Back in the earlier days of the web, I was involved with a now-defunct site called Christdot. (It’s now under changed ownership, with a new name, Theophiles.) It was a website geared towards technologically-inclined Christians.
One problem, of course, was with the newly-granted anonymity by the internet, religious people were free to whack each other over the head.
And whack we did.
Imagine posts with many hundreds (thousands?) of comments, ugly theological battles played out between the veterans, the newcomers, the trolls, all that. A bunch of angry nerds, religious ones, furiously pecking away at their keyboards as they wipe droplets of sweat from their nerdly brows, trying to convince others of the rightness of our causes via insults and passive-aggressive insinuations.
The end result? One of the owners of the site, encouraged by all the fighting, abandoned his faith. Went the agnostic/atheist route, IIRC.
The site shut down, transferred ownership, and we were left wondering – did we cause a person to abandon his faith by our stupid internet fights?
That’s a sobering thought.
And what, exactly, did we accomplish with all that fighting? The veterans dug their trenches deeper, the outside world saw how vitriolic we could be. Real good fruit.
To be sure, it’s not limited to Christian or Messianic talk. This same kind of problem exists on Jewish forums, secular forums, and political forums, I’ll attest. So it’s not a Messianic thing.
In my Veteran Intarweb Experience, there are 2 main causes of internet fights:
- Anonymity granted by the internet.
- Ambiguous intent due to lack of facial expressions & body language.
The second one’s an old problem, older than the internet. Only now it’s ubiquitous: everyone and their grandma is on the internet. And even your senile aunt Fannie is blogging.
It’s made worse by imprecise writing; the ease at which a person can take a single sentence and pick it apart ad nauseum. What did you really mean, “faulty logic”? Hey, you’re no better than the Nazis!
(Brevity prevents lazy, stupid, mean readers from taking this too far.)
But the first one, anonymity, is kind of unique to the internet. There aren’t many outlets where you’re given an ongoing voice, but remain anonymous and accountability-free.
But meet one of those angry, vitriolic posters in real life…and guess what? Harmless as a baby unicorn. Suddenly all those hard line stances are softer. Suddenly, the humanity of the other side sinks in, and we’re singing kumbaya and downing Guinness.
Analyzing some debates
This very moment, fine blog readers, I’m engaged in 3 exciting internet debates:
- Yahnatan is contends Yeshua was not a heretic of Judaism, since heretic implies a religious orthodoxy installed.
- Monique contends my statement that Reform Judaism “threw off the stringent observance of the Orthodox” is unengaged, lacking, and misleading.
- Gene and Derek are totally tearing me a new one for posting J.K. McKee’s video on Jew/gentile equality in the Messianic movement and amplifying it as theological clarity.
Now, those first two arguments are resulting from a low-quality, short post musing on a comment from another blog. I was imprecise, off-the-cuff, gunslinger poster, and now I’m reaping what I sowed.
(But I already told you I’d be doing more short, cheap posts like this in 2010, so take that, you mean blog readers.)
The second debate with Gene and Derek, well, I knew people would be upset about that one.
None of these arguments build off previous arguments. Rehashed stuff, I think.
None of these arguments are likely to win others.
One of the debates has already caused discouragement among one of Messiah’s followers, she says she was “discouraged and frustrated” by one of the comment threads on this very blog. Youch.
What if I don’t partake in the arguments? Well, then the other side wins. (Ohhhh noooesss!) But more importantly, folks like me are isolated and pushed out. I don’t want that for me or people like me. More importantly, I want to shape the Messianic movement positively, and leaving harmful ideas unchallenged doesn’t jive with this goal.
An unanswered accusation suggests the accusation is true. Let those things slide, and you’ll be convinced I’m the synagogue of Satan and a cult leader. Oh, and an evil demon clown with a penis lacking in length & girth. (By the way, anybody have some spare eXtenze?)
Building atop previous arguments? Or rehashing same old stuff?
In this week’s weekly bracha, one highlight was Daniel from ChristianForMoses who was fed up with Messianic blog discussion. Why?
For the most part, interaction on the blogs I visit tends to be quite poor. There’s much circular debate and it’s hard to find a quality dialogue that builds on what is discussed before.
I recognize this too. It stems from an unwillingness of Side A to acknowledge arguments from the Side B. Also, sometimes it’s just easy to miss a response in the sea of comments. And other times you’re just infuriated and insulted by that one nasty statement he made, and you just can’t focus on anything else at the moment but telling him how damn wrong he is.
Why do it?
I’ve tried avoiding all conflict. Tried it for several months last year. The result was the “other” side declares victory and isolates you further, almost expects you to get in their soup line. If you don’t stand up for your beliefs, prepare to be steamrolled.
Keeping silent isn’t the answer.
What is the answer? Beats me.
Since I don’t know the answer to this internet fighting problem, I’ve focused more on contributions to the Messianic world: Greatest Commandments project, weekly bracha, Messianic music guitar chords, Chavah, Epistles of Paul, and others. Focus less on internet arguments. Feels better contributing something tangible. At the very least, it’s not subtracting from the Messianic good, nor damaging/frustrating/alienating people in the process.
What do you, fine blog reader, think of all the internet arguments on these blogs? Should we just shaddup? Close comments? Not get so personal? Yes, you may interpret this as a cry for help.