Online Safety & Wisdom: The Spiritual Danger of Self-Glorification
Having acknowledged that cyberbullying is a genuine concern in the use of social media, parents and students will need to recognize spiritual dangers as well. One of these is the temptation of online self-glorification.
Self-glorification and pride are not new challenges ushered in by the invention of social media. The pursuit of self-glory has been a constant temptation since the Fall in the Garden of Eden and thus, lives inherently in the fallen hearts of humans. It is clear through Scripture’s repeated warnings against this very pitfall that God is keenly aware of our sinful bent toward self-interest, whether or not we are aware of it in ourselves.
In “Mere Christianity,” C.S. Lewis writes “But Pride always means enmity -- it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.” Lewis considered pride or self-glorification as the mother of all sins, leading us astray and setting us in direct opposition with God. Indeed, according to James 4:6, God himself opposes the proud.
In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus quotes God’s command to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” From this, it is clear that God assumes we love ourselves. Yet he calls us repeatedly to act against this tendency and, in humility, to consider others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). Jesus even warns us that “whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Similarly, the Book of Proverbs teaches that those who humble themselves find favor with God, and that while pride comes with disgrace, humility is rewarded with wisdom and honor. Over and over, the God of Scripture acknowledges our natural inclination toward self-promotion and compels us to rise above this sinful impulse.
Technology—specifically, social media—has simply created a potential stumbling block in our striving toward humility, making it that much harder to humble rather than glorify ourselves. Social media may not be inherently sinful, but it can certainly tempt us into the sin of pride. In fact, one could argue it’s designed to do just that.
All About Me
“Social media” itself is a misnomer because there’s nothing truly social about it. Rather than engaging people in genuine human-to-human interaction, the entire premise of social media revolves around posting and sharing content. On Facebook we post status updates to let our “friends” know how we’re doing, on Instagram we post photos of our lives, and on Twitter we have the ability to express any thought that flies through our minds at any moment of the day. The assumption behind any one of these actions is that other people are particularly interested in our thoughts, emotions, opinions, and daily life, and that it’s desirable to get and keep them interested. If, in fact, people do care about what we post, we may collect “likes” and “shares.” It’s a reward-based system that incentivizes self-promotion with the hit of dopamine that accompanies praise in the form of virtual “likes.” This reinforces our drive to attract others to our virtual selves and receive more “likes.” It’s an endless feedback loop. And at its root, we must recognize it for what it is: our desire for self-glory being stimulated. Through social media, it's become all too achievable, challenging our ability to resist its siren call.
“Friends” and “Followers”
Another tantalizing aspect of social media is the unique opportunity to it affords us to accumulate “followers.” At one time, only public figures, celebrities, and religious leaders had “followers.” Now, we can all accumulate followers and advance our own fame. We too, it would seem, can be celebrities with our own personal brand and cohort of people who want to know about us. What could be more tempting to humans, who have a built-in longing to be known?
As we amass followers and build our virtual kingdoms, we often end up promoting our lives, thoughts, opinions, looks... essentially, ourselves. And in the end, we’re advancing the Kingdom of Self rather than the Kingdom of God.
With Instagram came the invention of the aptly named “selfie,” a picture taken of oneself, often for the purpose of posting on social media. Selfies quickly became so popular and pervasive on social media platforms that smartphones even adapted to the cultural need by adding a camera on both sides of the phone for easier selfie taking. Surely 20 years ago, if a woman captured a multitude of self-portraits and posted them on her wall, she would have been labeled a narcissist, but in our modern world of social media, such behavior in a virtual setting is seen not only as normal, but is seen as good and even brave under the guise of the popular rhetoric of “self-love” and “body positivity.”
In his article “Glory-Seeking in the Gospel of John,” Tony Reinke writes, “Smartphones prick the primitive human impulse for appreciation, the form of an image of myself—a self-replication in order to be seen, known, and loved—through constant contact with other seekers of affirmation. This is cause #1 for smartphone abuse. We crave admiration from one another, so we cultivate an inordinate desire for human approval through our social media platforms.”
We’re addicted to praise, self-worship, and approval. How far we have fallen from the contrite and lowly spirit to which we are called in Scripture.
What Can We Do?
In a world dominated by the Internet and social media, how can Christians avoid giving in to this temptation? Are we called to reject all social media usage altogether? How can we be in the world but not of it? The next blog post will explore these questions and offer practical strategies to help adults and students alike avoid this dangerous pitfall.
About the Author
Jo Wilbur is a Communications Specialist at TCS and proud JMU grad who loves writing, shopping, and making new friends. She and her husband live in Purcellville and spend time together cooking plant-based meals, singing worship songs, and volunteering as Young Life leaders in their community.