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October 2, 2010

Would Jesus have tweeted?

With all this social media around I have asked myself if Jesus would have tweeted: “Performed miracle at Cana wedding. Guests thirsty and restless. Asked mum to fetch more water”, or “Cranking out a few parables after lunch with Stephen Fry”?

Recently, the Pope was in Britain and warned of “aggressive secularism. Meanwhile, the Vatican has launched, linked to Facebook and an iPhone App. Recently I have become extremely bored with Mashable and TechCruch stories on iPhone apps and decided to turn my attention to the effects social media, in particular, and the internet in general are having on our lives

One such article suggested that humankind is in the midst of a radical and unprecedented transmutation of its collective society, such as in debilitating disparity between rich and poor, globalised economic insecurity and a species-threatening ecological crisis. Perhaps.

Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry on The Ten Commandments in the televised Intelligence Squared debate asked how “the Galilean carpenter” would feel about the wealth of the church, attacked its hierarchy and the “twisted, neurotic and hysterical way its leaders are chosen”, while Ann Widdecombe led to the familiar story of Moses and how he came to write down the ten basic rules passed to him by God. With social media so dominant in our society, would that have been posted on Facebook, one wonders.

A friend of a friend, Simon Critchley, recounts in his book The Book of Dead Philosophers that Voltaire, after decades of denouncing the Roman Catholic Church, announced on his deathbed that he wanted to die a catholic, while Heraclitus, who believed that everything was in a state of flux, died, according to one account, of drowning in cow dung.

He goes further to suggest that philosopher Francis Bacon, the great champion of empirical method, died of his own philosophy: in an effort to observe the effects of refrigeration on a freezing cold day, he stuffed a chicken with snow and caught pneumonia. Then we have Julien Offray de La Mettrie, atheist and hedonist, who died after eating large amounts of truffled pâté and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who saw life and death as part of the same timelessness, died the day after his birthday after a friend had given him an electric blanket as a present. “Many happy returns,” the friend said. “There will be no returns,” Wittgenstein gaily replied.

Our consciousness seems to have manifested itself, almost exclusively, on the narrowed values of competition, individualism and externalised success, and the West’s collective rationale has now been set on individualism and materialism that has been grossly overemphasised and reinforced.

When you look at the casino culture of our ruthlessly unregulated financial institutions, they remain tied to our paradigms of separation and competition. Politically and economically, these values stretch institutional ambition beyond traditional borders as we are now witnessing with the emergence of China and India.

But back to basics: Copernicus was credited with contributing the first comprehensive cosmology that replaced the Earth with the Sun as the centre of our system of revolving planetary bodies; Galileo furthered the popularity of Copernican astronomy with observable proof via telescopic advances; Kepler began constructing a bridge between astronomy and the laws of physics that was completed by the work of Newton. Their proven assumptions required cultural adaptation of religious ideology.

However, the once mighty Catholic Church shunned and silenced such discoveries; and these days the religious seem to have taken it upon themselves to have a mightier voice than that of Darwinian biology, and other geneticists, at a time when these ideas were instrumental in bridging a material view of the cosmos with a secular view of nature and evolution.

Maybe Jesus’ followers would, beyond doubt, have retweeted the words, “He’s the one who made it possible to have direct contact with God. We don’t need a middle man,” and restricted the last part of the phrase for lack of character space. Well, the bankers may have come out in revolt over that but I’m sure history has shown us that we only reorient institutions and practices that mirror our assumptions and shifting values of the interconnectedness of digital cooperation.

Postmodernism tends to be a loose composite in all this and is influenced by scientific studies and personal observations that seem to suggest experience is subjective. Similarly, deconstructionists point out the fallacies of objectified or rational truth and the limitations of reductionism.

Or, to use Mr Critchley’s account in On Heidegger’s Being and Time, we should see this as a radicalisation of Husserl’s phenomenology, particularly his theories of intentionality, categorial intuition and the phenomenological concept of the a priori, if you get my drift. Philosophers do indeed die in the strangest of circumstances, as the entire idea of searching for “truth” is in itself now an existential.

But to get back to the point, “Would Jesus have tweeted?” I rather suspect he would have or Barack Obama would have been tweeted beforehand: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time.”

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