The age of opinion and our need for quiet

March 11, 2021

We are swimming, drowning even, in a sea of words.

According to most estimates, there are around 6,000 tweets sent on Twitter every second. Facebook users, the roughly three billion of them, undoubtedly post even more, both in cumulative volume and character length. Add to this the ever-deepening deluge of newsletters and blog posts and articles (like this one) being published daily, and it’s not hard to imagine why many call this the “Information Age.” 

But as the Information Age has progressed, and each of us has been given a public platform from which to project our own voice, this information-rich age has been diluted. Profitable information, buried beneath the shouts and influencers and vapid words plastered on our screens, has become harder to locate. Social media, for all its personal and societal benefits, has served to replace our Information Age with the “age of opinion.” 

Opinion overload

If you do the math, on Twitter alone, 6,000 tweets per second comes to about 350,000 tweets per minute, 500 million tweets per day, and nearly 200 billion tweets per year. Though not all these tweets are opinion-generated, these are nevertheless staggering numbers that reveal just how much we love to hear ourselves “talk.” What is it that convinces us that our opinions, whether on matters of great importance or the latest entertainment gossip-talk, must be shared?

In a recent newsletter commenting on modern society and how we’ve come to find our way in it, John Starke discusses two terms helpful for this discussion: Expressive Individualism and Performative Individualism. Social media, regardless of what its founders set out to make it, has evolved into a platform that caters to our apparent hunger to express ourselves and to perform for whoever is watching. The sharing of our opinions and our experiences, and doctoring them up to get the most reactions, is often a sort of performative self-expression driven by the need to be heard or, as Starke argues, “to be loved”—even when we’re saying what’s right and true.

Contributing also to our glut of opinion-sharing is the way the merger between the Information Age and our “age of opinion” has developed what Andrew Walker calls “a growing cultural trend of presumed omnicompetence.” Because we have expansive amounts of information at our fingertips, we sometimes assume that a quick Google search offers us the necessary level of expertise to knowledgeably speak to a number of topics and issues that we actually know very little about. And when this presumed omnicompetence is mingled with our compulsion to perform and express ourselves online we find ourselves contributing to the superfluity of social media posts. 

Silence and fruitfulness

If we’re serious about emulating the way of Christ, about “submitting what and where we are to God,” as Dallas Willard wrote, then the way we speak (or tweet or post) ought to be of great concern to us. This includes the amount of speaking that we do. To that point, Solomon in his collection of Proverbs says that “When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent” (Prov. 10:19). It is not merely that an abundance of words offers ample opportunities to say something unkind or ill-conceived or ignorant, but that logorrhea is a habit of pride, a presumption that our words are needed and definitive. So, in this age of opinion, of performative self-expression and presumed omnicompetence, what does it look like to approach social media with prudence?

  1. Self-Imposed Silence

“It is very, very freeing to not comment on all issues. Self-imposed silence is a gift of wisdom…” says Walker. In an environment where we are affirmed and valorized for our tweeting and posting, and which feeds our craving for the public display of our competence and our piety, self-imposed silence is a way of prudence too often omitted. Neither Walker nor Solomon are advocating for utter silence, but rather for silence where it is appropriate and wise. Like long-winded writers working to meet their word count, we would do well to impose our own similar restrictions.

  1. Fruitful Dormancy

Where Walker advises his reader, in resistance to the “growing cultural trend of presumed omnicompetence,” to war against the compulsion to “say everything about anything,” Starke, responding to the performative self-expression we’ve already discussed, advocates for a “principle of hiddenness,” employing a term he calls “fruitful dormancy.” In a culture that lionizes the public and performative life—a practice that Jesus himself tells us to beware of (Mt. 6:1)—Starke reminds us to “aim our lives towards ‘the Father who sees in secret.’” As it relates to our online life, this is a call (as the term suggests) to embrace a sort of dormancy or temporary inactivity. It’s a call to do an about-face, away from the public life we’ve so carefully curated and toward our God “who sees what is done in secret” (Mt. 6:6).

Maybe this means we should abstain regularly from social media and impose some sort of daily usage rule. Or, maybe it means we delete our account(s) altogether. Perhaps it simply involves asking ourselves a set of questions before drafting posts online or responding to others, questions like: “Why do I feel the need to say this?” or “Is my voice and opinion really needed on this topic?” or “Will this contribute to the conversation positively?” How these ideas are applied will vary, but for the sake of our spiritual health and the public witness of the church we must discover how best to control our “lips.” 

In the secret, in the quiet place

As John Piper has said, “One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” While this article is not aimed specifically at prayerlessness, it does seem that we’ve contented ourselves with exchanging the quiet of prayer or the quiet of study or the quiet of relative obscurity and anonymity with the noise of social media and its promise of being seen and heard far and wide, even by people we don’t know. Our addiction to this noise has frayed our attention, has impeded our ability to think, and it has convinced us to participate in the charade of performative self-expression. And more than anything, it has withered the roots of our life with God. 

The way forward seems clear. The call of our day, for many of us, is to retreat from the cosmos of social media where we so often, even unbeknownst to ourselves, practice our righteousness before others, and instead go to our Father in secret, with whom there’s no need to perform, to whom we can express ourselves, and from whom we can receive true competence, the wisdom and understanding founded in the fear of the Lord. It is there, in the hidden place with God, where our need to be known and loved is truly satisfied.

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24