Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

19 February 2022

"If you love Jesus..."

 I’ve been thinking about those chain letters from the early days of the internet.

“If you love Jesus, don’t be ashamed to proclaim it! Send this to 10 people…”

I used to take those letters really seriously. I had all these thoughts, like, Wow, I really do feel hesitant to send this around. What differentiates me from Judas, or Thomas, or Peter? For awhile it felt brave to forward them. I was proving something to myself—that I wasn’t afraid who knew I was a Christian. I’d say it loud and proud when called upon! All that kind of nonsense.

Those chain letters migrated into social networks alongside us. I still get them from time to time, in new variations, from religious aunties, usually, in the Philippines. They slide into my DMs, utterly disinterested in me, strangers really, unless they’ve got a holiday GIF or a chain letter to bomb me with. I started removing them from my contacts. Blood and shared names don’t mean relationship.

The internet still functions like in the early days, but faster and more efficiently now. Social media amplifies our every writ thought and emotion, finding traction for them like a magical loudspeaker, locating more sympathetic (or antipathetic) readers. Lately I’ve been feeling pressure to say something about myself—reveal a position, make some kind of stand. About vaccination, about magic, about animism, about science and technology, about my work, about the latest race killing, about Asians supporting Black brothers and sisters, about what people get wrong…

And there are new pressures now, memes that ominously read, “We are taking note of your silence.”

I get it now, about the Jesus chain letters. Sharing them with ten people doesn’t mean you’d be more likely to hide a Jewish family during the Third Reich. It doesn’t mean you recycle, or that you’d reach out to help someone having trouble in the street. It didn’t mean you pray, refuse to masturbate, take communion. 

Really, it was a pressure game: if we push this button inside you, do you comply? Will you go on amplifying beside us? Are you in or out?

That’s what so many of these hot takes feel like on the internet. It really doesn’t matter what you say, or how often you say it; everyone is saying too much, thinking it’s important in ways most would be hard-pressed to explain if asked. No one is listening much. They’re all just waiting their turn to show whose side they’re on—for you, against you, seeking to educate you. We are just itching to clarify our positions on the broader stage to other actors on stages.

But this isn’t the move. It isn’t really a move at all. It’s just forwarding the chain letter.

It matters more to know when to speak and when to act, and to speak and act when it counts. Sometimes we’re going to fuck up, to misfire, to fail to read the nuances of the moment. It’s all right. It’s part of the messiness of being human.

It’s not that I don’t think the hot takes matter. Sometimes they’re good therapy and expiation. Sometimes you learn something, find the words for something you’ve suspected and felt, but didn’t have time to fully think through. Some of that stuff needs to be said, and needs to be read.

Sometimes they just seem designed to make a few targeted individuals feel bad about something. Mobile, viral Puritanism.

I don’t think the idea of hot takes matters as much as anybody thinks they do (assuming anyone does). Sometimes even clever, thoughtful people get addicted to them, convinced it’s part of the service they provide to the body public; another product, then, to reliably get out the door on time.

Most of the time, I don’t think anybody needs me to weigh in on anything. This is not a lack of confidence, or some kind of judgment call. It’s also a way to conserve my energy, to save it for what I think matters, and when it does. I often find that the private moments matter, between me and one or two other people. You have time, then, and space, to exchange on the nuances of what you’re saying, to think it through, to change your mind, to change someone else’s, to add to each other’s inner constellations.

The larger stage, the broadcast platform? Less so.

It's helpful to remember when I believed in the Jesus chain letters—oh my God, I need to share this or I’m just as bad as those fallible disciples! It was an immediate reflexive reaction to what I thought was a moment of conviction, but what was actually a transparent and childish social pressure play. The chain letters had no meaning. They delivered no value. They won no souls to Jesus. Their entire function was to go on being passed on, ostensibly until every person on earth had seen them and meaningfully interrogated themselves (or deleted them, thereby dooming them to hell, I suppose, where Judas would be waiting to weep with them).

These days when I feel a hot conviction to say something—and truly, it’s constant, practically a plague—I stop and ask myself what my motivations are. Quite often I find that the motivation is something to the effect of, “To show where I stand!” 

And that’s when I know I’m 13 again, knee-jerk reacting to a chain letter that’s just gotten subtler, more insidious.

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