A couple weeks ago I started reading the book The Hopeful Skeptic by Nick Fiedler. I’m planning on posting a review of the book once I finish it up. For now, though, I want to point out something that makes this book unique from anything else I’ve read. This is the first theology/Christian life book I’ve ever read in which the author uses his Facebook profile religious views as the starting point for a whole book.
A couple years ago, Nick changed his “religion” in his Facebook profile from “Christian” to “hopeful skeptic.” Reading about this got me to thinking about how many people choose to enter something unique on the religion line in their profile, as opposed to choosing from one of Facebook’s preset, institutional options. I did a quick scan of 25 random Facebook friends (and by ‘random’, I mean the first 25 people to either show up on my news feed or comment on my status requesting help with this). Here are the ‘religions’ I saw listed:
“Pastafarian; Former Voodoohist”
“I’ve been relentlessly pursued and mercifully forgiven by the great Lover of souls, Jesus Christ. :)”
“Evangelical Liberal Charismatic Catholic Christian”
“On the path…”
“yes. thank you. http://www.huronhills.org”
“anything in isolation cannot be God.”
“see the Nicene Creed.”
“and He said, Follow Me.”
Among the more traditional choices…
“Christian” Was listed by 6 people.
“Christian – Presbyterian” was listed by 3 people.
“Christian – Reformed – Presbyterian” was listed by 1 person.
“Agnostic” was listed by 1 person.
“Deist” was listed by 1 person.
3 people had nothing listed.
Why do people choose to insert their own, unique title for their religion? I have to admit, when Facebook first added the religion to profiles, I opted not to list myself as “Presbyterian” or “Christian.” I decided to write in “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Honestly, I have no recollection as to why I thought it would be better to do that. I can think of a few reasons now, for Christians at least, but am also doubtful any of them are really satisfied by a Facebook profile.
Some people, it seems, have an evangelical motivation. We’re supposed to be witnesses for Christ and proclaim the gospel. We need to make the most of every opportunity. If Facebook is going to ask us about our religion, we’re going to make our answer count. So, if we put something unique and unexpected, people will take notice. I think the intention here is good enough, but there are also so many problems with this. For starters, it assumes that people actually take the time to read our profiles. My guess is most don’t, and of those who do, none of them are going to your profile asking “What must I do to be saved?”.
For others, there seems to be a fear of being misunderstood. Calling ourselves “Presbyterian” or any other denominational affiliation makes us look too institutional. The term “Christian” carries too many negative connotations with which we don’t want to be associated. So, we’ll enter something unique that our friends won’t be able to misconstrue. Again, one of the false assumptions behind this fear is that people actually read our profiles, and even fewer care whether we’re “Christian” or a “Follower of Christ.” Even fewer will be scandalized by reading that we’re “Presbyterian” or “Episcopalian.”
I think even more problematic is the fear many of us have of being associated with other Christians of a different breed. Saying that we’re “Christian” may in fact associate us with the Pat Robertsons of our time, or some of the great injustices committed by Christians throughout history. But, we also can’t write our own faith’s prior history, or choose who our brothers and sisters in Christ are. Perhaps we’re called to own up to that history and reputation, and proclaim it with a spirit of humility and confession.
On top of that, maybe Christians listing their religion as Christian will be more effective evangelically. Let’s face it, a bunch of unique religion preferences is pretty poor branding and p.r. Maybe it’s time the Christian community on Facebook took a more united front in their religious Facebook preference.
Then again, I doubt anyone would notice…