It's not been a good week for Facebook – but then it's not been a good week for any of us, unless coming to understand the enormous scale of its influence is a good thing.
It turns out that Facebook has been collecting extraordinary amounts of data about us and this data has been used to influence everything from what we buy to how we vote. Facebook – like other mega-tech companies – has become a law to itself, permeating every layer of our lives, knowing more about us than we know about ourselves. And that knowledge is being used to shape our behaviour by companies like Cambridge Analytica, now in the full glare of media and government scrutiny after it was found to be harvesting and selling data without consent.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, after some days of paralysed silence, has said he's sorry and that what's happened is 'clearly a mistake'. But for many observers it just shows how powerful Facebook, Google and their ilk actually are. The BBC quotes advertising boss David Kershaw, who describes them as an 'oligopoly' – not quite a monopoly, but a state in which a very few companies hold enormous power.
And it's power that prompts the headline. The book of Revelation is not really about future events. It's a critique of the present and insofar as it is concerned with the future, it is a warning: this is what life under an all-powerful Roman state is like for Christians now, in the 1st century, and this is what it's going to be like for you, the readers of 2,000 years later, as well. The power of the state in Revelation is characterised as a dragon, a beast; it is Babylon. You cannot trust it. It will seek to gather everyone into its grip, marking them with its sign on the forehead or the hand. If you don't resist it and refuse it, you'll be judged along with all the other apostates who put the world before Christ.
At this point, someone's saying: Facebook, though, really? Cat videos? But that's the point: we now know that there's a dark side to it. It feeds us what it thinks we want to see. It reinforces our prejudices, and implants a few more. It subtly, cleverly makes us think in different ways. Donald Trump becomes president of the United States. Britain votes to leave the EU. Putin is re-elected yet again.
Those cat videos are the sweet and furry face of power.
That's why #deletefacebook is trending on Twitter – ironically, another giant data harvester.
And that irony indicates just how complicated this whole thing is. It's all very well thinking we can unplug ourselves from the world – and yes, we can delete Facebook if we want and try to reduce our online presence as far as we can. But aside from the practical difficulties of this – the online world is increasingly the real world in which we have to live – it doesn't really solve the problem, because we can only distance ourselves so far. Saying it's nothing to do with us because we aren't on Facebook becomes a form of virtue signalling, like refusing to eat avocados or peanut butter: it doesn't actually make any difference.
And that's the problem with these huge anti-Christ powers in general – like the state, whichever state it is, or an unaccountable company or institution, or any of the principalities and powers that exercise such control over us while we hardly realise it. It is desperately hard to be different, to stand up and say, 'I do not accept this.' We have to live in the world, but we struggle not to be of the world.
Resistance, though, begins when we recognise our enemy. The state, whether it's the British state with established religion embedded deep in its structure or the American state with 'In God We Trust' on its banknotes, is not the Kingdom of God. It's Babylon.
Those Facebook cats? They are dragons.
Resisting Babylon involves keeping ourselves, as far as possible, unstained by the world (James 1:27). This requires constant vigilance, a monitoring of what we see and what we're told, a refusal to take anything for granted, a watchful testing of culture and beliefs against the standard of the gospel.
It's hard. Or, as we might say: 'This calls for endurance on the part of God's people, those who obey God's commandments and are faithful to Jesus' (Revelation 14:12).
Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods