We Are Not Disposable

We Are Not Disposable

Written by Samuel D. James |
Saturday, September 24, 2022

The Internet age is one in which God’s providence is questioned at an emotional level every second. Every time we log on, we are seeking in some ways to escape the embodied realties that our Creator has placed us in. Owing much to this, ours is a culture in which people feel that they and everyone else is disposable. What an opportunity for the gospel! Forget what you’ve heard about militant secularism winning the day. What good is a sexual revolution if everyone is too depressed and anxious to have sex? The culture of disposability is doing a number on us. For Christians, do we know our gospel well enough to engage it? Or we are too swept up in our own digital demolitions to see the pain and emptiness and meaningless on the faces of people around us?

One of the most disorienting things about being a sports fan is how often, in order to continue being a fan, you have to adopt a pretty ruthless outlook about your fellow human beings. If you came up to me and said, “There’s a guy I know who really needs a job to feed his family; he’s better at this job than 99% of other humans but sometimes makes the occasional mistake,” I would immediately feel almost total solidarity with this unnamed, family-providing, exceptional worker. But if you clarified that this unnamed person was actually the guy who fumbled the ball twice in the playoffs or dropped a touchdown in the fourth quarter, I would probably say it’s a tough business but we gotta get somebody who can make those plays. Sports has a way of slithering beneath even a rock-solid worldview of altruism and imago dei, and making people feel disposable.

When I think about my contemporary culture, the disposability of people stands out as one of the chief values of the day. What Alan Jacobs so artfully called “the trade-in society” is a very real thing. And it has taken control of so much of our conversation, decision making, even relationships. In the last few years, for example, I’ve seen my corner of evangelicalism throb with the ethos of disposability, as friendships forged over gospel ministry are rent asunder due to political or even social media strife. If you made me, I could name probably a half-dozen people with whom I at one point felt a great solidarity and partnership with in life and work, whom I would have to admit now (again, if you made me) I hope I don’t run into at any point in the future.

I’ve never had many “enemies” in my life. But I used to not have many “opponents” either, and it seems like that latter category has expanded. Based on conversation with others and observation about the general malaise we find ourselves in these days, I think this is true for many people. I’ve written before about Facebook, and how the Facebook of my freshman year of college seems almost like a dream that I had one time. The idea of a website whose only ethic was friendship and only currency was neighborliness seems too ridiculous now to say out loud. But that was really how it was back then. Today, places like Facebook and Twitter are so often the places you go to combat other people, not know them. And as so much of our life takes on the values and structure of the Internet, it seems to me that we are far more likely to dispose of another person—relationally, or at least in our private imagination—than we used to be.

One thing I’ve noticed is how, according to the language of “justice” or “orthodoxy” (the word depends on whether your membership is in a progressive tribe or a conservative one), you have a moral obligation to be willing to turn on your friends and colleagues at a moment’s notice if they are found to possess unacceptable views or a sinful past. The latter situation is a little more tricky and I won’t say much about it, except to note that many of us have testimonies of grace that wouldn’t exist except that someone in our lives took a risk to their own comfort or reputation in reaching out for us.

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