Tag Archives: internet

Futility, False Assumptions, and Irony

I like a good argument. Not the petty kind, fraught with oh yeahs and nu-uhs; nor the kind that doubles as an excuse for intellectual posturing; but the kind that sees two guys (with a bottle of Guinness each) trying to hash it out over, say, the doctrine of the Trinity or Keynesian economics. And they do this, not as a matter of semantics, but with the aim of getting at the truth of the matter. Or at any rate, closer to the truth than they may have already been.

blank_screen_on_computerWith the Internet, we carry our arguments into the virtual realm. Someone writes a blog post (like I am doing), or shares a link on Facebook, or tweets something on Twitter, and before you know it, a debate is in full-swing. Sometimes these debates are civil, and sometimes they are very uncivil. People sling arguments or they sling mud (or a very confusing mixture of both). Things get out of hand and soon people are losing sleep, punching their computer screens, and generally carrying on as if the world will end if they don’t get in the last word with That Bloody **** Who’s Wrong on the Internet.

This is badly done. And very, very stupid. And probably not good for one’s health.

It does not, however, follow that every argument on the Internet is an exercise in futility. Philip Sydney is my man: “What! shall the abuse of a thing make the right use odious?”

That is largely why I don’t appreciate it when someone comes along and – in an attempt to correct for all the abusers – ends up over-correcting. You’ve probably seen it before, variously worded, but driving at the same thing. An example:

“Wow, that’s a great point. You have caused me to change my mind.” – Virtually no one on the Internet ever

I guess this is intended to be a dash of reality for all the goofs who think living life means winning the War of the Webz. But I think it goes too far. I don’t like it, for a couple of reasons.

First, the assumption seems to be that the only arguments worth having are the ones you end up winning. If the person you’re chatting with isn’t a full fledged _________ by the time you’re done with him, well, why even bother? But you should bother. There are times when a thing just needs to be said, regardless of how many minds are changed in the saying.

Be discerning, of course. You should know when to speak and when to walk away. But don’t let that cow you into never touching a hot issue, simply because you’re afraid you won’t emerge with converts hanging off your sleeves. You may have given the other side something to think about, planted the first seeds of doubt; or you may have unwittingly strengthened the convictions of someone watching quietly from behind the battle lines. Human stupidity is a tremendous thing, but never underestimate the power of words. God could use yours in a way you never anticipate.

Second, and on a somewhat lighter note, the irony of it all just kills me. Here you are, waxing sarcastic about the futility of trying to make a point on the Internet, as you try to make a point on the Internet.

So I laugh a little, because it’s funny. And kind of pathetic, too.

Cyber War

There have been numerous articles written about how the internet has reshaped the way we interact with people. A recent article in Christianity Today noted that,

…the invention of social media, like blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, created a radical departure in communication. In pre-2004 Christianity (that is, Christianity before Facebook was invented), only a small group of Christian leaders and teachers had access to the printing press—but today everyone has WordPress. In pre-2004 Christianity it was difficult to become a published author, but today everyone is surrounded by dozens of “Publish” buttons.

Blogging is not an occupation to be taken lightly. You are in a position of leadership. Your thoughts, your beliefs, are available to the entire cyber world at the click of a button. And because of this “instant access” capability, it’s very easy lose sight of the responsibility to weigh our words. Instead of carefully considering what we’re going to say before we say it, we just sizzle and pop like cheap Chinese firecrackers.

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more
hope for a fool than for him.” (Proverbs 29:20)

These days, its a popular pastime to hop over to a prominent blog (say Challies or Veith), read the latest controversial post, and then throw oneself heart and soul into the vicious bar fight going on in the comments section. Put on your boxing gloves and angry eyebrows, ’cause it’s gonna get really ugly, really fast.

“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but
the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18)

Now, don’t misunderstand me: I’m all for respectful, reasoned debate. And I’ve been privy to several comment-thread discussions that have been a real pleasure to read and participate in. But too often, what I see is not respectful, reasoned debate: it’s all out war. The participants aren’t concerned with engaging in a thoughtful discussion. They’re more concerned with humiliating, wounding, and retaliating against their brothers in Christ.

Whatever happened to Ephesians 4:15? “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

When we catch sight of something in the blogosphere that we disagree with – whether it’s a post or a comment on that post – we don’t need to act as if the world is going to end if we don’t immediately respond. In fact, oftentimes the best thing to do is to just walk away: don’t respond at all. Resist that urge to pick a fight. In those cases where a response is in order, do so thoughtfully, firmly, and lovingly, in a manner consistent with the character of Him Whom you serve. Christians shouldn’t look at a debate as an opportunity to beat each other up. They should view it as an opportunity to teach, an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to quicken each other’s beliefs and convictions. Measure your words, for “death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21)

“Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps
himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23)