Thursday, March 13, 2014

Just a Minute, There's Someone Wrong on the Internet.

I have a confession to make, I get in arguments on the internet.

I used to do it for fun.  Sometimes I'd argue with people just to be annoying, sometimes I'd do what's called "trolling" which is basically just dragging people into arguments by saying something inflammatory.  It's real real easy when you're of a progressive mindset and you live in the south and attend a Bible Belt church.  What you say doesn't even have to be inflammatory or even false, I've found southerners are very easy to bait, just by saying something they disagree with.

I've also had a long standing on-and-off argument going with my Jehovah's Witness cousin Bill (name changed).  And in fact, it is that which is precipitating this post.

I am tired of arguing with people online.

It starts innocently enough, often you leave a comment about something you're interested in on some blog, but soon somebody says something that you not only disagree with but that is simply wrong.  Well, you don't want to let that go unchallenged, so you correct it.  Then the person replies with something that sounds kinda like a veiled insult, pointing out that you are just uneducated on the subject.  Then you come back with a more thinly veiled insult.  And it gets personal and blows up and before you're thinking, "this is not looking good on me, but I can't stop because this other idiot will win."

With cousin Bill, he always contacts me first, weasel's his way in with some pretense about wanting to discuss religion or beliefs, and more often than not, I have taken the bait.

But in the same way that cousin Bill isn't really interested in discussing religion, (his is right and yours is wrong and he's going to prove it) that internet troll isn't there to talk about these things on any sort of level playing field.

I've taken to examining my motives recently.  Why am I in this conversation?  Is it civil?  Is this person on the same level as me as far as where it is going?  Am I representing Christ?  Is this what Jesus would do?  Is this what Jesus did do?

Before you answer that, let's explore this a little more.

What is being right worth?  Is it worth maintaining an reputation?  What is a reputation worth?  What is a reputation?  What does it say about a person who can't let something go in the pursuit of being right and may or may not simply not have the ability to quit?

I wish I knew.

I have been accused many times of things like "you always have to be right."   This has confused me.  Is there some point at which I have to be wrong?  Is pursuing rightness a bad idea?  Is it really the case that I "always have to be right."  By saying that are you saying "you always have to win the argument?"  I do always want to win the argument.  After all, if I'm arguing, there's a pretty good chance I think I'm right.  If I didn't think I was right, I wouldn't argue.  In fact, if you find me not arguing about something you say, chances are I either agree with it or don't feel I have an effective argument against it.

And here I think comes the problem.  If I use this reasoning, that by not disagreeing, I am actually tacitly agreeing, then that pushes me to disagree vehemently if I do in fact disagree.  So by not disagreeing, I am actually agreeing. 

We see this in so many places in public life.  We hear figures claim solidarity with "the silent majority."  They're silent, so they must agree with me, yes?  I recently read a family of stories which were complaining because some big famous church refused to comment on some social issue that was in the news at the time.  A bunch of bloggers and commenters lamented the fact that this church didn't advocate in agreement with their position and it was "not taking a stand" or "the same as agreeing with the other side."

But it's not agreeing with the other side is it?  That kind of argument is specious.  That's the rhetoric of division.  If someone doesn't say something, that by saying something, they're not saying something, they're really truly not saying anything.  That has got to be okay.

When it boils down to it, arguing with people online takes up mental space that could better be used doing something useful.  Real change of heart comes person to person.  We agree with people we respect.  We adopt the beliefs of the groups we fit into generally speaking.  I'm not going to be able to change your mind about something unless we have a closer relationship, and you won't change mine for the same reason.

So I implore you, not because I'm making an argument here and that you should believe me.  If you know in your heart that arguing online is a bad idea, then follow your own impetus and stop.  If you don't, then by all means, do what ever feels right to you.

If you're a Christian, please consider this with deep introspection.  There are a number of Christian apologists I just don't want to listen to anymore.  They have great arguments, great points, and I agree with the logic they use.  But they come off with such an overbearing rightness of attitude that it really turns me off.  One is James White who on his YouTube channel tears somebody up in almost every video.  And the makes videos to tear them up after debates.  With such condescension I hear terms like "once again."  If you have to explain it again, just explain it again.  Do you have to let us all know that you're annoyed to have to do it?  David Robertson was recently on "Unbelievable?" in a debate with Matt Dillahunty and there were many complaints about his demeanor.  He posted a lengthy post that said essentially "I have reviewed all the evidence and decided that I will not be apologizing for anything." 

I can't abide this attitude.  I do not see Jesus unleash such disdain for anyone but religious leaders, not sinners and non-believers.

Stop arguing online and use the emotional energy that burns your mind while you lay awake at night to solve real problems.  And really, with the number of people who read this blog, I'm honestly only talking to myself.

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