The past six years, I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet, making comments on blogs and discussing on forums. The two most common subjects I’ve discussed have been web design and God. The people I’ve met discussing web design have almost always been friendly and helpful. I wish I could say the same about discussing God, religion and christianity!
I’ve made a lot of friends over that time, but I’ve also seen some ugly personal attacks, a mass of derogatory put-downs and a lot of polarisation. Modern day atheism can be a lot more militant and outspoken than it once was, no doubt partly in reaction to provocation, and I have sometimes been on the receiving end even though I try not to be provoking.
But the sad thing is, I see just as much bad behaviour from the christians.
The things some christians say
Here’s a few examples of comments made to unbelievers by supposed christians (on the internet, it is impossible to know for sure):
- “it is just going to feed your (already disproportionately big) ego”
- “you are a manipulator and a liar …. you were white trash then, …. and you are white trash now.”
- “I have gotten to you. You are so mad you can taste it! …. And you are an old man…in 40 years I will still be younger than you are now. You are a has been.”
- “in spite of his banal, nihilistic ejaculations, at least xxxxxxx is a more realistic atheist than his unscrupulously optimistic, godless brethren”
- “your comments are intellectually worthless”
- “You are not an honest person. Do not pretend to be.”
These are just easy-to-grab quotes, recently, from one blog. I’ve heard plenty worse, but too long to bother with here.
What the Bible says
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” 1 Peter 3:15-16
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ ….. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:15 & 29.
“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6
“to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.” Titus 3:2
“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14
“Let your gentleness be evident to all.” Philippians 4:5
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?” 1 Corinthians 5:12.
The biblical teaching is pretty clear.
The interesting thing is that I’ve only ever seen one person apologise and admit fault when challenged on these matters. Most people brush off the strong New Testament teaching and justify their behaviour with comments like:
- Jesus was direct with people, so we can be too.
- The other person was nasty first.
- Sometimes harsh words are needed to help someone.
- Who are you? The ‘niceness’ police?
- This is the only way to deal with dishonest people like xxxxx.
- Proud and egotistical people need to be humiliated.
Most of these justifications do not need any comment. The christians claim they are acting out of concern to help their opponent see reason, but it doesn’t look that way. It looks like the sledging or trash talking that goes on in so much sport these days.
The test would be this – are these christians praying for their opponents to recognise God and his love for them, and for themselves to have the guidance of the Spirit in their discussions? This is a challenge I am trying to take up for myself.
A personal rant
I have commented before on this blog about how the church is losing ground in the western world. I think these attitudes are part of the reason. Some christians (I hope they are a minority who just happen to frequent the internet) seem to see their opponents as evil people who need to be seen as the enemy rather than people that God loves. They make christianity, God and the church very unattractive to non-believers, making it that much harder for God’s grace to work effectively in them. They make the church unattractive to many christians also.
Let me make it clear that I am far from perfect in all this. I have said things on the net that I’ve had to apologise for. I am still learning how to respond to provocation. But I am trying and praying.
Truly, we need to be filled again with the Spirit and with love.