Standards, Double Standards, and Censorship

It was the first question Sasha asked me, after I entered the classroom in Ukraine: “Now that Apple CEO Tim Cook has come out of the closet, should we continue using Apple products?” I immediately answered, of course! If we stopped using things made by sinners, well, you couldn’t even eat your own breakfast.

Yet Sasha’s question came back to my mind this week, after the big tech companies – Google, Apple, Amazon and others – lowered the hammer sharp and true on the app Parler, which fashioned itself as a free-speech alternative to Twitter. In light of their “standards”, Apple said Parler had to implement censorship, or they would remove them from their App Store. Granted, Apple used a more 1984 phrase – Parler needed to “moderate and prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content” – in 24 hours – but it’s selective censorship all the same.

The same company that got its start bringing pornography conveniently to our pockets – Google – did the same. Amazon also banned Parler from their servers, effectively giving them no other place to run their business. At the time of writing, it seems Parler will close down, perhaps permanently. And now the CEO of the company that makes the Firefox internet browser is calling for fundamental changes to the internet – censorship, that will surely agree with Silicon Valley sensibilities, on a massive scale.

There are more double-standards here – a-like so – and they are brazen, and in your face, meant for the demoralization of those who disagree. When politicians and many public figures called for violence in the summer, did any person or app get banned? Hardly. As someone else has written, if it weren’t for double standards, these people wouldn’t have standards.1

But pointing out the hypocrisy of a powerful person with no standards is only enjoyable for a moment, and then it’s useless. It accomplishes almost nothing, except making the pointer a little more bloated with indignation.

Nor does it help to point out how Parler was or was not good. I tested it myself a few months ago, and it seemed like a conservative echo chamber – a red version of Twitter. You can read more spiteful descriptions of it around the internet – say, for instance, on Wikipedia – and if you take them at face-value, you’ll conclude Parler was an electronic den of neo-Nazis. (I only saw neo-Nazis if by that you mean “one-half of the country.”)

Hey, You Fell in a Hole

But even if it were a right-wing “wretched hive of scum and villainy”, the whole conversation exemplifies a hole in Christian thinking today: we don’t open our Bibles to consider what’s what. Yet the Bible makes clear, from its opening pages to the end, that especially when people are involved, there is no such thing as neutral – there’s no Switzerland. Thus it’s almost laughable to judge Parler with a source like Wikipedia. That’s like consulting an Apple Store employee to understand what Windows is all about. You’ll get a straight answer. But the answer’s accuracy will be comedically skewed.

Yet many don’t know this. Because somewhere along the way, we – especially Christians – bought into the notion that there exist “neutral spaces” in the world. Whether it was Walter Cronkite on the nightly news, or your iPad, we have bought into what Paul calls in Colossians an “empty philosophy” – that there are spaces or things in the world that possess neutrality, to which we can therefore entrust our minds, our thinking, ourselves.

The non-neutral biases of the “tech bro’s” surfaced this week, and they are totalitarian. They have nothing to do with freedom. No, they do – they just believe that those with certain ideologies are more free than others. And therefore, those with different thinking should be less free – they should be controlled and censored.

When man seeks to control others, with widespread technology, “for our good”, the totalitarian in humanity always seems to come out. C.S. Lewis said it best, in his book “God in the Dock”:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

Lewis wrote in a different time and place, but humanity does not change. He could have been talking about the founder of Twitter posting his love for Parler going out of business; or the god-like omniscience of our political leaders in their COVID response, as they destroy countless livelihoods; or the online crusaders doxing Capitol protesters so that they lose their jobs.

It is nothing less than tyranny, and the worst kind: a powerful person tormenting others “for good,” with no pangs of a guilty conscience.

Chuck a MacBook in the Streets?

So then, shallst we take to the streets, and protest by chucking our MacBooks and iPhones through the windows of our nearest Apple Store? Oh no, no, no. That sort of thing was so 2020. We’re so past that now. It’s all about unity, now, baby.

Or, shallst we search harder for a neutral source of news and insight? Nope, that doesn’t exist. You may replace Fox News with OANN or what-have-you. Sure. But if that’s all we do, we repeat our first mistake.

Should we reflect and make adjustments? You bet. I write this on an Apple product, firmly enmeshed in their “ecosystem” – another Orwellian term that I would now replace with “techno-shackles”. It won’t be easy to extricate myself from all the conveniences I’ve allowed Apple to provide me. But the genius of spiders is to not advertise the stickiness of their web. Sure – I’ll switch subscriptions, or cancel them. I’ll slowly move things around. As I come up for more purchases in the future, I’ll look around. Some things will change.

But again, the need of the moment is not to chuck my technology, not all of it. Reconsider its role? Yes, of course. But there is no neutral space to run to. The need of the moment is not to run – not entirely. The need of the moment is to resist, and refocus.

