What is there to say? Well, for a start, if the Archbishop had his own blog of course, we could see what he had to say, without having to try and figure it out through the refracting lens of the Telegraph, with its own agenda. We could dialogue with him directly and come to a clearer understanding of his perception and discuss it until we had teased out its most constructive use. As it is, all we’ve got is the Telegraph.
As to the moral, human and social values underlying Archbishop Nicholls’ reported words, I am completely in agreement. A clear sense comes over that the Archbishop, like any instructed Christian, believes people should be decent, respectful, nurturing and constructive in their dealings with one another. Christianity teaches love, strong as death, as self-giving — our highest human purpose is to love God and love our neighbour as ourself. This applies to all ages, but as every pastor knows, each of the seven ages of humanity has its own particular challenges and stumbling blocks, from the innocence of childhood to the gnarled cynicism of old age.
Where do social media fit into this landscape? One might be tempted to cross out “Facebook and MySpace” and substitute “letters and telephone” or even “communication and miscommunication.” I don’t know how many young people have been driven to despair by either a love letter, or lack of it, or as a result of a telephone conversation, but I’d guess there have been a few down the years. I agree strongly with the Archbishop, too, when he implies that the family provides a holding framework within which people can most easily live together and grow up safely and fruitfully. Playing fast and loose with that personal and social capital, however fashionable among the chattering classes, does nobody any favours.
The problem, like the joy, isn’t the media, but the human beings. Bullying is bullying, whatever the medium. There are people whose would say their quality of life has been spoiled, with zero accountability, by, say, the activities of Daily Mail reporters. Do teenagers pile up superficial relationships only to become devastated when they let them down? I’m not so sure this problem is getting worse. My children are considerably better socialised than I was, as a middle class boy the same age. They generally care far more about relationships and humanity, and the time they spend MSN-ing or whatever is time I would have spent with my nose in a book — not exactly the best way to build nourishing relationships, either.
I don’t believe our young peoples’ interest in people is waning. It seems unstoppable. What I fear for is their understanding of the concept of privacy, and, like any parent, their ability to protect themselves. I wonder if people of my generation sometimes remember what our parents said to us when they rationed our TV, and somehow transfer the warning to any screen based media? This ignores the fact that today’s screens offer interactive, rather than entirely predigested experience. TV is wallpaper not the Boob tube and Oracle it used to be.
Young people I meet around have often developed a very sharp critical nose about the information they see around them. That’s why they don’t usually go anywhere near newspapers — partly because the print comes off, but mainly because they reject the tyranny of relying on one, once-a-day, source. They are often fascinated by the concept of Truth, but for them it is emergent, rather than inductive. That raises serious difficulties for anyone with a message to sell, whether Church or Media Mogul.
What do Churches have to offer?
- interactive localised community, rooted in a place and tradition which is not, at its best, synthetic, but organic, growing naturally from experience of God and people.
- a pooled range of ages, cultures and expectations which has always been genuinely globalised and transcultural. I am frequently moved, even in small congregations, by the wide variety of people present, one of everyone, from babes in arms to nonagenarians.
- a shared framework of stories and narratives within which to set personal perceptions, connected to ancient wisdom and transcendent morality.
- an open offer to participate in sacred liturgy, ritual, music, poetry and dance, whereby people enter into spiritual experience for themselves with increasing confidence, connecting with possibilities way beyond ego, individualism or mere ideas.
- a connected spirituality, contemplation, silence and rest; call it “sanctuary.” The sabbath principle privileges offline downtime. It also sets a perspective around immediate experience, from which it can be critiqued.
- the challenge to trascend ego and consumerism, and live for others, wrapped up in the teaching of Jesus.