A comedian recently tweeted that reading Facebook’s news feed is like going to Walmart and seeing thought bubbles of what everyone is thinking. It’s funny because it’s true. Like the first amendment, social media provides equal opportunities for personal expression ranging from the intelligent and interesting to the drastically less so. This isn’t to say that you can’t learn anything from Twitter. I follow several news outlets and actually keep up with current events through their 140 character updates.
And for one research team from the University of Illinois, Twitter provided a quantitative contrast between believers and unbelievers. They analyzed 2 million tweets from over 16,000 users lumped into the categories of Christians and atheists based on the accounts they follow. The results? “Christians express more happiness than atheists in everyday language,” says psychologist Ryan Ritter. You can read a summary of their results in this Pacific Standard article.
It would be easy to overemphasize the significance of these findings. Caution is in order. There are limitations in their approach and analysis.
There is a minimal amount of affirmation, however, in that what believers say on a daily basis reflects a deeper level of satisfaction in life in comparison to their skeptic counterparts. The Pacific Standard article encourages atheists to learn from joy giving habits of Christians like the social support systems they enjoy through religious community. Their advice is already taking root, it seems, as a number of atheist congregations have garnished national attention in recent days.
CNN’s article about the establishment of “Churches without God,” however, only reinforces the aforementioned Twitter study. Dan Garcia, of CNN, quotes Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, as saying “Whenever we put atheists on a list like this and we compare them to other groups, atheists tend to come in towards the bottom of that list.” While public opinion, and even levels of personal happiness for that matter, don’t determine truth, it seems that social media has exposed a public relations problem for the unbelieving world.
When you go to hit send on your next update, remember the world is watching. In Jesus’s ever-short and highly-tweetable sermon (the one on the mount) he gave us a good reminder for how we should navigate our social media savvy world, “Let your light so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” While I’m reluctant to consider tweeting a “good work,” it does seem that this is one area where believers are indeed shining.
So, the next time you’re tempted to tweet something snarky you should probably reconsider. Think about all that you have to be thankful for. If you are a Christian you are loved by God, saved by grace, and secure in Christ. That is certainly something worth tweeting about.
After all, in a Genesis three world, who knows how much light even a small flicker of one redeemed status update might radiate.