A few weeks ago, I deleted my social media apps from my phone and decided to minimize my posts on social media. There were a lot of reasons I made that decision, which I’ll likely discuss in a later post, but, as I get ready to take a break from work with my family, I wanted to give all those who follow and/or read my blog an idea of what I’ve been doing.
I once read that reading is the fuel for writing. If you want to be a writer, you need to do a lot of reading. When I finished writing ThinkingChristian earlier this year, I started writing a second book. While I got a few solid chapters hammered out (a good start), I realized I needed to step back and do more reading.
So, during my vacation from social media, I’ve been reading, listening to podcasts, and having conversations with good friends. Below is a list of some of the books and articles I’ve been reading as I prepare to head back to writing and as I have sought to understand more deeply some of the perspectives that were being presented on social media prior to my hiatus.
- Oliver O’Donovan, Self, World, and Time, Volume 1: Ethics as Theology– O’Donovan’s book addresses the topic of ethics through the structure of self, world, and time. His work is always engaging (he has also written Resurrection and Moral Order and Desire of the Nations along with other works). While it is hard to choose a favorite part, I believe that much of what O’Donovan has to say about our work as primarily aimed at glorifying God was quite beneficial. I would also say that, during these challenging times, O’Donovan reminds us that “Nothing will count as ‘biblical’ thinking but a careful correlation of the complexities of the one situation with the complexities of the other” (80).
- Ryan Holiday, Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator– Holiday’s work was eye-opening. I read this book after hearing his interview on Eric Weinstein’s podcast (“The Portal”). Holiday narrates and describes the methods he used to manipulate media. He describes a world of digital news that is driven by “clicks” and prone to speed in reporting rather than completeness or accuracy. It was a helpful reminder that there is a need to discern carefully and to be cautious about jumping to conclusions when it is too soon to jump.
- Kimberle Crenshaw, Neil Gotanda, and Gary Peller, Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement– Having seen theological positions misrepresented online, it seemed only fair that I not simply accept characterizations of critical race theory (CRT) that I had seen on social media. I had read some of Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality in the past and find the concept to have some beneficial aspects. Ultimately, when I consider CRT, I don’t wish to demonize it or those who hold to it. I’m still processing much of what I’ve read on the subject. I do believe that there is a relative lack of emphasis on structural evil that CRT highlights. At the same time, I worry that Christians will be too narrow in their focus of either adopting or refuting CRT rather than considering that the challenges we face are theological and, thus, need theological answers. As such, I appreciate writers, such as Willie James Jennings (The Christian Imagination) and Brian Bantum (Redeeming Mulatto and The Death of Race) who are addressing race from a theological angle.
- Vitor Westhelle, After Heresy: Colonial Practices and Post-Colonial Theologies– I always enjoy a book that offers a fresh take. Westhelle discusses the ways in which conveying theological belief and practice to colonized people influences both those colonized and the colonizers. Westhelle offers a complex treatment that is both compelling and persuasive. It presses all of us to consider the unintended consequences of our actions. For Christians, we are in the happy circumstance of having the time to be reflective and to take time to consider what it might mean for us to act in a way that builds the body of Christ.
I’ve enjoyed my time away from social media. While I’m not ready to give up on social networking altogether, I have decided to prioritize more substantive reading and posting. I’d encourage you to do the same. Diving more deeply into nuanced works of theology and other subjects has been refreshing. Find some thoughtful books and take time to understand more than one side of an argument even if you end up retaining your own convictions.
John Stuart Mill is, I think, correct to assert that often not knowing the positions we oppose weakens our grasp on our own beliefs. He is also correct to note that often conflicting ideas and positions “share the truth between them.”
Unfortunately, in the polarized discussions on social media, we too often see only a shadow of the positions presented or mistake the application of a position for the position itself. As Christians, I believe we need to commit to do the hard work of discerning how to engage the opinions of others. In part, we must discern whether or not those who have the loudest, most popular, or “trending” voices, have really done the work to have an opinion. If they haven’t, we need to ask ourselves whether their thought need do anything more than drive us to find harder working conversation partners.