Don’t be an asshole

All things considered, it’s not a bad rule to live your life by. Whatever your religious beliefs or lack thereof, “Don’t be an asshole” is a pretty handy aphorism. Sure, sometimes you need to say things that are pointed or sharp or generally not nice. But being an asshole–defined for our purposes as someone who is characterized by meanness–is not a great way to live. The Bible doesn’t commend anyone to assholery; neither, as far as I know, do the Talmud, the Bhagavad Gita, the principle texts of humanism, or the Quran. There is no religion that aspires to meanness; no philosophy that extols the virtue of snark or sarcasm just to make a point.

But it is everywhere. And where I see it most of all these days is online. Everywhere online. And the most frustrating thing about Internet Assholery is that it is most common in the world in which I live among Christians. As a person who writes regularly for Christian outlets and some non-religious outlets, I can say that by far the worst, most personal, mean-spirited comment sections I have ever read have comprised Christians. You know, the people whose lives are supposed to be marked by gentleness, self-control, etc.

It’s not that we are imperfect and need to continue to cultivate our fruits of the spirit–that will always be the case. It’s that there are some Christian people who get a kick out of being guardians of the faith, drawing doctrinal lines in the sand that leave them square in the middle of ecclesial correctness and exclude everyone else. And it may come from a sense of duty, from a love of getting a rise out of other people, or from a really sincere heart about the importance of orthodoxy–but it is doing immense damage. Use words like “feminism,” and you’ll get attacked for being a whore and a murderer. (I am not exaggerating.) Talk about your love of scary stories, and you’ll be accused of playing in the Devil’s toybox–whatever that means. Suggest that we ought to think seriously about the ways we portray God in our imagery, and someone will tell you that your writing will drive people away from Christianity. Someone, I’m sure, will take issue with the fact that I am using the word “asshole” in the title of this post and suggest my “coarse” language is just a slippery slope toward Episcopalianism or some other such evangelical crime. The rabidness with which some people insist on policing who is in or out of the church is overwhelming.

Lately, there has been a lot of Internet Assholery around a law in Arizona that would allow businesses to refuse their services to same-sex couples who are getting married due to the religious beliefs of the business owners. People fall all over the spectrum on this one. If you’ve read much that I’ve written, it’s probably not too hard for you to guess where I land–but that’s not the issue here. The issue here is how we deal with disagreement.

Here’s the thing: Christians have been disagreeing about all kinds of shit since day one. And they have been mean. I’m of Paul, some would say. I’m of Apollos, others say. Oh, yeah? I’m of Christ, still others say. You can almost hear the Corinthians sticking their tongues out at one another. Some of the responses to this Arizona law have been along the lines of, sure Jesus ate with sinners, but he also told them to go and sin no more. That’s what we should be doing.

No. It’s not. Because you know what? We aren’t Jesus. We don’t get to take his mantle of judgment or call to perfection on ourselves to cast on any other person. That’s not on us. We don’t get to call people to go and sin no more. We can introduce them to a new way of living, to a life with Jesus. We can talk about the call to sin no more. But our job is not Jesus’s job, and being mean to someone on Twitter isn’t going to make Jesus more beautiful or more attractive or more accurately represented to anyone. In fact, it’s only going to do us harm.

But here’s the other, greater thing: I am not anyone’s Holy Spirit. I must–we must–trust that the real Holy Spirit is doing the work only the spirit can do; convicting, loving, freeing, rebuking, changing, releasing chains. Let the Spirit work! Stop indulging your own need to call others to right belief! There is freedom on the other side of that. All that energy you would use to insult someone else, to say they’ve got it wrong? Let that loose on yourself!

Let me be clear what I do not mean with this article, because I can already anticipate some of the twisting of my words that may occur: I do not mean that everyone needs to agree and believe the same way, nor do I mean that I am right all the time and everyone who criticizes me is wrong. This has nothing to do with who is right. (I hate using bold in blog posts, but that’s how important this is.) I don’t do this correctly at all time, and this reminder is as much for me as anyone else. Sometimes I am arrogant and uncaring. Sometimes I am convinced that being right matters far more than being loving, or that the loving thing to do is to insist on my own rightness.

So really, for God’s sake, please. Can we just agree on this one thing? We will disagree, we will drift, we will go to our Protestant and Catholic and nondenominational churches on Sunday mornings and Saturday evenings and Ash Wednesdays. And can we please, please, just stop being assholes?

22 Responses to “Don’t be an asshole”

  1. Chris Humphreys February 23, 2014 at 4:28 pm #

    Very well put Laura. It’s the “asshole’s” in the Church that made me walk away from the Church. Ultimately, I just find the people outside the Church to be a lot “nicer” than those inside of it. Of course that’s a generalization, but I still couldn’t help feeling that at times. Glad to hear there are people on the inside who are advocating for a “no asshole” Church.

    • Jean February 23, 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      I think that’s called immaturity, you know, when you let the behavior of other folks determine your own.

      • Chris February 24, 2014 at 9:14 am #

        Jean – Like Laura I was raised in Church. I was on staff my church in high school and I volunteered there probably over 20+ plus hours a week from the ages of 14-18. When I went to college I initially enrolled as a Religious Studies major with the hope of one day going into ministry.

        If you think the decision to walk away from all that is immature… well…. I guess I wouldn’t use that word to describe that experience. I think it was just “assholes” in the Church that made me realize I really didn’t belong there anymore. I realized not only did I begin to disagree with a lot of the teachings of the Church, but whenever I would try to have a civil discussion about those disagreements, I realized those discussions and disagreements weren’t welcome. Basically, it was a their way or the highway. So I hit the road. At the time it was incredibly difficult, but it was the right decision.

