Saturday, July 03, 2010

Of Evangelicals, Presumptions and Being a Jerk Online

I ran across a CNN blogspot called Belief Blog today. It’s an interesting site. I’m not sure how I came across this piece by Jonathan Acuff but his title caught my eye given the research I am doing on the dehumanizing aspects of 21st CE technology. Jonathan was writing about “Why Christians are jerks online.” It’s a fairly thoughtful discussion. But like many young evangelicals, he makes a lot of presumptions about Christianity per se based in his own experience. Here is my response to his blog:

You raise some good points here, Jonathan. A couple of responses:

“We follow a Christ who very plainly told us what to do.” Perhaps. This does assume an evangelical approach to scripture which does not speak for the majority of Christians. Many of us don’t see the Bible as a book of instructions. Perhaps more problematic is the notion that what Jesus said (noting the Christ is any number of interpretations of that figure) is somehow plain and clear on its face.

The parable of the Good Samaritan suggests otherwise. The lawyer (of course!) asks: Who is my neighbor? To whom do I owe the duty of respecting their dignity? Who should I love as myself? The answer was unexpected: the despised outcast. For evangelicals that might mean gay people (not the smarmy love the sinner hate the sin bit but actually loving the human being as oneself, i.e., unconditionally without reserving the right to judge their experience which you probably don’t share). Or it could mean Muslims. Or liberals. Or Mainline Protestants. How plain are Jesus’ words here?

Moreover, the assertion that “grace is the antidote to being a jerk online” seems to miss the point of the Good Samaritan parable. Expecting G-d to save us from ourselves is irresponsible. At the end of the parable, Jesus told the lawyer who posed the question, “Go and do likewise.” Don’t’ wait for a rescuing deity, be responsible to your neighbor. Here. Now. No excuses.

This is not to say grace plays no role. The responses to the promises made in the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant express a healthy relationship between human effort and divine grace: “I will with God’s help.” Our action with G-d’s grace.

Evangelicals are probably no bigger jerks online than anyone else. The detachment of cyberspace has made all of us increasingly uncivil and insensitive to the human being at the other end of the internet. But the presumptions that evangelicals often bring to their interactions with others generally can readily lead to arrogant behaviors. That includes presuming one’s own understanding of Christian believing is somehow normative for everyone else – everyone believes as I do or they ought to.

Jonathan, you spend a bit of time hand wringing over the destination of Bono's eternal soul. So, if folks like Bono are not in heaven, it won’t be much of a heaven, will it? But ultimately, that’s none of our concerns. Fortunately for Bono - and all of us - that decision lies in the hands of a G-d whose wisdom surpasses all human understanding and whose mercy is everlasting.

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The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law University of Central Florida, Orlando
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.

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