The Internet is awesome.
I mean, really. Think about what we have available at out fingertips thanks to this network of computer swapping information in ways unfathomable to non-techies like me. We can find out how to replace the power window in a car, even watch a video of someone doing it. We can learn new recipes to combine food that seems awful but turns out amazing. We can download music we had as a kid and thought lost forever due to being out of print. We can get precise driving directions on our phone to a location halfway across the country because we’re to afraid to get on a plane and fly there. All of this is, unquestionably, awesome.
There is, of course, a dark side to the Internet as well. I’m not just talking the seedy underbelly where criminal endeavors spring forth or morality is easily compromised.
I’m talking about the death of common courtesy and compassion.
I was always taught to be nice, even to those who weren’t particularly nice to me. I was taught that if you can’t say something nice, it’s probably best just to say nothing at all. That’s not to say that one should never stand up for one’s beliefs or contest an idea that is contrary to one’s own. Such discourse, when done in a civil fashion, many times opens doors to surprising learning and wonderful friendships. I have many friends with views in opposition to my own. This does not make them an enemy, but a friend who sees things from a different perspective. Might I consider them wrong? Well, yeah. Everyone knows that DC Comics’ books and TV shows are better than Marvel’s (the opposite is true of their movies), that Mopars rule the automotive world, the the mid-90’s were the true golden age of Batman comics, and that the Alabama Crimson Tide is the greatest college football team in the history of everything (please hold the hate mail and nasty comments—you’ll just be proving my point).
So, then, how do we deal with a situation when a friend—particularly a fellow believer in Christ Jesus—publically and arrogantly makes a grievous error? Do we take Facebook and bash them in that cryptic way so many excel at? You know what I mean: “Feeling bad today. You know who you are. Pray for this person.” Does that really accomplish anything?
Jesus actually had pretty clear instructions in this situation: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:15-17).
The Internet and social media have made it awfully easy for us to skip steps one and two and jump right to the public aspect. It is extremely easy to say things from behind the relative safety if not general anonymity that a computer keyboard provides. We are insulated from any real personal interaction when we lob grenades via a keyboard. It certainly seems that we are more likely to say things via the Internet that we would never actually say to someone’s face or in the presence of their family and friends. When we write the things we do, do we ever stop to think how that person’s spouse will feel when they read it? What about their children? “Well, then they shouldn’t do such and such to bring such scorn,” or, “They shouldn’t let their kids read things on the internet,” or, “They need thick skin if they’re going to be this and such,” or whatever our response is to justify our harshness. The fact is that two wrongs don’t make a right. Correction is intended to be redemptive, but many times it’s simply done out of anger.
If an honest attempt is made to initiate conversation as Jesus taught and the person ignores or refuses such, then there is certainly little alternative. Blatantly obvious sin cannot simply be ignored due to bias or convenience. Realize that Jesus is talking about public sin here; not merely a difference of opinion, but a public spectacle that compromises the Christian testimony of the one doing it. I have some very good Christian friends who would strongly disagree with me on all of the points I listed above, but they likely wouldn’t viciously attack me on the Interwebs over it (again, please don’t prove my point). We need to decide if the stand we are about to take is a hill upon which we are willing to die. Some things are indeed worth it, make no mistake. Some are not. Knowing the difference is what separates history’s successes from its failures.
Proverbs 15:1 says that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” It would do all of us well to keep that verse a little closer to heart. I’ll do my best to remember that the next time someone tells me that Greg Capullo is a better Batman artist than Graham Nolan or that a Shelby GT500 is better than a Hellcat Challenger. Because that’s just stupid talk ;) .