Getting All Revelation Up in Here

Now, I’m not given to rushing to the book of Revelation to make a point. Yet, in thinking about “resisting” the control of our tech overlords, I can’t help but think here about that “mark of the beast” business, in Revelation 13, especially verses 6-7:

…to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

I am not saying that the mark of the beast is a Google email account, or even a chip in your hand. It’s possible that this is imagery for something else – like much of the rest of Revelation. The point I want to emphasize is that for many, the power of the beast becomes demoralizing – they lose hope in the face of it, and give up any resistance:

13:4 “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” 

Is this you? Before our techno-overlords, do you feel powerless before their brazen use of power – power that we gave them, in exchange for the conveniences they sold us?

Yet there is another mark, in chapter 14, verse 1:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.

Christians have a different mark, “written on their foreheads.” The “mark” of the “name” of “the Lamb”, and “his Father.” And because the power of that name is in the front of their mind – “on their foreheads” – they are able to resist.

Fighting with Joy

What’s in that name? Christians can face the present crisis knowing that Twitter bans can never change three things:

  • That Christ is risen from the dead – Luke 24:6.
  • That his gospel is the power of God for salvation – Romans 1:16.
  • And therefore that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him, not Zuckerberg or Cook or Dorsey – Matthew 28:18.

Therefore, he is still the King of the public square, no one else. This truth is meant to feed courage in us, when the earth gives way. Courage to resist. That’s all God calls us to – to resist, by faith, in the power of His name. Fundamental changes have happened right under our feet, and they only really surfaced this week. And for these we should grieve, but not despair. And then we should courageously resist.

Because only those who know how to courageously resist are in a position to truly love their neighbor, and their city.

We must. Because we are only a half-step from the gospel itself being censored by these companies, and by our culture. For “our good”, we are just a step away from the Bible’s teachings about gender, sexuality, identity, race, suffering, and justice being labeled “hate speech”, and therefore “inciting violence”, and therefore worthy of censorship, and banishment from the public sphere. The empty philosophy of intersectionality may very well be the hill that God calls the church of this generation to die on.

But God does not allow us to resist by pouting and denouncing, like the world does. Therefore, as a friend pointed out, perhaps it’s better to begin using a different word, than “resist”. Because the “resistance” of the last four years has been an angry, pouting, deceptive, fist-waiving, violent kind of resistance. Which God forbids for His people. He calls us instead to a joyful steadfastness, that is the aroma of death to many, but life to some (2 Cor. 2:15-16). The kind of steadfastness David spoke of, when he wrote in Psalm 23:

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me 

in the presence of my enemies; 

you anoint my head with oil; 

my cup overflows. 

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is a fighting hope, a resolute joy. We fight by feasting at His table, while our enemies watch, in irritation, wonder and covetousness. We hold our ground by singing of the glories of the grace of the gospel. We stand fast by training up our children in the gospel. We subvert the spirit of the age by making disciples of every nation – many of whom God has brought to our neighborhoods. We gain ground by gathering for worship, and a good, joyous Sunday meal, together. And we torch the totalitarian spirit of the age by spreading the incendiary gospel wherever we can – on Facebook, on Google, on Twitter.

Note again the balance of Jesus here. As Jesus did with the mobs, we don’t entrust ourselves to our tech overlords. Christians must learn to follow Jesus with their technology, and stop entrusting themselves to the spoiled, addiction-addled, guilt-ridden, insecure, totalitarian billionaire programmers of Silicon Valley.

Yet at the same time, like Jesus, we can’t separate ourselves entirely from the techno-mob, and become digital monks. Because the more the world rejects and censors the gospel, the more it demonstrates its need of it. The call of Christ upon us is to not entrust ourselves foolishly to the tools of the age, but to use them, joyfully, steadfastly, wisely, to spread the fame of God’s name.

Over the Fence

But there may come a day when that gospel is too incendiary for the culture to accept. And then what? The world will then need Christians who can simply share the gospel, face-to-face, on a sidewalk, over the fence. And who are willing to die on the hill of the gospel, courageously, in hope.

The church then will need to remember how face-to-face, direct communication works. You know, the way we used to do it, a millennium ago – in the 1990’s.

We may also love our neighbor today, by ensuring they can hear the gospel in the future, by calling for legislation that holds tech companies to the same standards as other private publishing entities – responsible for their content, since they are treating us all as unpaid authors, that they can edit as they see fit.

But Christian, don’t take your eye off the ball. Or get your eye back on the ball:

1 Timothy 2:1 I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. 

God give us faith and truth, and let verses 5 and 6 go viral, in our darkening age.

  1. If you would like a comedic example of these double standards, check out “Not the Bee’s” experiment:–the-post-was-a-screen-shot-of-twitters-trending-topics↩︎