We’ve noted before in this blog that we humans are all spliced together: what we do, even what we believe, is steered by the people around us. It’s been measured and proven to crazy extents: if you are slim, or self-harming, or right-wing there is a measurable effect on the slimness, self-harming tendencies or right-wing views of your friends’ friends’ friends.
And none of this is static. As we go about our days, all of us are processing the views of everyone else. The whole human network is humming to itself, tossing thoughts around.
If we had clever software, or a suitable imagination (another novel, anyone?), we could watch opinions flood through the human network like the networked pulses of neurons they are. Surveys catch some of it: see how cultures change their views on marriage, divorce, violence. Flowing through the human network are endless upgrades to human cultures. Like software upgrades, some of them are even worth having.
Who changes the network? We all do. We all do. Everything we touch, every word we speak, every response we make, filters into the humming background of inter-human processing.
The implications of this for those of us who seek to be shepherded by Jesus Christ are enormous. I have just finished reading the Letter to the Philippians in the Bible, in my attempt to read the whole NT in Greek, and I noticed that the apostle Paul got this. He thought like a networked being. My imprisonment makes other people bold, he says. What’s happened to me has stiffened the spines of others. And later on he sails into that magnificient passage: whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put it into practice. 1 He was encouraging his hearers to bear the image of Christ themselves, and to praise it in whatever unlikely spots they saw it.
The sticky, fluid culture
A hugely cool thing about influencing networks is that things can stay set up for generations. Our imprint on the culture outlives us. What we are and how we believe and behave, as a nation for example, bears the imprint of culture-changers long-departed. As one of the 16th century Protestant martyrs said to another, as the barbecue underneath him was being lit: ‘we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as I trust shall never be put out’ 2 –and nor has it.
I recently read the resignation letter of the UK’s Lord Chief Justice. He said this: ‘I have been honoured to lead a wholly independent judiciary dedicated to the rule of law, the administration of justice and public service which confidently celebrates its traditions yet has quietly assimilated very many modern working practices.‘ Having worked in bits of the justice system over the years, I tend to agree with him. The judicial types I work with are passionate about justice, rather than, for example, using their position to leverage money from claimants. Who set that culture up? Who maintained and refined it? Generations before us, I suppose, and (while it can be corrupted) it has been embedded and passed down to the current lot of wig-wearers.
The great subversive
Everything we touch or talk about. It’s Advent as I write this 3, and so we’re thinking about the Incarnation, and it makes a lot of sense that God, wanting to reclaim the human species to himself, should deploy the tactic of becoming a single fertilized cell– undermining the whole human network by being born to a teenage mum and raised in a peasant village; embedding himself in the network. As we see churches spreading or having spread through the Mediterranean, through Europe, through all the Americas, through sub-Saharan Africa, and the Pacific, across the Philippines and China and Indonesia, and now in various irruptions across the Islamic world, and with Christ now standing as a kind of Morning Star for a third of the earth’s inhabitants–his subversive scheme seems to be working.