Winston Churchill was once asked how long he spent preparing his speeches. Adapting Mark Twain, he replied “If you want me to deliver a two minute speech, I should like a fortnight to prepare; if you would like me to speak for two hours, I am ready to begin right now!” This leaves us wondering how long Winston would have spent preparing 140 characters for a world-wide audience.
Being concise and meaningful requires deep thought and great craft. The speed at which the various social media update provides little room for either. Twitter is essentially a means of instant advertising; it provides a valuable link to new information, but it cannot give the reader time to think. It is the ideal environment for stand-up comics like Tim Hawkins, Milton Jones or Tim Vine. Academics have delivered laughs on Twitter, but rarely on purpose.
Reading a debate on Twitter is like watching two tennis players competing without rackets. It’s highly entertaining, but everyone knows that neither side will make any progress. Patience, wisdom, insight and argument are too time-consuming for a medium which depends on constant updates. This is why “Saints and Sceptics” does not engage in debates on Twitter or Facebook. God and redemption cannot be discussed in less time than a Presidential debate.
In his 1990 best-seller Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton predicted that the information age’s quest to rid the world of paper would banish thought instead. We seem to be doing our best to meet his expectations. The age of instant communication has generated a hunger for instant gratification. For the new online atheists, this translates into a need for instant certitude. A little science, some technical expertise and a quick “Google” convinces a generation of sceptics that Christianity is irrational.
To be sure, they have plenty of information at their fingertips. What they lack is a convincing framework to make sense of it all. They are left with nothing more than a series of little thoughts, all competing with each other. Religion is inhumane; human beings have no objective moral value. Reason must be our only guide; human brains are the product of a meaningless process that only favours reproductive success. Online atheism can only offer an inchoate and incoherent collection of tweets; so we hope that we will be forgiven for seeking the beginnings of wisdom elsewhere.