About a year ago I took part in some research investigating the use of social media, and now I am doing the same once more. I didn’t use social media then, nor do I use it now – though whether that helps the researchers I have no idea!

Last year, following my experience of using a smartphone, kindly supplied then and again now by the researchers, I did some research of my own and wrote a blog about my findings, focussing particularly on what is known as ‘brain hacking’. This is ‘the ability to twiddle some knobs in a machine learning dashboard we build, and around the world hundreds of thousands of people are going to quietly change their behaviour in ways that to them feel second nature but are really by design.’ Or to give another quote from the blog, ‘We can now create machines that change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.’ I should also explain that the technology to do this has been available in the public sphere for some time and involves, I understand, commercially available software to modify apps used in smartphones and the like, somehow tailoring the changes to the individual user.

Personally, I find that quite chilling, though even as I wrote about it last year I wondered whether it sounded too much like science fiction for anyone to take it seriously. But have not recent events given us an example of exactly this type of ‘crowdthinking’? What else, humanly speaking, explains the behaviour of thousands of people who, asked to use common sense in response to a new strain of an infectious virus and refrain from congregating in large numbers, crowded onto beaches and into National Parks in a way which was totally abnormal. Queues to climb Snowdon? That doesn’t usually happen in the Summer, never mind in March! The Ingleton Waterfalls walk having to be closed because the numbers of people made it unsafe? I’ve lived in the Dales for thirty years and have never heard of that happening before. 

And then there is the response of governments around the world. One after another pronounces a ‘lockdown’, issuing decrees which are then enforced by police or armed forces – and these are countries which consider themselves democracies. There are commentators, members of the judiciary, scientists and mathematicians who query this response, but to no avail. We are, it seems, in a dark place where individual human beings are less important than the survival of the human race. Not that sacrificing individuals on the altar of ideology is a new thing; it began in the Garden of Eden. It was, I suggest, given a stronger impetus in 1859 when Darwin published ‘On the Origin of Species’, and then by the subsequent acceptance of the theory of evolution – even, and sadly increasingly in these days, by churches and Christians who otherwise consider themselves bible-believing.

In the blog I wrote last year, I referred to ‘That Hideous Strength’, a novel by C S Lewis, in which he describes the use of technology to manipulate truth and thus control people’s thoughts and behaviour. The devaluing of individuals for the sake of the race is also a theme in the book, which was published in 1945. How remarkably far-sighted Lewis was! He viewed his novel as an example of the principles at work in the account of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11, and of course from Genesis to Revelation we see the conflict between the people of God and the culture of the world in which they live. In these days constant pressure is exerted on the hearts and minds of believers, I would suggest, through the media, social networks, and education.

What has been the response of the Church to these pressures? In some cases, capitulation; in others – particularly perhaps in Bible-believing churches – a retreat into a form of pietism, the belief that as long as we are allowed to meet freely and to preach the gospel then all is well. Vital as those freedoms are, we also, it seems to me, have a responsibility to defend truth in the public square, which means being willing to think for ourselves, to put our heads above the parapet and to stand up and be counted. John Bunyan’s words come to mind: Antichrist is a gentleman who makes the saints his pet.

Now, it may well be that you are not a fan of science fiction and would not particularly enjoy reading C S Lewis, but if you are a thinking person – and I am sure you are – may I recommend ‘That Hideous Strength: How the West was Lost’ by Melvin Tinker, published in 2018 by EP books? The blurb on the back cover describes it as a book which ‘will stimulate the thinking and open the eyes of Christians to the dangers of the worldview relentlessly promoted by the media.’ Is it time to be asleep 

But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that the Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

The times through which we have been called to live are indeed dark and perilous, and as the return of the Lord Jesus draws ever nearer we can expect no less. But as an encouragement, let me finish with the last words the Saviour spoke to His gathered disciples before He went to the indescribable darkness and agony of the Cross for them, and for all who will put their trust in Him:

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)



Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

Ye soldiers of the cross!

Lift high His royal banner,

It must not suffer loss.

From victory unto victory

His army shall He lead,

Till every foe is vanquished,

And Christ is Lord indeed.


Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

Stand in His strength alone:

The arm of flesh will fail you;

Ye dare not trust your own.

Put on the gospel armour,

Each piece put on with prayer;

When duty calls, or danger,

Be never wanting there.


Stand up, stand up for Jesus,

The strife will not be long;

This day the noise of battle,

The next the victor’s song.

To him that overcometh

A crown of life shall be;

He with the King of glory

Shall reign eternally.


George Duffield