Christians, Politics and Social Media

There has been a little bit of a furore in general about political views and how social media is used in expressing them recently.  I've also noticed a few Christians get a bit frustrated about what's been appearing on Facebook from other believers and some fairly interesting if occasionally heated debates.

So four thoughts from me about how I want to engage with these kinds of things (something I concede I've not done perfectly):

1. Passion is Good

First, I'm quite encouraged to see people passionately trying to apply their faith to politics.  It's not the only area and not the most important area, but it's good to see people grapple with it and take it seriously.  If we're to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then that applies in the area of politics too.

2. Overstatement is Bad

Second, both among Christians and non-Christians I've seen some surprising overstatement.  At its extreme its where someone implies that if you're a Tory supporter your a fascist, or if you're Labour supporter you're a communist.  But even at the less extreme end, you find all sorts of implications about people necessarily being selfish and hating the poor, or people not understanding basic maths or whatever.  Those kind of things are an overstatement (often one that shows a very poor understanding of where people are actually coming from).  In fact, sometimes to call this overstatement is too generous.  Now I understand that sometimes overstatement is useful in making a point clearly, but I think often it is a way of misrepresenting people and that is neither truthful nor kind.

3. Bad use of Evidence is Bad

Third, we need to be very careful how we use evidence, particularly on social media, where we're unlikely to be nuanced.  How many times have you read something and thought: "there's clearly an explanation for that from the other side."  I think the simplistic things said about foodbanks (the increase of use is more complicated than saying it's caused just by benefit reform), or the economy (there were quite a lot of factors in the recession) are an example.  And of course we don't have any data for how it would have been different had there been a different party in power!

There's a good academic principle, which is that you have to deal with the strongest position of your opponent.  That means you have to listen carefully to how they explain the evidence and explain why you think they're wrong dealing with their strongest arguments.  Stating something without qualification on the basis of evidence that could actually have a lot of explanations, is again not especially truthful and more likely to cause a bust up than a constructive discussion.

4. Social Media are Tricky

Finally, we have to accept the limitations of social media.  Trying to engage in a nuanced, careful and well reasoned argument on Twitter is probably well beyond most of us!  Falling down with respect to points 2 and 3 above is especially easy when writing quickly, in a short space of time and on your phone.  The problem is that passion tends to trump everything else and that is dangerous.

Now all I've written applies beyond discussions of politics and actually points 1-3 apply beyond the context of social media.  However, I think a General Election with a surprising result in the new world of social media has brought all those things to the fore.  It would be good to see Christians at the forefront of responsible and passionate engagement in politics and other issues using social media.

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