One of the highlights for me at last year’s Rethinking Conference was a talk by Mark Scott, Managing Director of the ABC (and a Christian). He spoke about the fragmentation of the mainstream media and the impact of social media. And he introduced me to the idea of the “echo chamber,” an enclosed space where sound reverberates.
When there are a plethora of options available to us, we can pick and choose who we listen to. But our natural tendency is to enter an echo chamber – to place ourselves in a position that the voices we are listening to are repeating back to us what we already know, think, or agree with, rather than challenging us to consider things differently. This may explain, for example, why there were certain TV networks in the US in 2012 who were absolutely convinced right up to the end of election night that Mitt Romney was going to win – everyone they had spoken to believed it was so and wanted it to be so and thus they couldn’t imagine that anyone else (as it turned out, more than half the country) saw things differently.
Social media can easily become an echo chamber. Did you know that when you “like” something on Facebook, the algorithms they use will result in you seeing more things like that, and less things that you have not liked? Google to some extent works similarly. So the more you read, like and agree with certain types of ideas, the more you will see those kinds of ideas, and the less you will see different ideas.
I wonder whether the same is true for how we engage with theological and biblical thinking? If we are only ever reading books by the same few writers, or engaging with people who come from the same perspective, culture, or tradition as ourselves, are we potentially finding ourselves in an echo chamber?
Or perhaps more likely, if someone holds one opinion that we disagree with, do we then unconsciously refuse to listen to or engage with anything they have to say? When it came to reading and sermon preparation, one of the most liberating things for me as a pastor was to realise that I didn’t have to agree with everything someone said or thought to learn from them. (I was quite pleased one Sunday when I was able to refer to ideas from Rob Bell, John Piper and Wil Anderson all in the same sermon!) In fact, sometimes I learn more and am challenged more by those who see things differently to me.
So if you are engaged in Christian leadership and ministry, my question to you is this: whose voices are you listening to? Whose books are you reading? Whose blogs or twitter feeds? Or to get more specific, when was the last time you read something by someone from the developing world? When was the last time you read something written by a woman? When was the last time you engaged with the thinking of a Catholic or a mystic or even an atheist? And are you open to the possibility that they might have something to say that challenges, encourages or even transforms you?
By Rev Melinda Cousins-Biblical Studies Lecturer, Tabor Adelaide.