Being Christ-like in a Meme Culture

[Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash]

There it goes again. The barely audible buzz of my phone. I pick it up, read the meme, laugh, maybe forward it on, and then put it down. Laughter is good. Necessary, even. The question is: when is it no longer good?

We live in a culture that celebrates the “meme”. We laugh at anything, and more importantly, anyone. I’m not saying all memes are bad, but with the proliferation of content that seeks to belittle people and celebrate the person doing the belittling, not all memes are beneficial. Too often as Christians, we take part in this, and are even lured into adopting it as our primary way of engaging/disputing our neighbours. In so doing, we celebrate the mocker, instead of avoiding them (Ps 1:1). In an age when it is easier– and at the same time– more difficult than ever to effectively engage with those around us, we need to be careful.

The Way of the Mocker

What does a mocker look like? Proverbs 21:24 paints the portrait: The proud and arrogant person – “Mocker” is his name – behaves with insolent fury. To the world, the mocker is highly intelligent and educated, often witty, but the Scriptures deem such a person as foolish, sinful, and unteachable. (Prov. 9:12, 21:24, 15:12). Even many Christians mistake the smugness of the mocker for wisdom, when it is in fact the exact opposite. Instead of winning people, they win arguments– dehumanizing opponents, reducing them to caricatures. This arrogance should shock us. Instead, it makes us laugh.

Does this mean that we need to stop sharing memes and suddenly lose our sense of humour? No. Rather, we should ask ourselves: has our meme culture turned us into a people who are not caring or gentle enough to listen to someone who has a view that differs from our own? Are we too quick to dismiss– with cheap laughter– anything that we deem either unimportant or wrong, without engaging thoughtfully?

Has our meme culture turned us into a people who are not caring or gentle enough to listen to someone who has a view that differs from our own?

And perhaps there’s another question we should be asking: how do we sanctify our sense of humour in a meme-obsessed culture? How do I not only avoid the mocker, but also avoid becoming one?

The next time you’re watching a highlights reel of people getting “owned” in a debate or interview, or laughing with self-congratulation at reductionistic memes, consider whether you’re rooting for a mocker to win an argument through bullying tactics, fast-talking, and clever-sounding arguments that are simply aimed at tripping the other person up. And don’t dismiss this as “harmless fun”, or worse, spiritualise it as ‘discernment’. What we enjoy in memes is a reflection of our hearts, and will spill over into how we treat others, both online and offline.

How Do We Engage the World?

Instead of taking our cue from “insert your favourite smart aleck here” (carefully curated to affirm your opinions as the centre of the universe), let’s rather see what God’s Word has to say about how we should engage the World.

Matthew 5

In stark contrast to how the world engages, Jesus calls those blessed who are:

  • Meek
  • Merciful
  • Peacemakers
  • Salt (redeeming and renewing culture through belief and conduct informed by truth)
  • Light (in purity, shining the gospel into a dark world)

If Jesus commands us to go the extra mile with someone, surely that includes– at the very least– listening to them and first hearing where they’re coming from? Trite, pithy, or sarcastic statements on social media don’t destroy counter-Christian worldviews and they do nothing to spread the aroma of Christ and win souls created in the image of God.

What we enjoy in memes is a reflection of our hearts, and will spill over into how we treat others, both online and offline.

How Do We Engage the Church?

When dealing with those within the Church who are like-minded (and those not so like-minded), again, we need to be looking at how Scripture commands us to behave. Even if we have strong disagreements with someone, the above principles of Matthew 5 still apply. (Without discounting the serious command to watch out for wolves and practice discernment, it does seem that we should spend a little more time applying some discernment to our own online conduct!).

Ephesians 4

We love to read Ephesians 4 as a model for how to behave in the local church, or at least the small circle of churches that tick our theological boxes, but read properly, it is much broader than that. Verse 4 tells us that there is “one body”, which indicates that Paul is referring here to the Church universal. This means that, even if you’re dealing with someone who may have huge differences to you theologically – provided that they believe the fundamentals of the gospel and what is considered orthodox (see the Nicene Creed) – we are instructed to behave in accordance with Ephesians 4. This means that we engage:

  • In humility and gentleness (v. 2)
  • Patiently, bearing with one another in love (v. 2)
  • Striving for unity through the bonds of peace (v. 3). This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to partner with that person in ministry, but you should at least appreciate the common ground that you have. And yes, unity is never at the expense of truth, but we should always speak the truth in love.
  • Building up, not breaking down (v. 12)
  • Speaking the truth in love (v. 15). Truth without love is cynicism, which is not truth at all. Real truth is always spoken in love.

May God shape our minds and hearts through His everlasting Word as we seek to be faithful in an age that is narrated by ever-changing memes.

Finally, let us consider these words from James 3, a chapter which deals with the destructive capabilities of our tongues (and thumbs), with which we both “praise our Lord and Father, and curse human beings” (vv. 9-10):

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

The next time you pick up your phone, ask yourself whether it’s worth losing someone– or creating disunity– at the expense of having a laugh.

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