It wasn’t the first time I woke up to something like this on my Facebook newsfeed: “Grandma is sick and we’re not sure how long she has… Please keep her in your thoughts and send prayers our way.”
Maybe I was just cranky from the 6am back-to-school schedule we’re on, but I wondered if grandma would be upset that her privacy had been violated. I also wondered if grandma had an active presence on social media. Is it okay to ask 500 friends (mostly strangers, if we’re being honest) for such personal favors? Maybe it’s no big deal? Even at this early hour of the morning, several followers pledged their prayers for grandma, and I wondered why I wasn’t doing the same, which was already too much pre-sunrise thinking for me.
I don’t know the friend who asked for prayers very well. In fact, like many of our friends on Facebook, I haven’t spoken with her in about 30 years. But there we are liking each other’s photos and pretending we have some semblance of a grasp on each other’s lives. If comments and “likes” on a prayer request make someone else’s day, why not oblige? Sending my prayers seemed kind of personal, especially because I tend to reserve them for private matters, but it probably wouldn’t hurt… Generally I avoid asking too much of God, as I know that he/she is already cutting me way more slack than I deserve.
Facebook is used in many valid as well as ridiculous ways, and each of us has a rigid opinion on what’s appropriate. But I think we can all agree that our hundreds (sometimes thousands) of friends, are not really “friends.”
On the morning of Yom Kippur eve, a global pre-holiday apology flashed across my Facebook newsfeed: “Dear Friends and Family: On this day of atonement, I’m asking for your forgiveness for anything hurtful that I may have done in the past year…”
And she was not alone. I saw several such posts throughout the day. For Jews, Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It’s the day that we are closest to God and ask forgiveness for our sins through reflection, repentance and fast. I’m pretty sure that regardless of how observant we may or may not be, a Facebook post that resembles a chain letter, does not absolve us of sin or discharge our obligation to sincerely repent. I almost expected to see a line promising seven years of bad luck if you don’t repost…
Have we gone too far?
Before Facebook became a bulletin board for repentance, I thought prayer requests were taking it too far. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe there’s no harm in asking strangers for good karma, especially, if it hurts no one and makes the recipient feel good. Contrary to my public blogging persona, I’m intensely private, and would have a hard time asking hundreds of people for prayers. Just because I don’t do it, doesn’t mean it’s wrong and I understand that in times of need, this easy access to others serves a purpose. I also believe in the power of collective consciousness – I’m just not convinced that Facebook comments can stir the desired divine effect.
This is the first time I’ve seen public apologies on Facebook, and I can’t shake the feeling that now I’ve seen it all. Public apologies not only take it too far, but distort the meaning of dedicating ourselves to atonement. Jews are commanded to fast for 25 hours on Yom Kippur – it’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be personal and sincere. A Facebook post makes a mockery of the human interaction, reconciliation and earnest reflection that should be taking place. An apology should not be a global one-way message – it should be heartfelt and maybe hurt a little. If you really think you’ve wronged someone, shouldn’t you deliver the message personally and accept the consequences of the response? Maybe they have something to say? Maybe, also, you should be good to yourself and be present to accept and embrace the forgiveness that may be offered? Otherwise it’s nothing but a distorted perception of a discharged obligation.
Mass spirituality on social media is a dilution of true reflection. Perhaps it’s time to unfriend God on Facebook and keep him in your soul where he belongs.