      • Alise February 24, 2014 at 9:50 am #

        Oh, I don’t know. There are people who I know that I have a really difficult time getting along with, and sometimes I just need to leave space between me and them. Leaving in a huff can certainly be a sign of immaturity, but sometimes it’s actually a sign of maturity to know when you can’t change someone else and rather than become someone you don’t like, you simply remove yourself from the situation.

        • Chris February 24, 2014 at 10:11 am #

          For me, I didn’t leave in a huff. It was probably about a 6-12 month process of a LOT of introspection before I decided this was just not something I wanted to be a part of anymore. Further there wasn’t just one or two people, and it wasn’t as simple as just “having an issue” with them. At this point I’m grateful for those people, because they helped me to see I just really didn’t belong there anymore. We all grow and change, and I was realizing I no longer belonged there. Without the “assholes” I think I would have eventually came to the same conclusion, they just helped speed the process along a little. 😉

        • Jean February 24, 2014 at 2:02 pm #

          What made you think you were supposed to change them? Perhaps, instead, the lesson was supposed to be learning to love the unlovely. The maturity comes in learning how not to become someone you don’t like in the midst of that.

          • Chris February 25, 2014 at 9:38 am #

            I didn’t say I was trying to change them. And who says I didn’t love them? I think it was more that I just didn’t want to be identified in that camp anymore. My wife and I have a little girl and virtually every day we tell her we want her to do “good things for the world.” I can love people and do good things for the world without having to wear a Christian label.

          • Jean February 25, 2014 at 1:02 pm #

            My apologies. I was replying to Alise.

      • julie March 2, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

        i think that calling someone immature without knowing the whole story might fall under the “asshole” behavior category.

      • Rick March 7, 2014 at 4:23 am #

        Love that the second commenter on this post can’t help but act like an asshole.

  2. Kym Showers February 23, 2014 at 4:29 pm #

    Adore you. Adore every word you write. Thanks for saying hard stuff that needs to be said. I’m trying my best every day not to be an asshole. 🙂

  3. Howie E. February 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    Awesome post title, better post…….thank you for speaking candid wisdom to a culture in much need of it.

  4. Scott Skiles February 23, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    GREAT post.

  5. Jacob Lupfer February 23, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    This is fantastic. As a corollary, I tend to think that since Christian history is measured in centuries and millennia, we should show a lot of grace to brothers and sisters who are a few years or decades ahead of us or behind us on specific issues.

    Well said.

  6. Jennifer Grant February 23, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    “I must–we must–trust that the real Holy Spirit is doing the work only the spirit can do; convicting, loving, freeing, rebuking, changing, releasing chains.”

    Yes, yes, yes.

    (Do you read Richard Rohr? Should.)

  7. Bronwyn Lea February 23, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Gosh I love this. Christian internet assholery: it exists and I am so glad you called it what it is. Thank you for this!

  8. Cissy February 23, 2014 at 9:17 pm #

    Amen! That’s all. Just wanted you to know I hear you and appreciate you speaking this out!

  9. Ellen Painter Dollar February 24, 2014 at 5:31 am #

    My favorite line in this: “You know what? We aren’t Jesus.” (Well, that and the thing about the slide into Episcopalianism…I am a lifelong Episcopalian with a few detours into evangelicalism.) This is such an obvious and simple thing. But the idea that following Jesus means calling out other people for specific sins as Jesus did is rampant, particularly when it comes to hot-button issues like homosexuality. When we read the scriptures, it makes much more sense to identify with the bumbling idiots and sinners than with Jesus, because really, that’s what we are.

  10. Tim February 24, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

    Good points, Laura. It’s nice to see a call for reasoned voices, and I hope they prevail. Some people can get too caught up in the fact that there are a lot of jerks in the church, though. If I refused to fellowship in a church every time I found it had some jerks in it, I’d have to leave as soon as my own feet crossed the threshold.


  11. Jeremy Martin February 24, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Hi Laura! Great article and reminder. As a Christian who grew up Episcopalian and went with you to Westmont, an evangelical Christian school, I have always straddled the differences of traditions; which is something I both appreciate and can make me uncomfortable. Great take away: love your neighbor; don’t be an asshole.

  12. Sarah Auda Jaggard February 25, 2014 at 10:02 am #

    Girlfriend, this is so money.

    Made me think about Dr. Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Seminary, and his book, “Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World.” It’s a powerful read on how to live in disagreement and keep our own judgment in check. Keys: humility, genuine compassion, vulnerability.

    As a wise woman (that you might be biologically related to) once asked me: “Isn’t God big enough?” If God is big enough, then it’s okay to disagree and surrender our arrogance of being right. None of us is fully right, ever. That’s why it all circles back to us and our personal character. Why do we get offended when someone disagrees with us, especially when it comes to religious beliefs? We want them to be like us and we don’t offer others the freedom to be as they are.

    We make other people’s business our business.

    If we are truly confident of what we believe, and if we are attempting to tap into humility, compassion, and vulnerability, albeit imperfectly, we get to experience peace regardless of what’s happening outside of us. God is big enough for all assholery.

    And, yes, let’s stop being dicks, too.


  1. Pick of the Clicks 3/1/2014 | bronwyn's corner - March 1, 2014

    […] Laura Ortberg Turner wrote a great piece about the just-plain-nastiness that exists online, particularly among Christians who disagree with each other. I loved her article don’t be an asshole. […]

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