Facebook wants me to celebrate “International Day of the Girl” by changing my profile picture to a little drawing they’ve done. You know, to let you know what a good person I am and to signal, as it were, my virtuous status as someone who cares. Doing so would probably garner me some little thumbs ups which would send dopamine right up to whatever part of my brain likes that best. Then I would go around feeling sort of happy and like I did something. I Care, and I let you know that I care, which is actually the part that matters most. This feeling would last for a little while, as long as you all kept pushing like, but then, just when the emojis and the dopamine were fading, Facebook will encourage me to post something else that will let you know how woke I am.
Incidentally, I hate the expression “woke.” It’s just ghastly.
And also, I’m not celebrating International Day of the Girl. If you go digging, you will find evidence that boys, at least in this country, are the ones facing a crisis–of education, of identity. But, you know what? I would venture to say it’s kind of a mess out there for everyone–girls, boys, men, women–and me signaling to you that I particularly care about the plight of All Girls Everywhere is going to do literally nothing to solve anything.
But, you know, Facebook is trying to be the church/religion of the world. Mark Zuckerberg wants, according to officially published mission statements, to “bring the world together” and unofficially to make several billion dollars while doing it.
Virtue Signaling your Wokeness is such a powerful enterprise, I think, because it does in some basic way ape the concept of repentance. It’s like the sawdust trail for the modern unchurched, even more important these days than marathon running. You go to the big tent meeting, that’s Facebook, and you hear the news about how bad things are, about how you yourself are evil. You feel terrible, and then, in the spirit of raising you hand to accept the saving forgiveness of Mark Zuckerberg, you change your profile picture. You have gone from darkness to light, from evil to goodness, from death to life.Except that you haven’t. Being woke isn’t repentance. It’s actually doubling down to the systems of the world, to the temporal fixes of this life that have already proven not to work whatsoever. You are still in control of the paltry sphere in which you reside. You just go from being Out to being In, which isn’t nothing. And apparently for many it’s enough.
True repentance is actually terribly hard. It means admitting not that you’re wrong in all your political opinions and then committing to correct your carbon footprint and tweet the right kind of tweets. Rather, it’s admitting to the God of the universe that you are fundamentally and profoundly wrong in your core, that the orientation of your heart, mind, soul and body is completely at odds with God’s established and perfect order, that you deserve to die forever because of what you do and what you think and feel. But that God didn’t leave you to die, he came himself to make it possible for you to change, to be brought out of the true darkness of rebellious sin laden death, into the unfailing light of God’s own love. You have no virtue to signal that is your own. It’s all the incredible mercy of God.
And really, once you’ve repented, you get to go on doing it. But it’s hidden, usually. There’s no fanfare that will make you feel better about doing it, that will take the edge off this painful aligning of yourself with the knowledge and love and will of God. Having the right opinions about things doesn’t make it easier, and doesn’t profit you much honestly, in the terrible work of repentance.
So it’s easier to go with the flow of a Facebook algorithm. It’s easier to do nothing and pretend that it’s something. It’s easier to believe the human indictment rather than the divine one. For a little while anyway. At least until another shooting or scandal of war or something shocks us all.