Friendship sexualized, trivialized, and For Profit

On this week’s Spin, the Ref Pack deals with various aspects of pastoral ministry and culminates in a discussion of friendship.  Three friends discuss friendship, albeit under the unfriendly, cold, and calculating gaze of the Mad Woman in the Attic.

Friendship has been devastated in the modern world.  The reductionist sexualisation of everything has more or less destroyed the idea that any close friendship can exist between a man and a woman which is not sexual in some way.  That is a loss for our society.   Yet there is worse: society’s adolescent obsession with pan-sexualisation now encroaches on friendships between people of the same sex.  David and Jonathan had to be gay, after all.  

Then there is the trivialization of the language of friendship which Facebook and social media have brought in their wake.  I recently read a note in which someone referred to his ‘five thousand Facebook friends.’  It was strange to see such a phrase and yet to feel that one was really looking an expression which was at best meaningless, at worst an ironic statement of personal emptiness.

Friends are valuable, though, and friendship defies predictability and rules.  Some of my dearest friends today are people with whom I have sometimes significant theological differences.  They are, however, the ones who answer my emails and who express concern for me.  When my ‘brand’ [sic] went toxic in the world of Big Eva in 2011, I suddenly became aware of how many longstanding ‘friends’ no longer answered emails, never bothered asking how I was doing, and never contacted me (unless I could be of some use to them).  It was a good lesson about true friendship and also about the forces which shape our perception of what that is: in addition to sexualisation and trivialisation, the concept is also degraded by the neo-feudalist For Profit ‘friendships’ of business and status networks, to which Big Eva is most definitely no exception.  

Yet, even more than the personal benefits of friendship, it is also an important biblical category.  God spoke to Moses as a man does to his friend.  Christ calls his disciples friends, and that was a decisive and powerful moment in their relationship.  In a world where friendship is a sexual encounter or a tweet or a merely a means to enhancing one's status, these moments in the scriptural narrative are meaningless.  Worldly views of friendship kill the beauty of the Bible and blunt some of its most powerful passages.

Part of being a Christian is thus surely to understand the richness of a friendship which is built not on sex, nor on pixels, nor on personal advantage.   If we Christians allow our understanding of what friendship is to be overwhelmed by the worst aspects of the world, then we lose one of the most beautiful dimensions of biblical teaching.