On the internet, identity is an obsession. Because we are primarily only acquainted with one another through words, there is an opportunity (and, perhaps, a tendency) to mislead others about ourselves. Our facebook pictures are from the most flattering angles; our political and religious tendencies more firm. Knowing this about ourselves, we tend to also be suspicious of others. Praise and sarcasm are easily distinguished in real life; online you never really know. Therefore, we try to establish a context for what is written online by establishing a relationship with other participants or, failing that, by trying to discern where they are coming from. Are they Libertarian, Progressive, Indie Rock, Country Strong, Molly Mormon, or Andy Anti? Establishing these identities can allow us to create the body language, tone of voice, and other non-verbal aspects of language that are absent in online communication, allowing us to create a context for interpreting comments.
This is dangerous. If we are a poor judge of character (and we usually are), we will assume motivations and intents that aren’t actually present. We’ve all heard stories of men pretending to be teenaged girls and Nigerians pretending to be friendly and in need. If we misjudge our conversational partners’ identity, we stand to lose pride, if not something worse. We often unwittingly reveal ourselves. If facebook and twitter are there to create an idealized version of our life and wit, then they, if nothing else, reveal what we think we should be interested in and how we think we ought to be.
Elder Lynn G. Robbins considers this problem in his recent conference talk “What Manner of Men and Women Ought Ye to Be?” He points to the Savior’s answer to his titular question, noting that Christ “invites us to take upon us His name and His nature.” Elder Robbins then adds that “To become as He is, we must also do the things He did.” Elder Robbins then proceeds to delineate the linked activities of being and doing:
To be and to do are inseparable. As interdependent doctrines they reinforce and promote each other. Faith inspires one to pray, for example, and prayer in turn strengthens one’s faith.
The Savior often denounced those who did without being—calling them hypocrites: “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6). To do without to be is hypocrisy, or feigning to be what one is not—a pretender.
Conversely, to be without to do is void, as in “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17; emphasis added). Be without do really isn’t being—it is self-deception, believing oneself to be good merely because one’s intentions are good.
Do without be—hypocrisy—portrays a false image to others, while be without do portrays a false image to oneself.
Who are we, really? Online, where there is only do, and never be (unless you are Flynn), how do we do? I’ve been arguing that we aren’t to our own selves true, so are we hypocrites? Or does our internet interaction tend to allow our being to express itself more freely because consequences are less vital and action is minimal? Is the internet a vehicle for our self-delusion?
I ask, in part, because the implications of the answer to Christ’s question overwhelm me. I am not very much like Christ at all, although I would like to be. Actually, that’s not true. What I would like is to like being Christlike more. I usually enjoy myself when I try to do as I genuinely think He would do, but I usually also think it is a bit of a hassle. Simpler to watch TV, read a book, or contemplate my navel, none of which provide highs as high, but all of which require much less work. So, as far as I can tell, who I am is not who I should be.
I tend to think that one of the truths in life is that contemplation of the Christ always results in a Fall, because we always realize that we pale in comparison. It’s the sort of thing where believing that you are getting somewhere is a sure sign that you aren’t and getting somewhere involves never being entirely sure that you’ve gotten there. Certainly, God assures (and it’s a good thing He does), but I don’t think that the assurance instantly brings confidence in His decision. It seems to take some time to believe that God is really going to accept you back.
This brings us back to Do and Be. Moroni 7 tells us that to do without being is as empty as James 2 tells us being without doing is. It seems relatively easy to change our actions; I’m not certain what changing my being even entails. I am told (and believe) that I am a child of God, so presumably I don’t have far to go. I once attended a Buddhist sermon, where I was told that the Buddha is already inside me (and inside everything else), which appears to be a way to say the same thing. So, if the potential is inside me somewhere, how do I tap it? How do I identify the divine within?
As I’m at the stage I am at, any answer I’d provide would be empty rhetoric. I think that it involves undergoing a series of changes of heart, a series that I am hopefully beginning. I think that it involves actually becoming someone who wants to be as Christ is, which I aspire to. I feel like I am at the beginning of the long road to discipleship, but I always feel that way. Your mileage may vary.
Getting back to the opening paragraph, to whatever degree it is possible for me to be a disciple online, I will try to be it. I am not going to pretend to be what I am not, because one thing that this talk convinced me of is that “fake it til you make it” ain’t the Lord’s way. But I’ll pray and fast to become what I ought and in the meantime be what I am. I think that is sufficient for today.