Jesus Doesn’t Use Facebook

I am an agent for Satan. At least this is what one of my oldest friends tells me.

It was a bizarre comment, to say the least. I have known this friend for 30 years. In recent years, he’s become active in his church, but I’d never heard him say anything like this before.

On the evening this happened, one year ago today, I thought I’d be getting together with two old friends to catch up and have some laughs, and I’d driven 435 miles to do so.

Days before, I’d traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, for a fall visit with family and friends. Sunday was the start of a new NFL season, and that morning, I’d tuned in to watch my beloved Chicago Bears battle the Green Bay Packers. Ultimately, the Bears lost by a heartbreaking eight points.

After I’d gotten over the loss, I drove from Colorado Springs to Denver in order to visit some places I used to frequent when I lived in the Denver area. I arrived around the time the Broncos game ended, thankfully avoiding traffic from the stadium. For the record, walking around Denver on game day while wearing a Bears jersey will gain you several scowls, in case you were wondering.

Nostalgia wasn’t the only reason for my trip though. I’d made evening plans to have beers with two of my oldest friends, let’s call them Tom, and I dunno, Georgio. I’ve known Tom and Georgio since around the second grade, and while our lives have taken us in different directions, we’ve stayed in touch and still get together a couple times a year. On this Sunday evening, we were meeting at one of my favorite sports bars, a small chain called Old Chicago (where, despite the theme of the bar, I still got scowls for my Bears jersey).

Tom was two beers late, though I’m not quite sure what that equates to in minutes. It didn’t matter though, Georgio and I were having a good time catching up over some Colorado-brewed beers. I was halfway through a Left Hand Brewing milk stout when Tom finally did arrive. When asked why he was late, he said he didn’t want to say because, apparently, I wouldn’t like the answer. Georgio and I thought that was an odd thing to say, so we pressed for details.

“I came from small group,” Tom said.

I looked at Georgio in confusion before returning my attention to Tom. “Okay.”

A small group, for those who don’t know, is when a small number of people from a church meet regularly (typically weekly) at someone’s house for private study of the Bible and to pray together. For the record, I don’t care what Tom does in his free time and have no idea why he thought this would be an issue. The look I shared with Georgio told me he didn’t understand any better than I did.

I let the comment go and we ordered some food and another round. As we ate, we caught up on one another’s lives, discussed current events, and we laughed about dumb things we did in our youth.

Sometime after the food was gone and more drinks were ordered, the conversation took a weird turn. Tom again steered toward talk of religion. He then said he needed to talk to me about something. What followed was a strange tirade about the offensive things I post to Facebook. Tom was apparently upset by the many anti-religious posts I allegedly made.

“Do you know what my wife does?” he asked.

I had no idea what she did. “No.”

“She’s the worship leader at our church.”

“Okay,” I said.

“So why do you have to post those things?”

I could not figure out what posts he was talking about, and even if I had posted anti-religious items, I wasn’t doing it to attack him or his wife.

I thought back to my post from the day, and even checked Facebook on my phone to see what I’d posted. Early in the morning, I’d shared a Periscope link to an NBC reporter’s coverage of a California wildfire. Just before game time, I’d posted a link to a YouTube video of the Chicago Bears fight song. During the game I shared a screen shot of a Tweet about how much Jay Cutler sucks (typical for any Bears fan). And lastly, in the parking lot of Old Chicago, I’d posted the statement: Colorado Springs should apply for statehood because it is so vastly different from Denver that it may as well be in another state.

Scrolling past my Facebook activity over the last few days revealed posts about the weather, about books, photos of my road trip, and a couple comments about all the things my father and I had repaired around the house during my visit. Nothing about religion. I was confused.

“What posts?” I asked.

“All the atheist posts.”

“I didn’t post anything about atheism.”

“The ones with the swear words,” he said.

“What the hell are you talking about?”

This went on for far too long, and I honestly could not figure out what posts he was refering to. Finally, he pulled out his phone and found one of the posts that bothered him. However, it wasn’t something I’d posted. It was a post from a Facebook Page (Pages differ from personal profiles in that users “follow” them instead of sending a friend request). The account in question is titled We Fucking Love Atheism, and yes, I do follow the account on Facebook, but I am not an administrator nor do I have anything to do with the content they share.

Most of the Page’s posts are irreverent humor directed toward an audience of Facebook users who don’t subscribe to any religious doctrine. An example of some recent posts are internet memes (a picture superimposed with text for humorous effect) with the words “If you want prayer back in school, send your kid to a god damn (sic) Christian school” and “Why do most churches focus on homosexuality when adultery made God’s top ten list?”

The more Tom talked about the posts, which he was still ascribing to me, I realized what was going on. I was not posting or even sharing them, I’d simply clicked the “like” button on some of the posts made by the atheism account. Facebook is designed to share so-called likes with other users. For example, when User X clicks the like button on a post shared publicly, Facebook’s algorithm will occasionally display the post in the time lines of User X’s friends. Facebook’s theory is that if User X likes certain kinds of posts, his friends might as well.

In this case, Facebook could not have been more wrong. It seems the posts from We Fucking Love Atheism were not appreciated by my friend, and in fact, they hurt his feelings, a phrase he repeated numerous times that night.

Once I figured out what was going on, I explained the situation to Tom, but the hows and whys of it all didn’t seem to help heal his wounded feelings.

“But why did you have to like the post?” he asked.

“Because it was funny, so I clicked like,” I said. “That’s kinda the point of the like button.”

“But it hurts my feelings,” he said.

“I’m sorry about that, but it’s my Facebook account and I’m allowed to use it how I want.”

“But why do you have to keep liking their posts?”

“Because it’s my account, and I’m allowed to,” I said.

