Mark Zuckerberg (1984 – ), the founder of Facebook (re-named Meta), has been one of the handful of the 21st century tech entrepreneurs whose achievements have been so profound that they have not only changed the way all people live today compared to just 20 years ago, but are even changing our understanding of reality.
As a Jew, whose great-grandparents immigrated to USA from Germany, Austria and Poland, Zuckerberg’s efforts continue a long-term Jewish contribution to mankind that can be traced all the way back to Moses; to chart a pathway improving society and the relations between its members. This emphasis on improving society is captured by ‘social’ in ‘social media’, commonly used to describe Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram.
Zuckerberg’s products do not simply allow for a one-way information flow from select content creators to the mass of content consumers. Thus they are not traditional ‘media’ like television, newspapers and movies. Zuckerberg’s IT platforms enable a society where its members develop and share information with other members. Thus Facebook enables a complex and ever-changing network of social relationships. You know this because you experience it.
Problems in the Meta-Verse
In spite of Zuckerberg’s vision in harnessing IT, his achievements have laid bare a barrier noted two thousand years ago. Another tremendously influential Jew, focused on a mission to transform society, laid his finger on it back then. You have also encountered this fundamental flaw in your social media experiences. As the technical prowess of social media grows you will experience it more and more.
The Social Quest
To understand what this means for you it helps to go all the way back 3500 years ago to Moses. He transformed the Jews from an extended tribe descended from Abraham, into a nation governed by laws. About to conclude his brilliant career, Moses offered the following reasons why God, through him, had created these laws.
See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?Deuteronomy 4: 5-8
Moses gave the Law to transform Israelite society into one of wisdom and understanding, characterized by righteousness. Then the surrounding peoples, who lived in ‘might-makes-right’ societies would take note and enter in.
But it did not work out that way. Instead of being a ‘light to the nations’, their society corrupted. So its social reformers, the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, pronounced a long-term destruction of that society. That nation would lie dormant until its Law-Giver would see fit to raise it up again. That long running social experiment revealed a deep problem.
The Insurmountable Social Obstacle
Jesus, the insightful social analyst of his day, pointed out the root problem like this.
But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”Matthew 15:18-20
Jesus assessed that the roots of social problems come from flaws within her citizens, not primarily from inadequate social laws or protocols. Of course, unbalanced social protocols can magnify the problems. But fundamentally, we the citizens, have hearts that naturally tend to bring forth evil thoughts. We propagate these out into society, whether by hand and mouth, as in Jesus’ day, or through a keyboard, scanner, touchscreen, voice recorder, or ‘share’ button today.
Facebook in the News
Consider the general trend that Facebook’s news cycle has generated. After its mid-2000’s launch we heard a steady stream of positive news about the new social media platform. Its new technology dazzled us. World dignitaries sought out Zuckerberg, the whiz-kid entrepreneur, and listened to him on the global stage.
But the tenor of the news started to change in the mid-2010’s. When Cambridge Analytica took the social information of millions for advertising purposes without their consent, that was an important turning point. Questions continue to surface about lies and misinformation spread on Facebook, often by powerful interest groups. The constant drip-drip of cyber bullying, pornography, and revenge publishing of intimate photos also came out. People witnessed depression, despair and suicide. Questions remain how Facebook’s algorithms target children, and what role Facebook played in the January 2021 storming of the US Capitol. Former insiders now claim that Facebook undermines democracy.
With this backdrop, Zuckerberg announced in October 2021, that he was renaming Facebook to Meta, since the overall aim of his IT company was now not simply social media but creating virtual realities where people could enter into and participate as avatars. In short, Meta is creating a new world, a Meta-Verse. This new world will operate under programmed rules. So, for example, if my avatar throws a ‘ball’ to your avatar in Meta, its trajectory in the virtual world would mimic that in our physical world because programming laws would be created controlling its trajectory (always subject to change for wild experiences). The vision is for all to be able to talk, live, work, socialize in Meta.
Change the Meta World…
In spite of the immense technical skills and huge investments made into the Meta world (and the meta-verses that other IT companies are creating), the problem that Jesus put his finger on 2000 years ago still remains. Even in beta testing, Meta reports the ‘creepy behaviour’ exhibited by some avatars towards other avatar ‘citizens’. Meta is placing rules limiting behaviour in the Meta-verse. Likened as ‘sexual abuse’ by some, it re-focuses on that age-old problem. How to control behaviour so that citizens treat each other respectfully and without exploitation?
Or change the Citizens
Jesus, also focused on birthing a new world which he called the ‘Kingdom of God’, assessed that this problem was so serious that it could not be solved by a simple re-boot of the Meta world. Nor would making some rules, either as rigorous as those of Moses, or more light-handed as with Meta. Rather it would require a fundamental re-boot of the prospective citizens who would inhabit his world. Without this fundamental re-boot, access to His world would be strictly denied. Here is how he put it in a discourse with a leading teacher of Moses’ Law in his day.
Jesus and Nicodemus
Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.
10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.John 3: 1-21
Restrictions in all Alternate Worlds
The very fact that Facebook, Meta and all social media platforms face the problems that they do underscores the reality of this obstacle. It reinforces that Jesus’ declaration of including only those ‘born again’ into his Kingdom deserves some reflection. A perfect world inhabited by corrupt people will sooner or later crumble into the mess we experience today in our physical world. Tech companies will attempt to solve this problem with better technology; governments with better institutions and education. Jesus will do it with transformed people.
A Meta-Verse or Meta-noia
Many assume that since ‘God loves me’ then I will certainly be welcome into whatever ‘Kingdom’ He might be creating. The move of IT giants to limit access of their platforms or Meta worlds to only those meeting their policies; the moves of governments around the world today to guard their borders; their limiting the issuing of visas and citizenships should put that assumption to rest. All societies, whether government, Meta-Verse or Divine have standards by which they screen prospective citizens.
Zuckerberg chose the new name ‘Meta’ because it means ‘beyond’, or ‘change’. Jesus agreed on the necessity of change or Meta but he focused the required change on the individual rather than the platform. In the Greek, ‘Meta-noia’ means ‘change of mind’, often translated today by the word ‘repent’. Jesus’ co-worker, John the Baptist, built his entire career around this necessity of Meta-noia. As they repeatedly said
From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent (Meta – noia), for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”Matthew 4:17
When the Meta virtual world is ready we will have the option to enter in. Or we can remain outside in our current physical world. Jesus predicted a future when our physical universe will wear out, with the only one remaining being the Meta one he is now developing – The Kingdom of God. So, if our physical world terminates but we cannot enter His new world without a Meta (change) of our minds from his new birth then our options are limited. As he put it
I tell you, no! But unless you repent (Meta – noia), you too will all perish.Luke 13:3
Delving deeper into his assessment
Of course, we may doubt his diagnosis of our condition. But his insights have had a way of standing up to the tests of time as many others have not. So it may be worth exploring his understanding of life. His dialogue with a woman about life, living water, and repentance against the backdrop of the Dead Sea provides a great entry point to do this.