This January, The Lutheran Witness magazine launched a new monthly column from Gene Edward Veith called “World Views,” which highlights and reexamines major national and international news stories from a Lutheran perspective. Enjoy Veith’s column for February below — and if you like what you see (and want more), subscribe today!
Original social media developers are repenting
Several of the early developers of Facebook are now criticizing their creation. Sean Parker, the first president of the company, said that Facebook is built upon a “vulnerability in human psychology” and was designed to answer the question, “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?”
Roger McNamee, an early investor, said that the company threatens “public health and democracy” by using “persuasive techniques developed by propagandists and the gambling industry,” including fear and anger. And Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook vice president, said that his involvement with the company has left him feeling “tremendous guilt.”
While these technological pioneers make some good points about social media, their antipathy for their creation seems too extreme. But this is what can happen when talented and accomplished individuals work without a sense of vocation. And when they feel “tremendous guilt” without knowing where to go for absolution.
Sowing the Word of God through technology
People who pull out their cell phones during sermons and Bible studies are not necessarily checking their texts. They are very likely reading the Scriptures by means of their Bible apps.
The most popular is YouVersion, a free download that was one of the original staples of the first app store. Today YouVersion is on some 300 million phones in every nation in the world. It now offers the Word of God in 1,169 languages. Even people in countries where the Bible is hard to come by or outlawed are downloading the Scriptures in their own languages. Last year alone, YouVersion downloads shot up 255 percent in Iraq, 228 percent in India, and 243 percent in Mozambique.
Today people in developing countries may live in poverty and primitive-seeming conditions, and yet they often have a smart phone. Christians used to plot how to smuggle Bibles into closed countries. But today God is using information technology to sow the Word of God, just as the printing press did in Luther’s time.
YouVersion was originally a project started by a congregation in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Bigger families, sort of
A study has found that many American families are growing — not from having more children but from divorce and remarriage.
As many as one-third of the families in the U.S. are “blended.” One or both of the spouses have been married before and have children from the previous marriage. Children, in effect, have two different sets of parents. Parents have children who are “his,” “hers” and “ours.” Such families, on the average, are 66 percent bigger than traditional families.
“Blending” extends the family in complex ways, especially when you factor in multiple sets of grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins and step-siblings.
This is nothing new. When women commonly died in childbirth and both men and women frequently died of untreatable illness, widows and widowers would often remarry, blending their families. But blended families from remarriage in either circumstance — death or divorce — bring unique challenges, tensions and complications for those involved.
Does moving the U.S. embassy fulfill Bible prophecy?
President Trump ordered that the U.S. embassy in Israel be moved to the capital city of Jerusalem. Ever since the Six Day War in 1967, when Israel occupied the city and moved its capital there, most nations have kept their embassies in the old capital of Tel Aviv out of concern for Arab sensitivities. The American action, designed to show support for Israel, has sparked criticism from U.S. allies and violent protests from Muslims worldwide.
But some groups have applauded the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for religious reasons. Christians who see the Bible as a code for predicting the End Times, as well as some radical Jews, believe that the re-establishment of Jerusalem will be followed by the rebuilding of the Temple, the resumption of sacrifices, and a new imposition of Mosaic law. After that, Christ will return (or, for Jews, the Messiah will appear for the first time).
Lutherans, in contrast, believe that the Bible is for our salvation, bringing us to Christ through Law and Gospel, rather than being a cryptogram for current events.
A bad year for Hollywood
The movie world had a bad year in 2017. Not only were a raft of filmmakers and entertainers brought down by revelations of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, but ticket sales were also at their lowest level in 25 years.
The moral malaise — which is reportedly causing nervousness, heightened awareness and a clampdown on the Hollywood party scene — seems accompanied by a creative malaise. Studios keep churning out remakes, sequels and prequels, as if no one can think of a new idea. Filmmakers mine the comic books of their childhood looking for characters they cannot create on their own. Instead of devising interesting plots, they string together special effects.
To be sure, there are exceptions, and good films are still being made. But the public, which is increasingly turning to Netflix as an alternative to both movie theaters and network TV, is buying fewer tickets to see them.
Dr. Gene Edward Veith is the author of over 20 books on different facets of Christianity and culture including, most recently, Authentic Christianity (CPH), with A. Trevor Sutton. A retired English professor and college administrator, he also directs the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary and blogs regularly for Patheos.com.