This reflection is based on Luke 18:9-14.
Today’s familiar Gospel story reminds us of God’s boundless mercy for sinners, but also His dissatisfaction with self-righteous Pharisees–those of us who tend to look down on others and exalt ourselves at their expense. As our Lord reminds us:
“…whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It’s a timely reminder especially given the fast-spreading “call-out” culture in social media. Don’t get me wrong: This technology is great. It has levelled the playing field. People who used to be unable to speak out have been given a voice. No longer restricted to silence, we can now call on even the powerful and the mighty to be accountable for their actions.
However, as in all things, there’s a danger of getting carried away. Because of the exhilaration resulting from this new-found platform, there is a temptation to appoint ourselves “keyboard activists and warriors”–netizens who make it their habit–and mission–to condemn alleged wrongdoers online. That’s part of being “woke,” isn’t it?
But here’s the problem: This call to accountability can easily lapse into cyberbullying. Isn’t it ironic that the call-out culture that was supposed to give voice to the voiceless occasionally end up silencing people?
And to make matters worse, there are no second chances online. Any online accusation or bashing, whether justified or not, leaves a permanent record so that long after the offenders may have repented and reformed, future online searches will still easily yield this record. It’s like having Hawthorne’s scarlet letter splashed on your online persona–forever! But then, here’s a question: If God gives second chances in our lives, why can’t we on the Internet?
And here’s another problem: If we’re not careful, this practice of calling out others entails clutching our so-called principles close to our chest, but in the process, they may end up hardening our hearts, leaving no room for empathy and compassion. If we don’t watch it, those self-righteous tweets and occasionally vicious posts may turn us into digital Pharisees.
Is the Internet turning you into a Pharisee?