The Theology of Everyday Life: Is Gossip a Sin?, Part 5, "Strategic Christians?"

Final post in this series. There's more to say, but I get bored quickly...

As I reflected on how humans traffic in social information and looked at gossip through the lens of game theory it dawned on me that there is another issue regarding gossip that may have spiritual consequences.

Generally we trade social information simply to stay informed about the social nexus around us. Who is angry with whom? Who likes whom? This information is critical in navigating our social world. Otherwise we would make all kinds of social mistakes. So simply keeping informed about our social network seems critical to sailing through life successfully.

And in my last post I said I don't generally see a problem with this. Unless you are spreading rumors, trying to undermine people, or taking delight in the misfortunes of others, then I think sharing social information is fine. Like I said, we have to do it or be declared a social idiot.

But sometimes I run across people who collect social information in a manner than concerns me. They are not spreading rumors, they are not saying bad things about people, and they are not indulging in Schadenfreude. But they are, well, for lack of a better word, being "strategic."

I've noticed some Christians who seem to me to be overly strategic in their social interactions. All things being equal, I don't see much that they are doing wrong. But a sense of calculation appears to be present. Like I said, we all engage in a social calculus to navigate relationships successfully. So I guess my issue is one of degree, of being overly calculating and strategic. But, I have to admit, the Bible does appear to endorse a kind of social shrewdness. As Jesus said, we are to be "wise as serpents" yet "innocent as doves."

So, I guess I'm wondering about if Christians should be strategic persons. Perhaps this is an issue of no account. Personally, for me, I tend to think Christians should be socially informed but not excessively strategic. For to be excessively strategic means that you are starting to treat people (or at least your interactions with them) as a means rather than as an end. As Kant stated:

"Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end."

And I guess this is what bothers me about excessive social calculation, this looking past the person in front of me toward some other end in sight. When is social calculation excessive? I'm not sure. But I feel convinced that there is a line somewhere.

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