Where Has God Placed You in Digital Babylon?
The exiles faced unique temptations and challenges based on where God exiled them in Babylonian society. What about for us in Digital Babylon today?
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A couple weeks ago I said I’d needed to take a couple weeks off to crank out two seminary papers. One of those papers was going to be based on a subject I’ve dabbled in for Breaking the Digital Spell and in other places and I thought I had a head start on: virtual reality baptism. Who would’ve thought a paper on that would’ve been so brutal to not just write, but even just research!? Anyway, now that those two papers are done, we may now resume your regularly scheduled Digital Babylon programming.
For the last installment, I wrote about “Comfort and Courage to Reject Assimilation and Avoidance in Digital Babylon”. For this week, as I continue to chip away at a book manuscript, I am going to tackle the section immediately following the previous section, simply titled “Where Has God Placed You in Digital Babylon? Stay tuned for some personal news at the end!
Of course, in order to have the comfort and courage to reject assimilation and avoidance, you have to start with a more basic question: where has God placed you in Digital Babylon?
When we look at the lives of the prophets, we can see that God did not send them all into exile to the exact same place. Daniel, for example, was exiled into the re-education system for service in the Babylonian government and the king’s court. Ezekiel, on the other hand, ended up with the exilic community by the Chebar Canal. Not only were he and his other countrymen likely in near-poverty conditions, they would’ve experienced the brunt of the day-to-day social and cultural hostility of everyday Babylonian life. Jeremiah never actually set foot in Babylon, but remained behind in the ruins of Jerusalem and was later taken to Egypt. Even though they were all exiled by the same events, the challenges they faced after arriving in their new destinations were not always the same.
Daniel, for example, would’ve faced overwhelming temptation to assimilate into Babylon’s culture as a means of advancing his political career. From Daniel’s point of view, Jerusalem was under siege and it was only a matter of time before it was going to be destroyed; why not go all-in on Babylon and leave his culture and faith behind? Of course, as part of his re-education, Daniel does become a functional Babylonian, knowledgable in Babylonian history, culture, and religion. Daniel does not, however, completely throw away his Jewish heritage and identity, nor does he move it to the margins of his life. In fact, his Jewish heritage and identity remains the most significant and driving impulse behind everything Daniel says and does in the Babylonian government.
Ezekiel, by contrast, would’ve faced immense pressure to avoid Babylonian culture and society at all cost. Despite physically dwelling in Babylon with Ezekiel, many of Ezekiel’s countrymen continue to believe false prophets who tell them that this exile will be brief and Babylon will be destroyed. Both Jeremiah’s letters to the Babylonian exiles, and Ezekiel’s brutal and horrible prophetic acts and demonstrations, ought to have convinced the people that you cannot run away from Babylon. This is your home and your life now, and if you want to be obedient to what the Lord has spoken to you, you cannot completely withdraw and avoid from the culture and world around you. Obedience requires engagement even when you want to hunker down and hide.
What does that mean for us today living in Digital Babylon? For one, it starts with looking at your life, your context, and your circumstances and asking 1) how “deep” am I in Digital Babylon, and 2) am I more tempted towards assimilation or avoidance?
Some of us are going to live and work in places where participation in Digital Babylon, whether for work, commuting, studying, or socialization, is going to be higher than others. For some of us, God may send us to work in the government(s) of Digital Babylon itself in Silicon Valley and other hubs of technological development. For some of us, God may send us to work in white-collar jobs where we can never fully escape shadow of Slack, email, and screens in our pockets and our desks. For some of us, God may send us to work in trades where screens and email may assist us as tools, but time spent on screens and emails means less time spent - and less income - wiring houses, fixing pipes, or (in my case) killing cockroaches and bedbugs.
For people who work directly in the tech and media industries, or for people who are heavily reliant on tech and media as the key tools for their job, the main temptation that you’ll face is likely the temptation to assimilate into Digital Babylon completely. Whether you work remotely, hybrid, or still show up at the office 9-5, you likely feel the pressure to give in to the tools and services you use day in and day out and let them have unrestricted access to your life; maybe your bosses and managers have already done this and expect you to be reachable 24/7. Looking to Daniel as an example, what would it look like to become one of the best communicators and team members of your company, while drawing a clear line that on Sundays you will not answer any emails so you can take your family to church and rest? What does it look like to acclimate to Digital Babylon without fully checking out and assimilating into it?
For people who work in blue collar trades, the main temptation that you’ll likely face is the temptation to avoid Digital Babylon as much as possible. Unless you work for a large national company with its own marketing and advertising department, you don’t have time to spend trying to adopt new social media platforms and marketing tactics to reach a new generation of customers - the “old ways” worked before and will continue to work just fine. Looking to Ezekiel (with instruction from Jeremiah) as an example, what would it look like to spend the time, resources, and manpower trying to learn and create an engaging (and maybe even entertaining) social media presence as a means of reaching new customers in your area? What does it look like to engage Digital Babylon to the point that you’re still able to focus on your work, but not avoid the world you work in?
And Now For Something Completely Different: My Band Released Its Debut Album
For the past four years, I have been a guitarist and harsh vocalist in a prog rock/metal band called Abtenauer, and on March 24th we released our debut album “From Worlds Colliding Part One: Reflections”. This album is part one in a concept album about (you guessed it) social media, with the character longing for a world where he is known and seen, discovering this dark but enthralling place where he slips in and out of any world he wants, and reckons with the implications of living in this place before finally realizing that “blue light is all I see”. I won’t spoil how part one ends, but if you’re a hand of gigantic post-rock anthemic musical soundscapes with gargantuan choirs, this album is for you. You can find “From Worlds Colliding Part One: Reflections”, including the instrumental-only version, anywhere you stream your music.
Thanks for reading Passing Through Digital Babylon. I saw the news that Substack is releasing something called “Notes”, and I am extremely excited for this new feature. I am very thankful that Substack continues to make all the right moves against Twitter and hope that eventually Substack could replace Twitter for me as a healthier alternative to one of the most important, and most destructive, corners of Digital Babylon.
For next week, I will write the final section of this chapter, entitled “The Providence of God’s Gifts in Digital Babylon”. If you’ve enjoyed this piece, please consider subscribing and sharing with your friends or on your personal social media channels! And remember: together, all of us are passing through this temporary digital empire towards the celestial city.
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