Breaking up is Hard to Do.

JMJ

The Readings for Wednesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis : alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est. 
“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  

The RSV says “your piety”. The KJV says “your alms”. The Greek word is δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné. It means justice, justness, righteousness. The Latin wins, here, I think. “Justitiam Vestram” which the Douay renders as “your Justice”. In the Septuagint, the Bible familiar to Jesus and his followers, δικαιοσύνη is used for the Hebrew “Tzedek”, the concept in Jewish religion, for someone who adheres to all the miztvot, who practices “justice” not in any way merely en vogue or culturally acceptable, but as decreed by God to be Just. Piety, as in the RSV, is part of it. Almsgiving is as well, but it includes keeping the Sabbath, keeping Kosher, wearing the right clothes, saying the right blessings at the right times, committing neither to’evah, nor sexual impurity, neither unjustly treating one’s family, slaves, nor laborers. It’s a complex conception that has nearly nothing to do with our concepts of “justice” now, which tend to be subjective and emotivist.

Jesus tells us not to do God’s Tzedek, or the feminine form is Tzedekah, in front of folks. I’m nearly sure he doesn’t mean “don’t let folks see you”. Rather he does mean, “don’t do it just so folks can see you.” He says if you do it so folks see you, you’ve had your reward.

I don’t do my charity so that folks see me, but I have to tell the federal government how much I give each year so that I get my tax refunds… I think that qualifies as “I’ve gotten my reward already.”  Then we turn our charity over the trumpeters.

The internet’s awesome for teaching. It’s great for entertainment. (I’ve posted so many music videos while tying this!) It’s brilliant for charity and support. But most of us confuse “likes” with “being liked”. Most of us confuse profiles for physicality – and I say this as a long time denizen of dating apps.  We march through the gnostic world of bytes and virtual dreamscapes forgetting that every avatar has a person behind it and many a nubile 19 year old is really a 53 year old balding dude with a basement apartment. And then there are the times I may not be a doctor, but I play one on the internet. To this world we go with our political actions, our righteous anger, our self-righteous indignation, our hated, and our echo-chambers of auto-adulation. (I’ve worked in it for 25 years, I’m allowed to know where I am.)

We’ve created a culture of performative virtue; moraltainment, if you will. It’s not real, they say, unless there are pics. The pics have to be posted on Instabook and Tweetagrams, discussed on Slackouts and posted on YouBlog. We get our rewards in likes and shares, in retweets and embeds. We call it social media, but there’s never anyone else paying attention. So it’s sorta social; demented and sad… but social. In other words, not only has the Devil got us bragging about our virtues, but he’s tricked us into bragging to no one at all.

When all is said and done, we have an addiction to it as well: not in the sense of a substance-based addiction, but rather in the ways we confuse a “like” on a website with actually being liked. We think a share means someone loves us. We think a dating profile is meeting someone. I have 300 friends on Facebook (but I have trouble getting 6 to come over for cards). We get our sense of validation, our sense of excitement from this virtual world.

When the war with Korea and China comes, I hope they get the internet first: that way we may have a chance. Otherwise we’ll be filming the incoming missiles on our smart phones or taking selfies with the blast shadows. Truly we will already have our reward.

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Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.