Monday, February 21, 2011

A Good Editorial About Comments and Comboxes

We are fast approaching Lent, and while we should always make a good examination of conscience, Lent provides opportunities to ever more deeply do so, acknowledging our sinfulness, while also looking to cultivate the virtues.

The internet brings with it great resources, but also brings with it challenges.

I was recently struck by the following commentary by Fr. Chori Seraiah on the Anglo-Catholic simply titled Comments. It is worth quoting here in full, as I think it is an important reflection on the sometimes problematic aspects of the "combox" on internet forums, be they blogs, news sites or otherwise.

He was seven and he already knew how to crush someone's spirit. It had happened to him enough times that he had a decent understanding of what was involved. His body had been hit with fists more times than he could remember, but those bruises healed easily by comparison. It was the crushing of words that would not heal so quickly. He knew that words can hurt more than a fist ever did. The Scriptures tell us that a tongue is a fire that can burn many things, and that it is a full of poison. I, myself, have heard and read a lot of poison words in my day, and I can honestly say I am tired of them. Yet, I believe that there are some who are not tired of poison words.

When I read comments in various places around the web, as well as listen to people's conversations, I am amazed at how easily people tear others down–and I am not speaking only about non-Christians. I have read some of the most hateful words come out of the mouths (and computer keyboards) of the people of God. Yes, on this blog also. I have deleted some comments because they merely dripped with bitterness and spite. I personally would be ashamed to have typed some of the things that show up in a comments section. Although some have the shamelessness to put their name with their hateful speech, those who choose to remain anonymous are only hiding themselves from men–Jesus knows exactly who they are! No this is not the first time this has been said, but we are fallen men and we forget easily.

When it comes to the internet, it appears that some people believe that there is more freedom allowed in what they say; but this is illusory. Those things that we write and post on the web are placed there for anyone to see, and they do not always get deleted. This technology is so new, and we are behaving like children with a brand new shotgun–we have not yet learned which end is the dangerous one. The book of Job refers to the attacks of words as the "scourge of the tongue" and that is a wonderful description. A "scourge" was essentially the same as a flogging. That is what the Romans did to Jesus before His crucifixion. I will not go into details here, but it was not pleasant.

Our tongues can cause scars that do not heal easily, and our fingers on the keyboard are not terribly different. I can recall a number of times when I have looked at comments that Christians have written on the web and asked myself [insert sound of hand slapping forehead here] "what were they thinking"? The Bible tells us that we need to keep a bridle on our tongues to control them; I believe that there are some people (including some who read this blog) that need to keep a set of Chinese handcuffs on their fingers to prevent them from writing any more hate.

The "sharp razors" of our tongues have merely transferred to the sharp scalpels of our fingers, and we are still cutting other people with them. What is worse is that we are cutting our brothers. Our pride gets hurt by something someone says and we want to snap back to make ourselves feel better. So we write a stinging comeback and hit "publish" or "post" and then let it fly. Yet, since we are not there to look the other person in the face, we do not realize the consequences of our actions so easily. We do not see that look that says the other person has a "pit in the stomach", and thus we are not forced to deal with the fact that we caused that "pit".

A look of contempt on someone's face can tear your guts out. Words filled with contempt and guile can do the same thing. When those words are written down, however, we are not released from accountability. We too easily dismiss other people as wrong, and thus unimportant, when we speak down to them (or "at" them). A heart touched by the Spirit of God will feel sadness when they see error in another. That same heart will seek to help the errant brother see the truth, and will do so in a way that creates peace. The heart that is guided by pride and self-importance will seek for its own glory, and thus ignore the needs of the one in error.

Jesus, Who knew how to hold His tongue, calls us to something more. He calls us to show grace and seek peace when we find ourselves in disagreement with our brother. He encourages us to be gentle in our attempt to correct another. He is watching the keys you are typing on, and knows exactly what you are saying. I delete enough comments that are filled with bile; I would like it if I never had to delete another. I exhort you to think before you type; and when you have typed, pray for wisdom and grace before you hit "publish comment", for he who does not love his brother whom he does see, cannot love God Whom he does not see.

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