Instagram and Atheism image

Instagram and Atheism

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Why are we so eager to be seen? What is it that drives Instagram, I’m a Celebrity, game shows, humiliating acts of self-disclosure that trade shame for fame, and the compulsion to do almost anything to get on television? Atheism, says Umberto Eco in his Chronicles of a Liquid Society. “What is happening today stems from the fact that people no longer believe in God.”

It goes like this. Once upon a time, people believed “that everything they did had at least one Spectator who knew their every thought and deed, who could sympathise with them or, if necessary, condemn them.” God knows how much I’ve suffered, they would say. God knows I’m innocent. God knows what I’ve had to deal with. “God was always invoked as the all-seeing eye, whose gaze brought meaning to the greyest and most senseless life.”

But if you don’t believe in God, what happens then? Who is there to witness your life, in all its ups and downs, and validate your experiences by their attention? In a post-theistic world, who will see us? “All that’s left is the eye of Society, the eye of the Other, before whom you must reveal yourself so as not to disappear into the black hole of anonymity, into the vortex of oblivion, even at the cost of choosing the role of village idiot who strips down to his underpants and dances on the pub table.” Being seen by society at large, whether on television or on social media, is “the only substitute for transcendence, and all in all it’s a satisfying substitute.”

Eco stops there. Fortunately, Scripture doesn’t. In fact, the only place in the entire Bible where a person gives a name to God is in Genesis 16, when Hagar—a woman and a slave, and arguably the person in the story so far whom we would least expect God to notice—names a well “Beer-Lahai-Roi”: well of the Living One who sees.

So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” (Gen 16:13)

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