Internet fights – why do we do it?

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:

  1. Anonymity granted by the internet.
  2. 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.


  1. Judah,

    Well I usually don't jump in at the top, but your post comes at a time when I am wondering if we are all just wasting our efforts or gaining some useful ground.

    The issues that surround our differences need to be discussed. No doubt about that.

    When Sha'ul confronted Kefa at Antioch he did so in public. Not in the back room. Unfortunately we do not have a record of the argument that followed Sha'ul's public confrontation with Kefa. Perhaps it was short because Kefa was a humble guy. Who knows?

    What it does show is that we do need to keep the dialogue going. And one of the other drawbacks to the internet thing is that someone could read what we might consider to be an empty, ego filled argument and glean something useful from it which may help them grow in their understanding of who Yeshua is, and we would not know about it.

    I'm sure most of us would not want to be in an echo chamber so that we only hear what we agree with all the time. Debate is a worthwhile endeavor.

    Sometimes it does get personal. But as we mature in faith and understanding those types of comments are easier to ignore.

    If there is one thing that stands out as a negative to me above all else it is that fact that we do not reach a resolve on important issues within the context of these blogs.

    For example: if Gene happens to disagree with me about some point of faith (I know, it's hard to imagine) and we exchange words that could easily be interpreted as angry, I can just quit. It's not like I will have to see Gene tomorrow at work.

    And he and anyone else can do the same. Just walk away from the keyboard until I feel the need to engage again.

    So it seems that many important topics get dropped long before they get resolved. A lack of commitment I think.

    Now it may be that there are quite a few folks who do not think that these type of issues can be resolved on the internet blog circuit. Perhaps. But the discussions have an impact nonetheless. They are certainly not a waste of time.

    Because we are scattered around the country and the planet it might help to think in terms of what is coming during the millennial reign of Yeshua and how we will then be side by side and serving Him.

    Shouldn't we use this time and technology to sort our differences before that takes place?

    Thank you Judah for offering a place where such important things can be discussed. But if we can't do it here maybe we should all meet at your house this summer and have a marathon debate. You do have a barbeque, right?


  2. Judah,

    This is not so easy to dismiss as just another internet fight. MJ future is at stake here.

  3. thank you for putting this so eloquently.

    this infighting is something that bothers me a lot and has been one of the things that sometimes makes me want to leave MJ and simply return to Reform Judaism. i mean, fighting is the jewish thing to do! two Jews, three opinions (or four, or five...) but in Reform, at least i know where i am -well, kinda, sorta of.

    dialogue is important, and as such is discussion, and even debate - look at how learning is done in a traditional Yeshivah - you don't pair with a learning partner who agrees with you, but with one who diagrees, or else you don't progress.

    but sometimes i have seen things here in MJ that are very different, and that look very 'christian' to me - either you believe and confess this or that, or you're not in. you're a heretic. (you're damned?) people hurt others, and sometimes it looks like they simply don't just get carried away, but i sometimes (over on Rosh Pina for example) i wondered if it wasn't done on purpose.

    what kind of testimony is that?

    and to put it further: if i want to read something jewish, positive, nourishing, uplifting, i don't go to MJ blogs (except for the Yinon blog) - i go to Chabad or Breslov, or other jewish blogs.
    that's a pity.

  4. I think that people are full of pride. The debates are seeming less and less fruitful because it seems that the participants and busy hurling insults and licking their wounds. It's ugly.

  5. Yasmeen,

    Great comment. I hear you, especially on the parts about "believe X or you're a heretic". It was not too long ago when one was deemed heretical because he did not confess to the divine right of English kings. Maybe we still have silly things like that, and just don't realize it yet.

    You might want to read this: Program now terminating, you're a heretic!

  6. Efrayim,

    These discussions aren't worthless, yeah. But as you say, if no understanding is reached, how valuable is it? Also consider that now 2 of Messiah's followers have been hurt by these discussions -- yesterday a woman, Louise, said she was "distrubed, discouraged, and frustrated" by the so-called dialog on this very blog. And you see Yasmeen here says our infighting has made her consider going back to Reform Judaism.

    That's some bad fruit right there.

    Makes me question the value of these theological spats. Big time.

  7. Hi Judah, Usually I don't weigh in. I think there are some good things I get out of the "fights", I have learned not to take things out of context. Gene used to rub me the wrong way, but that was me reading into his comments to other people, and wrongly assuming he was attacking me personally.

    That is another problem the Internet has, you cant look at a person in the face and speak. So when a spicy comment is made, some people may take offense thinking is was meant for them.

    However, as long as it doesn't get too mean spirited, I have learned a great deal from the various viewpoints.

    I think the "fights" shouldn't occupy 100% of one's blog content if they want to keep things healthy.. but it takes controversial subjects to bring out various viewpoints.


  8. Judah,

    There will be people who are unstable in their walk and faith and they will trip over these type of discussions similar to the way they trip over scripture.

