To Hell with Civility

Trolls used to be a phenomenon relegated to the comments sections of the Internet, lurking there to call someone a name when they disagreed, construct a straw-man argument, be nasty for an unrelated reason, etc. The confidence to be an asshole to strangers was based in confidence afforded by anonymity. Did you know it’s super easy to be a jerk to someone when you're not face to face?[^1]

The evidence that the anonymity no longer matters is all around us. Look at Ben Carson and Donald Trump. Just the other day, Ben Carson chided the victims of a mass shooting because they didn’t do enough to stop from dying. Can you imagine somebody letting their idiot flag fly so proudly even just a few years ago? Donald Trump trolls a new group every week, so you can find your own examples there. These are just two. Just two. There are a multitude of other examples to show that civility, while needed and necessary, is a relic of our shared past.

I’m an editor by day. I write and edit web articles, and I moderate the comments that appear beneath them. This is to say that I’m acutely tuned in to how people talk to each other online, even on a site dedicated to faith. Some of it is done under the veil of semi-anonymous profiles, but some isn’t. Like the guy, using his real name, who condescendingly told me to “keep reading and studying” and to “please dig a little deeper before you write your next article” because he “expected better” of me as an editor. I don’t begrudge him his opinion, and—to his credit—he certainly could have been a lot nastier. Still, I think I’d have been happier being called a “libtard” than have someone speak down to me with such pomposity.

I’m not sure things were ever civil. Maybe that’s just a view of history tinted by nostalgia. But even if social interactions weren’t more civil, they were at least contained to local spheres through lack of technology. Now we hear what everyone thinks from every corner of the globe, and, in keeping with human form, a ton of it is utter nonsense.

I don’t know the answer. I don’t know what it’ll take for people to return (or get there the first time) to a sense of relationship to the person(s) they’re speaking to. Entering into relationship with someone is usually the best way to not treat them like garbage. That’s the empathy piece Matt was talking about. But until that plays a major role, our corrosive politicking (by which I mean the way we do all things social) will continue to be tiring for me as an individual and exhausting for our culture.

I don’t have a ton of hope for some glorious turnaround of these behaviors. This unpleasant way of talking to and relating to one another seems to be the new norm. None of this is to say that we can’t be passionate, that we can’t be bold about saying how we feel or what we believe or what we think needs to be done to take care of people and the world we share. But there has to be a healthier way to do that, right? Because if not, what’s the point of being the body politic at all?

And that’s the crux: maybe this idea of the body politic as a healthy, functioning entity is doomed, and the best we can hope for is some form of hospice care for it. That remains to be seen. In the mean time, I’ll step back, walk in the woods, be silent, and try to cultivate a small bubble of kindness that hopefully spreads to one neighbor, then two, then communally until I don’t feel like saying “to hell with civility” anymore.

[^1]: Louis CK talked to Conan about that once.

You Mad, Internet

Recently I wrote a piece for Ministry Matters, where I’m an editor and writer, entitled “American Sniper or Selma: How Christian is Your Movie Choice?” It was doing well in its first few hours of internet infancy. It seemed to be getting views and likes and shares through Facebook, decent clicks from the home page…the waters were calm, and I felt good. ‘People are getting it,’ I thought. ‘They’re getting it, maaaaan.’

Then Sojourner’s graciously ran the piece, and a wave of fury broke upon me. Suddenly I was no longer an American, just another naive member of the "extreme left" with thoughts of sugarplums and non-violent action running through my head. I was “comparing apples and oranges,” I was "misguided," I “got it all wrong,” and I even found out that I “wouldn’t survive a day of Navy SEAL training.”[^1] I was basically the devil.

Except when I wasn’t. Plenty of people felt like I’d done a perfect job letting them know which movie was the Christian option, which one was for Christians and which wasn’t. Only that wasn’t my point. I wasn’t trying to hold one “faith film” against another in order to measure which one was more Jesus. Although if you’d like me to do that, I can.[^2]

Neither flick is a Kirk Cameron special, some shallow made-for-TV movie about how to radiate the best American Christianicism. One is a war biopic, the other a historical biopic. Both have social commentary subtext. Both have a goal. The thing is, one is about a man doing something very Christ-like, and the other is about a man shooting people in the face. That’s the basis for talking about these movies as religious commentary. Subtext. I realize it’s not the easiest to find, down there in the sub.

For posterity, the point of the article was that a current formula running through entertainment is “sell violence wrapped in patriotism, and you’ll capture a large chunk of Christians eager to bring their religious fervor to the product.” A few readers caught that; a surprisingly few few.

I couldn’t care less which movie you see. See ‘em all; you develop taste and standards that way. But when you do, think about the message you’re being sold. Also think about the worldview you’re imposing on what you’re seeing, since that has just about as much, if not more, to do with what you’ll take away. If you’re a Christian, ask how Christ would call you to react if you were in the contexts of both films. What would Christ call you to have done before you ended up in those contexts? What does Christ call you to do in your actual context that looks similar or different to the narratives of the men in those two films?

The answer you come up with is what I was asking for you to find when you read the original article. It’ll show you the version of Christianity you hold dear; it’s up to you to figure out how Christian that version actually is.

[^1]: No duh. [^2]: Selma. Selma has more to do with Jesus.