networks, they require an effort by all to open themselves up to rational dialogue and logical argumentation. Only then will they be truly inclusive.

Christians, when they use these networks to bring Christ into the web, do not do so “just to keep up with the times, but precisely in order to enable the infinite richness of the Gospel to find forms of expression capable of reaching the minds and hearts of all.”

Along these lines, a young, unusual participant in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Council for Culture made an eloquent appeal to the other members: “You shouldn’t make the mistake of being on Twitter to write 140 characters only because young people do it. Christ said to love your neighbor as yourself in less characters and this was over 2,000 years ago. You should use those 140 characters to do what you have always done, to multiply the message in a million different ways.”

The Holy Father reminds to Christians that God speaks in the “whisper of a light breeze” (1 Kings 19:11-12). As such, “contact” should open the path to a personal encounter with other people and other Christians, even through prayer, the liturgy, or pilgrimages.