    I have seen such people go from Christianity to Messianic Judaism to Judaism to Buddhism within a relatively short period of time because they could not grasp the truths of scripture due to their lack of relationship with Yeshua.

    Nothing gets me digging into the scriptures faster than someone telling me I'm wrong. If it turns out that I am wrong, so be it. I'll get over it and move on, hopefully with a better understanding than I had when I started.

    "The words of the wise are as goads" Shlomo said. I do believe he was right.


  9. Sometimes the arguing back and forth and be very wearing. I'm Messianic because I believe it's the right worship focus, at least for me, but I sometimes get tired of having to "stick up my dukes", not only with traditional Christians but with other Messianics.

    The other side of the coin is when folks seem to be OK with Messianic worship and teaching and suddenly disappear down the rabbit hole. Our congregation was in the process of integrating another group under our "umbrella". All seemed to be going well until two of the key people in the process stopped attending regularly. They said everything was fine, but gave no other explanation.

    Then, we got an email saying that their group decided to retain their unique identity and to not merge. I'd have been fine with that, but I had a "funny feeling" that there was more. I asked if anything had happened to cause any offense or discomfort and if so, that we be given the opportunity to make amends.

    If nothing had happened and my signals were crossed, they should have replied that all was OK between us and that we'd maintain contact. Instead, there was silence.

    I would rather have had them try to "rip me a new one". At least I'd know where we stood. Sometimes believers are so "polite" that it turns into avoidance and even lying. Can we please strike a balance here?

  10. Great Post Judah. Not sure I have a great answer except to be as disciplined as possible in forming the habit of charity. I.e. posting counter arguments when you think it is important but not maligning the motives of the other person. This takes true discipline, which means "a habit". So a habit has to be developed and stuck to. So before hitting "submit", you stop, walk away and come back and then look at it and say "is there any superfluous harmful stuff in there that isn't even important to my point"? For that reason it is often better to draft longer posts on Word, so you can let it sit a minute (without timing out word verification).

    Just a practical suggestion.

    By the way, I think you have been much more careful how you post over the last year.

    And even when something important is at stake, and one feels like one has to draw a line in the sand, remember that you personally are not the line in the sand.


  11. Judah,

    I believe that we must discuss issues and dialogue. It is keeping it civil that is hard to do at times because we easily get emotionaly involved with subjects. If we can work to debate and hit hard at times without losing it and calling each other names we have done well. These issues will not go away until truth is defined clearly. People will be on different sides of the issues until it is extremely clear.

    Keep on debating and hitting issues that most people are discussing. This all keeps us on our toes and keeps us reading and studying.

    Thanks for the blog,


  12. Jasmeen: "but i sometimes (over on Rosh Pina for example) i wondered if it wasn't done on purpose."

    We are certainly expressing our views strongly on RPP on purpose and maybe it is just a cultural thing that some people can't cope with or understand the cut and thrust of a good discussion and often heated argument. I certainly don't set out to scandalise or offend, but there are things close to my heart that I want to support, blog about and argue for. Interestingly we don't have much by way of inter-Messianic Movement argument now, rather just lots of interesting and animated debate with frumers and anti-missionary anti-messianics.

    I think there is room for heated debate in the comments sections of some blogs, just as long as we don't get too personal.

  13. There are people in different places, I am sure this could turn some off, and I am sure these heated debates can wake people up, I think that is good both ways, one should test to see if they are in the faith, if a argument turns you off, time to start checking what you believe in, for sure!... But don't just sit back, get involved, do something, do not just sit in the back and watch. I think most if not all people hate confrontation, because it is such a thin cliff edge... It is intense, and it makes people uneasy, but sometimes it has to be done.

    As C.F said in a post above, we need to discuss these issues until we come to some sort of a agree to disagree where we accept each other, or go our own ways, or come to an agreement... but ignoring it will never solve it, sadly, I consider most of the Messianic Movement would rather run from these issues, write papers of why the others are heretics and simply ignore it. Theses issues, which I am sure the Apostle Paul would have jumped on in a second, the messianic leadership on all sides of the table run from, or bad mouth the other messianic belief... instead of trying to reconcile it. It almost seems like we need a Messianic leadership that grows a sack to get this stuff done... Meet at a table(metaphorically) for weeks, months, hash out scriptures, try to have understanding for each other, try to build a better community, or keep ignoring it, and we will keep having to pull the heretic cards on each other, keep body slamming each other, until one dominates, then we really will be considered a historical movement... :P

  14. I, and other Messianic Jews, have two choices:

    1. Fight for and build the Judaism for Yeshua where our children will preserve their Jewish identity and where our Jewish people will meet their Messiah and renew their spirit in him without losing their soul or getting lost in the clamor of identity and theology confusion that pervades the so called "Messianic Movement".

