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“Just A Bit Outside”

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In a speech last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he, “wants Facebook groups to play an important role that community groups like churches and Little League teams used to perform: Bringing communities together.”  The CNBC story continues:

He added, “People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.”

Zuckerberg thinks Facebook can help, using its networking power to organize people.

“A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.”

The need for community in this country is immense, but Zuckerberg’s analysis is so very wrong.  Just on the face of it, if church goers volunteer and give not because of their religiosity but because of the community, then why do other types of communities not show similar giving patterns?  Secondly comparing church and Little League, even the communities that surround them, certainly strikes this observer as an apples and oranges comparison.  And Facebook, while a useful communication tool when properly used, will never comprise “community.”  Simply put, genuine community involves communication on levels not possible through digital mediums.

The fallacies in this analysis by Zuckerberg continue.  He cites a single model of church organization – one that is historically recent, Protestant, and Evangelical.  Further, the model of church organization he cites is one that is notoriously unstable and constantly shifting.  Not to mention the fact that this model of church organization benefits greatly from older models that imbue these newer models with authority unearned directly.  Zuckerberg has a view of the church little different that Marx’ famous “opiate of the masses” view.

Ask yourself why, in the history of the church, communities like the Ottoman Empire, the Soviet Union, Imperial Japan, The British Empire, Colonial America, Colonial India have been born, flourished and died.  In the history of the church, the borders of Europe, defining communities, have moved more than the “Rams” professional football organization.  In the history of the church, alternate forms of community have come and gone almost as fast as the seasons.  And yet the church stands.  I can claim to be “in community” with people dead thousands of years.  Can that be said about a Little League coach?  I have deep abiding and genuine friendships older than Zuckerberg himself, let alone his brainchild.  Give me a break here.

The very technology on which Zuckerberg plans to build his vision of community has its foremost roots in the church – a church that thought by learning more of God’s creation, we could learn more of God – and thus science was born.  Science that lead to engineering that lead to technology.  It is one thing to stand on the shoulders of that from which you came, but it is another thing altogether to attempt to supplant it.  The first is progress, the second is just patricide.

The view of community that Zuckerberg here presents is so temporal, so transient, and so shallow as to be terrifying in its implications.  The great accomplishments of humanity are communal.  Think about this for a minute.  Community builds things, makes things, protects things and preserves things.  The kind of community Zuckerberg here envisions is more support group than genuine community – more a means of individuality than communal accomplishment.

When I read the whole CNBC article from which I pulled the initial quotes that I started this rant with, I read an article about a very young man that has enjoyed enormous success and is now trying to find some sort of “meaning” in that success.  My heart goes out to him.  But the meaning he seeks is in the old, not the new.  People that in terms of their times achieved far greater success that Zuckerberg found their meaning in philanthropy, often born of faith, and certainly traditional in its aims.  They did not seek to reinvent the world, they sought to make the world better.  But to do that they first had to understand the world, something Mr. Zuckerberg has not yet quite accomplished.  The world is far bigger than he imagines.

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