I’ve made this case before; but in light of the past week it bears repeating. The typical conservative charge that Relativism makes everything right is proving to be a little too optimistic an assessment. What we seem to be seeing occur on the internet is something vastly different and discouraging. For a good look at just what I am describing one would do no better than to read Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Or if you prefer to live, talk, and discuss from within the Christian world, you could ask an English Professor named Karen Swallow Prior.
Prior came under fire this week when one of the internet’s guard dogs sought to bring her to heel. While I believe strongly in quoting primary sources, and using proper attribution, for once I will decline to name names if only to keep that troll’s stats down as low as possible. However if read you must, then I am sure the google machine will be happy to oblige.
Prior’s sins seem to be attendance at a “progressive” church, being photoed smiling and happy with the gays, having one of those gays say nice things about her, and daring to think through her faith presenting it in as articulately, and winsomely a manner as she is able to do. In defense of the one writing the hit piece on her, she is (by her own admission) probably guilty of all but one of those charges- the “progressiveness” of her home church is debatable. Cue vocals- “the horror… the horror….” I mean how dare a Christian smile at a gay, hug a gay, say the words I, love, and you in a sentence spoken in front of a gay. For these her sins and those left unsaid, she was publicly brought to public for her flogging, tarring, and other assorted rigmarole.
In other news, the brother of a prominent politician (who was himself a private citizen) had photos of himself performing a sex act released, we think to prove what we all thought about his brother is right. How the pictures proved his brother was an Islamic plant, socialist, and the antichrist is best left for you, wise reader, to ascertain for yourself. That is if you are OK looking at pictures of people having sex on the internet… which most of my conservative friends tell is me is still a sin regardless of what the liberals in Hollywood say.
Beyond that, within hours of an attack on US soil, the alleged attacker had his yearbook photos and a video of himself participating in a legal sporting event published as well. What his prowess in MMA and his senior photo has to do with the attack is still unclear; although, Fox News is still convinced that Washington and the liberals don’t believe this was a terrorist attack even though the FBI stated in a press conference several hours after the event that they were treating this as said event. But hey we need to know that Muslims who look like us and attend our schools are currently planning to fire guns at our shopping centers. That why we can skip the shock and go straight to the outrage about the next shooting.
And if that wasn’t enough internet funs, a candidate for public office went on air describing a decorated war vet (and son and grandson of decorated war vets) as a loser who should not have let himself get shot down and captured because we all know that his master plan going into Vietnam was to get shot down, captured, have his arm broken and not set for six months just so he could come home write a bestseller, become a Senator, and run for president. What a loser, I mean declaring bankruptcy multiple times is totally a better way to prepare for a presidential run.
The powers that be promised us (or warned us) that in the absence of a common and authoritative morality and with the ability to engage others, and communicate across all boundaries, we as a nation would enter into a world in which everything would be right. Like having sex with dolls, relativism and the internet can make that happen. Hate America and desire its downfall, relativism and the internets can make that happen.
Yet if the past week has taught us anything, it’s that the powers that be were gravely mistaken. Sure access to porn has normalized a lot of weird stuff, and made it so we think 50 Shades is boffo stuff; but it seems that the biggest and most unintended consequence of all this has been something vastly different. In the harsh blue-light of the internet nothing is ever right, or just, or good enough. Say anything with any kind of coherency and someone on the internet is there to hear it and condemn your words as heretical, racist, sexist, or whatever the harsh word of the day is.
Don’t get me wrong, there are still heretics, racists, sexists, and assorted creeps out there; but our society is quickly becoming a meta-version of the little boy who cried wolf. The chants are so persistent, so regular, that it is becoming harder to discern anything of value in our dialogues and discussions.
And so we get to here. A woman who believes homosexual sex is sinful and that abortion is murder is accused of being “gay-affirming” and “abortion loving” before being branded as a social media pariah to be picked apart one tweet at a time. A man who claims to be a Christian is branded as Muslim. A man who paid a high price to protect his country is deemed a wimp.
Reality be danged.
So where to we go from here. I don’t honestly know. But I think it starts with a story. Once upon a time a woman was taken from her bed while committing adultery. She was dragged before the most famous teacher of her day. The teacher was asked if he would participate in the public stoning of the woman. The teacher said nothing, but only stooped down to write in the dirt. Now we are not sure what exactly he was writing; but there is a tradition of continuing the story by saying that in that dirt he began to list the secret sins of each of the crowd gathered for the stoning. And as each member of the crowd had to face their own secret sins, they realized the importance of forgiveness and grace, dropped their rock, and walked away.
Now many of internet’s so-called watchdogs and gatekeepers might argue that this story illustrates just what they are doing- i.e. bringing the secret sins of the crowd to light. Yet their actions have the exact opposite effect of that of the teacher. At the end of the teacher’s story, the crowd vanishes, and the teacher looks up at the woman saying, “woman where are your accusers?” When she mentioned their absence, he replied, “And neither do I accuse you; therefore go and sin no more.” The teacher acted in grace and peace to bring forgiveness and grace. While these watchdogs seem to be the ones bringing the rocks to the party.
So perhaps, what we need is not to be more like the teacher; but more like the rock-holders of the crowd. It starts with questioning even the voices shouting in our own heads. It starts not being afraid to look deep inside the blackness of our own being. It starts with the confession that all of us have sinned. That all of us deserve a good stoning. It starts with the realization that if we’re going to go to the rocks every time we think we’ve found someone in the wrong bed; then the world is going to become a lot less populated.. quickly.
One of my friends was greatly amused by a story I told about myself this week. Thursday I found myself sitting with a group of Unitarians at a banquet. Now there was probably no greater gulf in this room holding representatives of 25 different types of Christians. But things were going swimmingly until one of the Unitarians realized what was occurring and asked a hot button question. Between mouthfuls, I answered, “well, some of us still believe that the Bible is still important and should be followed.” In the awkward silence that followed, I smiled my best smile, and changed the topic.
Now many of the gatekeepers would have seen this as the perfect moment to put those horrid liberals to the wall and show them the fires of hell that awaited them. And if I had done that, the dinner would have been over, the chance at conversation done, and a brilliant feast wasted.
And so I remembered that I, too, have issues on which my thinking is probably less than biblical or less than holy; and choose to continue the conversation. Now I stood my ground, and did not apologize for beliefs; but I also chose not to pick up a stone and attack. I choose to love my new friends and hope that this evening was not the end; but the start of something beautiful and holy.
The gatekeepers would be horrified by my actions; but that is where they would be wrong.