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Social Media & Our Thirst for Knowledge

July 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

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The Sinner's Guide (Week 14 of 16)

Christians should guard with special care, particularly the eyes, which, in the language of Holy Scripture, are the windows through which death enters to rob us of life…

…We should protect our ears not only from evil words, but from frivolous conversations, worldly gossip, and idle discourses. – The Sinner’s Guide (Chapter 40, Section 4, Paragraphs 1 & 2)

For years I refused to succumb to the web of social media. I told myself there were too many other things worthy of my time.

But then, at some point – actually, it was when my teenager informed me that something like one out of every four people on the planet had a Facebook account, including those in the most obscure villages of Africa who had no computer access and senior citizens who didn't care (his words, not mine) – I did.  Not because I wanted an account.  But because I caved and allowed him to get one – and of course I felt it my motherly duty to follow him.

My skepticism was soon thwarted by the fact that countless friends from high school and college reconnected with me virtually overnight.  So I told myself, “It’s OK to keep up with the world – as long as I don’t waste time posting every minute detail about my own life,”  and I didn't.

But I DID discover my Newsfeed.  WOW!

Before I knew it I was checking Facebook every chance I got. While waiting in line at the grocery store, cooking dinner,  waiting for the kids to finish an activity, and even on my way to bed at night. I spent weeks scrolling through my Newsfeed, devouring events and postings made by everyone I know, as well as by Catholic priests and news organizations I liked to follow. Not only personal information but inspirational sayings, articles and photos passed along instantly to everyone in cyberspace – all so intriguing – captivated my time and attention, until, finally, I realized – almost in a state of disbelief – that I’d been sucked into the world of gossip and frivolity. I’d find myself chuckling over some video, pulling it up on my computer to show the kids or my husband, and passing it along for others to share.  Unbeknownst to me, I’d become a Facebook junkie. And my Twitter feed wasn’t far behind – social media whetted my appetite for knowledge like no source I'd ever found.

Whether we desire to keep track of loved ones, stay in touch with long lost friends, follow the news or even stay abreast of the best in Catholic blogging, social media promises to serve that desire for knowledge that can be found in the depths of each and every human soul. Sadly, the know in this world is an ever-moving target that we can never definitively reach, no matter how hard we try.  We're like that terminally punished Greek, Tantalus, ever thirsting for something that will be forever just out of reach.

Unfortunately, all this information, while drawing us in, serves to distract us from the real purpose of that innate desire for knowledge that we all share. This desire is not for a knowledge of the inconsequential or the trivial, but for enduring, edifying and powerful TRUTH.

As Saint John Paul the Great explains in Veritatis Splendor:

In the depths of his heart there always remains a yearning for absolute truth and a thirst to attain full knowledge of it. This is eloquently proved by man's tireless search for knowledge in all fields. 

Alas, rather than spend our time reaching for Absolute Truth, we are unwittingly being led down the broad road, obliviously gobbling up the most dangerous of substitutes – knowledge for knowledge’s sake.  But we mustn't mistake this for a harmless placebo.  Seeking knowledge in the wrong places for the wrong reasons can actually be damaging to the soul.

Venerable Louis of Granada warns us that not protecting the ears (and the eyes as well), causes us to “learn a multitude of things which weary, distract and even defile a soul.” He says “without this guard [Christians] are prey to all the vanities which surround them, and which take such possession of the imagination that it is impossible to banish them during prayer.”

With these words in mind, I've been asking myself:

  • Do I really need to know what friends and family had for dinner or how proud they are of their kids or whether they are feeling “happy” “grateful” or “frustrated” at any given moment?
  • Must I read every inspirational article or funny joke, or watch every “must see” video that’s been passed through cyberspace?
  • Does my knowledge of the latest news and events help me to serve my family or my community in a positive way?

Sometimes even the good can be perverted if we find that it takes time from our relationship with God. We were made to seek not merely knowledge, but knowledge of the truth.  To the extent that we seek it, revel in it and promote it, even through channels like Facebook or Twitter, we are participating in God’s kingdom.

So how do we know whether we are spending quality time on social media or merely killing time that could be spent on more valuable endeavors?  Saint Bernard of Clairvaux offers a simple but invaluable litmus test:

  • There are those who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge; that is Curiosity.
  • There are those who seek knowledge to be known by others; that is Vanity.
  • There are those who seek knowledge in order to serve; that is love.


NOTE:  We begin our next book in THREE weeks!  We'll be reading The King of the Golden City by Mother Mary of Loyola.  This is a book you'll be thrilled to share with your children, grandchildren, and godchildren.  It's a wonderful book about our relationship with Christ and His Church.  We plan to spend only 3-5 weeks on The King of the Golden City.  If you would like to plan even further ahead, when we finish our next book we plan to read The Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila.

Reading Assignment:

Chapter 41-44

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you struggle with social media?  Or is there some other preoccupation that serves to distract your eyes and ears from those things that are truly important for someone who seeks eternity?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!


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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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