Dialogue and Diversity in the Era of Facebook

By: Hopey Fink

July 11, 2013

This post is a reflection on the article "Georgetown is accused of not being ‘Catholic,’ but it may be the best of example of what the church is supposed to be" by Jason Steidl, which was published in the Washington Post on June 11, 2013.

It was almost a month ago that my Facebook newsfeed became a small flurry of debates and defenses centering around Jason Steidl’s article in the Washington Post. Written as counterpoint to Exorcist author and alumnus William Blatty’s claims that Georgetown does not deserve its Catholic status, Steidl’s piece quickly went viral among the circles of the Georgetown community in which I interact. Since I am not qualified to make theological commentary on these articles as others have already skilfully done, I wanted instead to look at Steidl’s article in light of the social medium of Facebook (for which I am as qualified as any other college student).
If you were to follow my own Facebook newsfeed, you would have a different impression of Georgetown than Blatty seems to have. I consider my Facebook newsfeed to be somewhat representative of the network of people I know and interact with, and the dialogues that I observe and participate in on links, pictures, and posts are extensions of the real-life conversations that are going on around me. Just glancing at my home page reveals snippets of the very good things that Georgetown’s “lively and dynamic” Catholicism (to quote Steidl) has taught and shown me, from the countless photo albums of friends doing service and working internationally for worthwhile causes to the witty social commentary of the Jesuit Post; from the thought-provoking videos from the Berkley Center to friends’ blog posts about global issues or published articles on positive interfaith relations.

The people I have met at Georgetown are doing some truly amazing things for the world. Their passions and interests have opened my own eyes to the ways that faith in action can be a force for good, and the diversity of their views has also allowed me to see the complexities of engaging in issues of faith in the modern world.

In high school I would never have posted something on Facebook remotely related to religion, even though I was very involved in my parish youth ministry. But while at Georgetown, I have seen that there are more ways to engage others in matters of faith or understanding than evangelization, and I am more comfortable with the public exchange of ideas and dialogue. I even decided to share the link to Steidl’s article, relieved that someone else had articulated some of my own thoughts in a way that was thoughtful, well-written, fair, and representative of my Georgetown experience.

Of course, there are many levels of Facebook diplomacy in responding to issues like the Blatty petition. To be sure, my Facebook feed would expose you to a wide variety of replies that—in fact—capture something of the diverse dialogue that Steidl praises Georgetown for fostering. I will not deny that Georgetown’s online spirit of debate and exchange has caused me some discomfort in more ways than one. I often find myself straddling different groups with different beliefs, unsure how to explain what I think about an issue or hesitant to be grouped with one camp or another. The varying viewpoints of my Facebook friends have even thrown me into inner turmoil when deciding how or if I should portray my nuanced understandings of certain social issues. But I have found myself forced to confront and reflect so that I can better articulate and “own” my arguments and inner struggles... and isn’t that part of “caring for the whole person”?

Above all, Georgetown’s unique environment has allowed me to be myself more freely than I ever thought. I have learned and grown by participating in many facets of the Catholic community, and I have also learned and grown through interfaith and non-religious classes and activities. I have celebrated with the Jesuits when Pope Francis was elected, and I have felt the excitement of being a college student living in DC during a presidential election.

My Facebook newsfeed is a happy jumble of all these deepenings and discoveries both religious and secular, many of which I never expected to care about so strongly. I still could not say definitively whether I think Facebook has caused more harm or more good to society and to my generation in particular... but Georgetown University? Georgetown has definitely provided fertile ground for more good, and to me, that is one of the most important things Catholicism should strive for.

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Dialogue and Diversity in the Era of Facebook