“When you throw dirt at someone else, not only do you get your hands dirty, but you lose a lot of ground”—Ravi Zacharias
Social media isn’t a social evil. It isn’t a social good either. Its just social. It brings people together at a table so you can see what’s in their heart, whether its resentment for our next door neighbors or a curious fascination with Justin Bieber. But lately, its becoming obvious that what we have in our hearts is deeply disturbing.
The North-East exodus in the country was inspired by rumors perpetuated through social media and SMS messages. Facebook and Twitter bear witness to a visible, bilious attack on politicians, journalists, thinkers and really anyone with an opinion in the country. Its forcing the question of whether social media needs to be regulated, if not censored. CNN-IBN reporter, Sagarika Ghose, recently posted a sample of the sort of vulgarities she deals with regularly. It was a tweet that said, “b**ch u deserved to be stripped and raped publicly”. Its one among hundreds of abusive, putrid and degenerate responses she constantly receives, for having an informed opinion that clashes with her critics. Social media gives a voice to the voiceless, but it doesn’t teach them how to speak.
Hate speech isn’t free speech. Freedom and Independence are not the same thing. These anonymous agitators don’t want the right to speak freely. They want the freedom to speak independently of reason, decency, respect, courtesy and all things humane. But freedom is relational. It demands that you submit to the laws of language, logic, civility and reasonable discourse. Otherwise, your words are meaningless. Independence is anarchistic. It refuses to submit to anything outside its own rules. Its couched in its own perversion and wants to be heard without listening. Its stubborn, lawless and rebellious, but it certainly isn’t free.
In CNN-IBN’s televised debate on whether social media should be regulated, Sagarika Ghose pointed out that free speech isn’t the right to say whatever you want. In India, free speech is governed by seven constitutional limits of Article 19(2): Public order, decency or morality; Security of State; Obscenity; Contempt of Court; Defamation; Incitement to offense; and The sovereignty and integrity of India and friendly nations with states. When these boundaries are ignored, the authorities are within their rights to protect people whose freedoms have been violated by people who want to act independently.
But, to be fair, why should Twitter have to answer for our own perversion? We might as well start arresting cars for aiding and abetting robberies and begin prosecuting cellphones for assisting terrorists. It takes a person to publish poison. It shouldn’t be the pen that goes to prison. There’s a voice behind every word and when you read the words in social media, it appears that we have a genuine relational crisis in the country. We don’t know how to live with our neighbors.
India desperately needs peacemakers. I’m a Christian, an Indian and I play with words on social networks. All three things shape the way I relate to people, online and in person. So let me be the first to say that Christians aren’t always Christlike in the way we relate to our neighbors. The worst among us are anti-semitic, homophobic, closet racists who aren’t afraid to go public with derogatory remarks about Islam, Hinduism and the Catholics. These self-justified, self-appointed heralds of truth without grace, live off a sense of security and superiority that comes from criticizing other people. In a strange way, their identity is rooted in someone else’s beliefs, not their own. Whatever they are, peacemakers they are not.
On the other hand, the language of Christian exclusivity is often likened to dogma, narrow-mindedness and absolutism. Never mind that its often, and ironically, criticized with even more dogma, narrow-mindedness and absolutism. The most divisive people in our country are not the ones who think they know the truth. That’s absurd. Its a way of saying we are completely right because we don’t give anyone the right to be completely right, except ourselves.
Truth is tragically divisive. It naturally separates itself from falsehood. But there’s something to be said about people who want to speak without listening. The most dangerous people in our country, then, are not the ones who think they are right, but the ones who are rigidly unwilling to listen.
One of the most telling things about Jesus in the Gospels is that he was full of grace and truth. He drew firm lines in the sand. He was a threat to the religious and political structure of his time. His message subverted the priests and kings of Jerusalem and Rome. Its why he told people that he didn’t come to bring peace, but a sword. He knew, understood and valued the nature of truth. He knew it will never be something that unites. It will always be something that divides.
But truth isn’t complete without grace. When truth divides, grace unites. It brings oneness even where there is division. It was the truth of Jesus that put him on the Cross, but it was His grace that kept him there. Truth can only be spoken in the language of grace. Otherwise, it isn’t true. That’s why Paul writes to the Colossians and tells them, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
As far as Paul was concerned, grace empowered, underlined and even authenticated the message of truth. Its the learned habit that teaches us how to answer difficult questions from ‘outsiders‘ and opponents. For all the thousands of dialects that are spoken in this country, we still need to learn the language of grace. India needs peacemakers who speak graciously, whether or not they are Christian, because truth without grace, is a lie.
Image Credit: Luc De Leeuw