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The pursuit of perfection

The pursuit of perfection

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What are the connections between religion and mental health? What are religious communities doing to respond to mental illness, and what more can they do? Following the launch of our new reportChristianity and Mental Health: Theology, Activities, Potential, we have invited a range of guest bloggers to offer their perspectives.

Churches constantly strive to keep up with the technological times. The digital era and explosion of social media platforms has brought with it many opportunities and possibilities for growing church communities across the world. From reaching out and engaging the young/hipster/coffee drinker, to being relevant and being seen to be ‘with it’ – whatever that might mean – these ‘opportunities’ are everywhere.

Social media is an amazing resource with an infinite world of creative possibilities. It is exciting to see so many churches and Christian organisations engaging with this new and ever–changing resource. To be tweeting on twitter, liking on Facebook and filtering on Instagram can only be a good thing for the church. Can’t it?

Despite many ‘opportunities’ there are also ‘risks’ associated with the rising tide of social media and smartphone use, particularly for young people. Recent research has begun to highlight the links between social media and mental health issues. This is something the church should take into consideration when launching itself into the digital age.

The Christian Church is in general agreement that humanity is made in the image of God. Humanity holds an intrinsic created form which reflects, in one way or another, our Creator.  Though individual we are united by this Imago Dei. Social media, on the other hand, is often about Imago Sui, the image of self.

Self–image is a key driver and determiner of social media success. How many likes on a profile picture? How many followers on Instagram? How many retweets on Twitter or streaks on Snapchat? Recent report, #StatusOfMind, from the Royal Society for Public Health says that there are 10 million photos uploaded every hour to Facebook alone. These photos are cropped, filtered, even digitally manipulated in order to post the perfect picture for the maximum attention.

But the perfect picture uploaded on our personal pages can never correlate to our lived reality. This is the crux of the self–image issue. The image of self that we want the world to see is very unlikely to be a true reflection of our body, mind and spirit. What we post online is rarely a faithful depiction of humanity and what we see is inevitably unrealistic. When we take a peek at our feeds we are consuming the proposed perfection of millions of people. A perfection that is edited and adjusted and never truly realised.

Perfection can only be found in Christ. Perfection is never ultimately found in a Facebook post or an Instagram filter but in the Son of God whose lived reality was both divinely perfect and humanly formed. A world of social media that proposes perfection is a risky alternative to the perfection of Jesus, a perfection that welcomes the unfiltered individual into arms of love, far beyond the ‘love’, shown in a one–click response to a pretty picture.

Our mental health is fragile. It is influenced and affected by the world that we see around us. Increasingly the world we inhabit is digital. The perfected images we see and spotless lives that we glimpse as we scroll down the page are idealistic snapshots of broken and imperfect lives. It is becoming evident that the more time we spend on social media, the less satisfied we are with our own lives. The more we compare, the more we are discontented. The more we ‘like’ the lives of others, the more with loathe our own.

Churches using and engaging with social media is a good thing. The Church of England has recently been shortlisted for the Digital Impact Awards 2017, the Corpcomms Digi Award 2017, and the Jerusalem Awards. This is exciting and a wonderful opportunity for the Church to be recognised for its development and creativity in their social media presence.

However, there is a call on the life and workings of the church to be distinctive. To be set apart from the world, to bring light into places of darkness and to show the indiscriminate love of Christ to all, no matter how many followers or friends they have.

So what are churches using social media for? Are they buying into the Imago Sui and forgetting humanity’s template of Imago Dei? Are their posts encouraging an edited portrayal of perfection or are they pointing to perfection found only in Christ?

Social media is not going anywhere. It is an incredible resource and a tool to connect and encourage people across the nation. But it is also powerful and has the potential to do damage, including to our mental health. It holds weight in the eyes, minds and hearts of its users. It is therefore worth considering ones heart before posting a picture, tweeting a thought, instagramming an image or snapping a selfie.

Our pursuit of perfection should not be towards the supposedly immaculate world of social media. It should emerge from the honest and unfiltered reality of broken lives towards a Saviour who exemplifies utter perfection and shows indiscriminate love.  

Imogen Ball is a research assistant at Theos | @imogenadderley

Image from Pexels available under the Public Domain

Imogen Ball

Imogen Ball

Imogen Ball is Research Assistant at Theos | @ImogenAdderley

Watch, listen to or read more from Imogen Ball

Posted 24 August 2017

Mental Health


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