Speaking to an audience with learning difficulties, otherwise known as our parliamentarians, the Archbishop of Canterbury attacked Twitter.
Social media, he said, have killed off thoughtful reflection. A sophisticated question can’t be answered in 140 characters.
Yes, it can, Your Grace – and sometimes even before it’s asked. Always provided, of course, that it’s the right question.
Thus Pontius Pilate, a protagonist in the book with which His Grace is surely familiar, asked a wrong question when interrogating Jesus: “What is truth?”
Jesus didn’t deign to answer the wrong question because the night before he had already answered the right one. The right question wasn’t “What is truth?” It was “Who is truth?”, and to that question Jesus had indeed given an unequivocal reply:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”
That’s only 59 characters, Your Grace, but this number was sufficient to plum philosophical depths that encapsulate the very essence of Western civilisation.
Pilate was a man weaned intellectually on Greek and Roman philosophy. His exposure to it might only have been tangential – he was a military man, after all, not a scholar.
Still, that kind of stuff was in the air, and it was inhaled even by those who hadn’t studied the primary sources. Hence to Pilate truth was a what, an abstract idea ringing true more loudly and clearly than other, competing abstract ideas.
Jesus Christ corrected that metaphysical error by explaining that truth wasn’t a what but a who – he personified truth, thereby making it absolute and detaching it from the musings of individual thinkers. Thenceforth their task wasn’t to find truth but merely to comment on it.
It followed that reality also existed outside the perception of a single person, no matter how bright and learned he was. Just as truth was embodied in Jesus Christ, and therefore objective, so was reality removed from subjective perception. Reality just was, it had been created, and nothing a mortal man thought would change it.
This concept of truth and of reality changed the world immeasurably more radically than all revolutions put together. Among other things it made real science possible, and no civilisation that wasn’t privy to this truth has ever even approached the scientific discoveries of Christendom, or Western civilisation, as one is now supposed to call it to avoid offending assorted groups.
I’m not proposing to indulge in cracker-barrel philosophising here. All I’m suggesting is that, if a mere 59 characters could change the world for ever, then surely 140 characters would be ample to contain what Justin Welby called ‘reflective comment’.
This is assuming, of course, that those who are active in the social media are capable of reflection. And there’s the rub: they aren’t, not en masse at any rate.
That’s why people, especially young people, seek the sound-byte comfort provided by Twitter. Their inability to think seriously came first, Twitter merely provided a tool for expressing mental deficiency.
Why are our young people intellectually retarded? This would have been the correct question to ask, and “because they tweet” would have been a wrong answer.
The correct answer would have been “because they are now detached from the civilisation whose very essence was explained in 59 characters”. But that’s not the kind of answer our parliamentarians, led on that occasion by Dave and Ed, would have understood.
More worryingly, this isn’t the kind of answer our prelates are any longer prepared to give. Blaming Twitter is easier, safer and less ‘controversial’.