    2. Leave Messianic Judaism altogether, give up the fight for its purpose, its heart, its identity, its place in Israel, its relevance to my own people, and let strangers take over, shape and mold it to their idea of what it should be.

    For now G-d has me sticking with choice #1, which is why I intend to do it with all my soul, my mind, and my strength.

  15. So pretty much everyone who engages in these debates says they're a good thing, because big things are at stake.

    Sure, that goes without saying.

    What about the people that are injured by these debates?

  16. "What about the people that are injured by these debates?

    Put up a prominent disclaimer, a warning for those who are overly sensitive, to not read or participate in the debates.

  17. "LOL. Seriously?"

    Yes, why not? May be blogs should have a rating system, like movies or video games:)

  18. I agree with Gene... I think the disclaimer should involve, people who do not like to debate, baby believers, overly sensitive, not willing to confront issues... etc to stay out of the debate.

  19. I can see it now:

    "Kineti blog - Put your dukes up, or GTFO"


  20. LOL!!!!

    I knew you will solve the problem Judah......

  21. Judah, I didn't see this entry till this morning. Your comment makes much more sense now.

    I've watched and participated in my fair share of silly fights and deeply important heated discussions. There are two aspects that I didn't see in the comment thread, though I could have missed it. Maturity and mutual respect.

    When discussions take place between people who respect one another the injury is only superficial. The wounds of a friend can be trusted, right? But when one or more individual doesn't seem to have much respect for another, or sometimes for anyone else, there can be no fruitful discussion. The participants must each have a certain degree of maturity. It's not going to work if you ruffle my feathers and I start calling your mamma names.

    There is a difference between "This is how I see it" and "This is how you need to see it". I learned a while ago that I need to let people be wrong, it's not my job to change everyone in the world. And through that I've learned that often times, I'm the one who was wrong *gasp* or that we were both equally wrong. It's a part of how we grow. When one states their view in a way that the other can hear it and consider it but the conviction is left up to the Holy Spirit and not the one stating their viewpoint.

    No dialogue is going to be productive if the participants can't mutually respect one another (and those who read but don't enter into the conversation) and behave at a certain level of maturity. As soon as the conversation is degraded to insults and offenses, it's time to stop. It is possible to passionately debate hard issues and not want to murder your neighbor, or feel that your neighbor might want to do you harm.

    I do get tired of people using Yeshua or Paul as an excuse to be nasty and childish. *sigh* "Both Yeshua and Paul were harsh and critical therefore I will be too." Uh, no. It doesn't work that way. Something about being humble, meek, and gentle yet passionately devoted. It is possible. We grow into that. Our rough edges get smoothed down and our steel is strengthened.

    I think we forget that we must love one another, it's hard to do when we disagree. But it's not a suggestion, it's an instruction from our Master. Our love for one another is how the world will know that Yeshua is the Messiah. If we can't operate within the confines of mutual respect and maturity, if we can't have love for one another simply because our Master instructed us to (if no other good reason can be found at the moment) then we need to stop, or be stopped.

    It's important that we discuss the important issues in our faith and practice. It is good that we can turn ideas over and over with one another and it's nice that we can do this via technology when we're all so far away from one another. How I long for the day when we'll be serving our King shoulder to shoulder, in real time, together.

  22. "As C.F said in a post above, we need to discuss these issues until we come to some sort of a agree to disagree where we accept each other, or go our own ways, or come to an agreement"

    or...perhaps the ever impersonal internet is not the place to deal with each other in love.

    I used to get involved in heated arguments online....I mean, hey, it's easy to reduce my opponent (in my head) to a 2 dimensional person. I can say what I want, get offended at what I want and speak the "truth" how I want.

    but, friends, I simply have little faith that the "virtual" debates can and will bring about clarity to these issues.

    we are so quick to demonize others because of our own bias' instead of truly lending ourselves to others view points and lovingly disagreeing. we place too much stock in our own understanding and belief...and as long as that is the case we will continue to shoot ourselves (as a movement) in the foot.

  23. I've read with interest some of the comments in this and other threads on the site. I guess I am wondering how, as someone born a gentile I can fit in here.
    I renounced Jesus and Christianity 6 years ago and embraced Yahshua and a desire to follow Him in a scriptural way.
    I accept that those who are Jewish may want to retain their culture. How is Judaism any more a faith based on what is written when so much, as with Christianity, is focused on the traditions of men that Yahshua so regularly condemned.
    I think that these things do need to be hashed out. Sometimes that will be heated, but unless we are willing to do the hard work of trying to come to some agreement we will end up with hundreds of denominations, like Christians, all claiming to have the truth and believing that the group down the street must be some kind of cult or they would be with us.
    Frankly, if that is where things are headed I will probably worship on Shabbat at home and only fellowship during feast times or with the remaining Christian friends who just want to know Yah more.
    Sorry to just jump in like this. I know you have kind of an ongoing discussion going and I hope it is alright to just step in.
    Please feel free to let me know if I should have done it differently.