Keep Calm and Stay Safe

I have a confession to make. When I awake, I immediately reach out for my mobile phone. I start by reading the WhatsApp chats and Google news feeds. Throughout the day I scroll up and down looking at the chats, the reactions, videos, YouTube, social media.

The stuff I receive ranges from the newsworthy, banal, hilarious, to the downright bizarre and some just plain nasty.  Then there is this “forward” and “share” key. It is so easy to forward and share these things to family, friends and other chatgroups (and there are numerous configurations of chatgroups).

Sometimes the response is almost robotic, and it hardly crosses our minds to ask “Who are the people creating these videos, chats, newsfeeds, etc? What are their intentions? Do they seek popularity? relevancy? money? Or there is something more to it?”

Acts 19:23 – 41 records a riot in the city of Ephesus.  Demetrius, a silver smith, had a lucrative business making silver shrines for the goddess Artemis in Ephesus. Then Paul came to Ephesus and started to share the Gospel. Many turned to Christ and stopped worshipping Artemis. Consequently, Demetrius’ business took a nose dive.  Out of frustration, Demetrius called all the tradesmen and workmen in the related trades together and said:

 Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all. There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.

When they heard this, they were furious. They began shouting:

 Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!

The Bible then records in verse 32- 34,

“Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized [two of Paul’s companions] and rushed as one man into the theatre. This crowd of people became a confusing mob and some people were shouting one thing and some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.”

Riots and unrests are not new phenomena, but they have become more prevalent in the world today. The people who participate in a riot may have never met one another before but are likely to be linked by an underlying social problem or complaint[1] be it economic, or political. Religion may then be dragged in. Perceptions of unfairness may be justified or not. But all it may take is just one person (like Demetrius in Acts) to make an incendiary remark, manipulate peoples’ fears, whip up the crowd, and things can get out of control. What is so scary is that once people’s emotions are heightened and unruly behaviour begins, the individual becomes part of the mob and then the mob behaves in a way the individual would not do alone.  It is as if the mob has a mind of its own.

What does all that have to do with the media being circulated?

Some of the videos can be insensitive and inflammatory. Are we being influenced directly or indirectly by them? Are we being provoked and manipulated? What is its effect on the people reading them? Are we furthering the cause of some unknown entity when we blindly forward and share messages which in turn get freely circulated many times over?

Perhaps it is time to stop, take stock of the situation and re-think what is going on. What should we do?

Perhaps we should take a leaf out of the city clerk’s book in his response to Demetrius and the mob. After they had shouted “Great is Artemis” for 2 hours, he said

“Men of Ephesus, doesn’t all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.”

Basically, the city clerk appealed to the people’s sense of morality, sensibility, rationality and accountability. If Demetrius had a real grievance, he could bring the matter to Court.

In the same way whenever we receive any of these doubtful or contentious media, instead of reacting, getting emotional, forwarding and sharing blindly, we should evaluate the contents, check the facts and evidence (it could be misinformation or fake news), be quiet, not do anything rash, or just press the “delete” key. If there is cause of action, this matter can be brought to the attention of the authorities and the courts.

During these times especially post-election, it is prudent that we take the advice of certain leaders [2]not to hold any celebratory gatherings and to avoid any risk of provocation.  

Perhaps it is more a time for reflection, a time to ask for forgiveness for any past wrongs or misunderstandings, a time for reconciliation, a time to find common ground and a time for unity[3].

Keep calm and stay safe.

[1] How riots work by Molly Edmonds. Note: There are many theories on urban riot and unrest see The Causes and consequences of Urban Riot and Unrest, Annual Review. See also A Survey of Mobs and Riots in Scripture – Thinking of Scripture by Dr Steven R Cook

[2] Rafizi Ramli’s advice 24th Nov 2022

[3] Incidentally, the word “diabolos” from where we derive the English word “diabolical” is associated with the devil and evil. But the word itself means to throw apart, separate, divide – Definition 1 Diabolos (Greek) to throw apart, separate, divide. See also Etymology Episode “diabolical” by Matthew Clark

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