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?