I then explained to Tom that, if how I use Facebook bothers him, he could just unfriend me. He didn’t want to do this, he told me. He hoped that by telling me how much the posts hurt his feelings, I would stop clicking like on them.

I assured him that my clicking like on a few posts wasn’t intended to be an attack on him, his wife, or their beliefs. I also explained how it isn’t necessary to unfriend me because Facebook offers an option to simply unfollow a friend’s posts. At this point, he informed me his wife had already done this. I further explained that Facebook offers a button to tell its algorithm you don’t like a post and don’t want to see others like it. This wasn’t good enough for him, so I then explained he could tell Facebook to block all posts from We Fucking Love Atheism specifically. Not an option for him, either.

The deeper I dug, I soon figured out that, aside from the posts showing up in his time line, he was also bothered by the fact that, by clicking like, I was helping spread the posts to more people on Facebook. He was not happy about others seeing them, apparently.

“It’s like you’re an agent for Satan,” he said.

Georgio and I looked at each other in shock once again. Was this conversation actually happening?

It was. Tom continued to complain about the posts, begging me to stop clicking like on them, to stop spreading them to others. I was like ISIS, he said.

It seemed absurd to me to change how I used a social media site just because someone else was bothered with how I used it. All social media sites allow users to follow people of their choosing, and clearly, he didn’t like following me on Facebook. So, I did what I could to solve the problem for him and unfriended him and his wife. When I told him what I’d done, he seemed upset, but to me, it seemed to solve the problem: No longer would he be forced to see the objectionable posts I had liked.

Somewhere around the time I was compared to ISIS, the evening had ceased being fun. After finishing our last beer, Georgio and I decided to call it a night. He had to work early in the morning, and I had an hourlong drive ahead of me.

Even as we were paying the check, Tom was still trying to get me to discuss the matter more, attempting to get me to accompany him to the restroom. Georgio and I left the bar as fast as we could. Tom, thankfully, had taken an Uber and therefor did not follow us to the parking lot. However, he did call me twice. I didn’t answer.

Years ago, I spent many evenings in a bookstore cafe, reading and writing. Every Wednesday night around eight, a young couple would come in and get coffee, presumably after attending a small group or Bible study. Coffee in hand, they would scope the place out, searching for a target. The woman, thin and attractive, would find someone alone and sit near them. No matter what the target was reading, the woman found a way to relate to them. Are you a biology major? — she would say. With conformation from the poor, unsuspecting college student just trying to study, the woman would invite herself further into their personal space. My sister has a bio degree — the woman would exclaim. After several minutes of small talk, the woman would steer the conversation to religion and start telling the target all about her church. Eventually, the target would receive an invitation to visit.

This happened every week, and as I say, presumably the couple came to the cafe after attending a small group. For those who have never been to something like a youth group meeting, small group, etc., often, attendees are encouraged to bring others and are sometimes coached on how to recruit friends to join.

I suspect something similar happened to Tom at his small group, or some other gathering of people from his church. The phrase “an agent for Satan” is just too weird, too out of character for him, leading me to believe they were the words of someone else. At this time, I have no way to prove my hypothesis, but my theory is that someone at his church spoke of Satan’s agents — people who are not of like-mind and willfully speak ill of Christianity. Maybe church members were encouraged to confront anyone in their lives who they viewed as being against the church. With no way to confirm this, I may never know. Though, I can say that, in my brief time in Sunday school classes, youth group meetings, and church services, I have seen church leaders say and do things like this.

Often, new church-goers are eager to “save” others, eager to spread the word of their newfound salvation. I get it. It’s human nature to want to share things you really like. Look at social media. Why does anyone post anything to a site like Facebook? Usually because when someone encounters something they like, they want to tell others about it. Perhaps, after reading a great book, a friend posts about it on Facebook, hoping others will read it, too. Or they’ve just eaten at a new restaurant and can’t wait to tell their friends about the huge portions and house-made dressings, so, they compose a Facebook post.

When we humans are excited about something, we’re eager to share it. From a new diet to the best toothpaste we’ve ever used, when something excites us, we want to tell everyone we meet about it. It’s no different with religion. When someone finds Jesus and believes they will be granted eternal happiness in a beautiful paradise called Heaven, it’s quite natural to want to share the good news with others, especially if it will help them reach this eternal wonderland.

We humans also get hurt when others don’t like the same things we like. Perhaps others didn’t find the restaurant as good, maybe the diet didn’t work as well for everyone, and maybe many found the toothpaste to be too sweet.

It can be difficult to accept that not everyone will share the same religious beliefs. At the extreme end of the spectrum, people kill over it. At the other end, they box people out of their lives. I’ve seen the latter happen a number of times with friends and family members, and I’ve lost some of them over it.

Eventually, many come around. My father is on that list. In the mid-nineties, a good friend of his found Jesus and began recruiting my father. For years, my dad slid deeper into religion — alienating friends who didn’t agree with him. This included my mom and me. Mom just didn’t see things the same way he did, and a couple times, he nearly left his family because we weren’t as religious as he was.

Thankfully, he snapped out of his madness and our family stayed together. Today, he and I are great friends and he seems to have a better understanding of Christianity than most church leaders and theologians. Conversely, my relationship with one of my cousins is a different story. She tried briefly to make me believe exactly as she does, and when I wouldn’t submit to her thinking, she cut me out of her life.

What the future holds for Tom and me is anyone’s guess. Maybe he and I will never speak again. Or, perhaps someday, he will realize Jesus isn’t concerned with the We Fucking Love Atheism account or with the manner in which I use Facebook. Maybe then he and I will have another beer together and recall this little story as another dumb thing we did in our youth.