By Robin G. Jordan
One thing that I have discovered about the Internet is that it can bring out the worst in people. The anonymity, the lack of face-to-face contact, the tendency to dash off a comment on impulse without any thought to what one is saying, and other factors contribute to what might be described as the culture of the Internet. I have read complaints about the lack of courtesy on the Internet—the absence of courteous behavior, of politeness or consideration in what is said, of kindness. What these complaints are referring to may be described as the Internet culture.
This culture is in part attributable to the medium. However, the disappearance of courteousness appears to extend beyond the Internet and appears to be a part of the wider culture. It marks an erosion of the social conventions that once governed how we interacted with each other. Abruptness and even insolence or rudeness has replaced respectfulness. We are not showing others the deference that they deserve as fellow human beings. We do not go to great lengths to avoid degrading, insulting, or injuring them. We do not treat them with the respect to which they are entitled but rather as objects of little value.
This development troubles me for a number of reasons. It reveals a widespread depreciation of the value of our fellow human beings, of human worth. This has tremendous implications for our society.
Research shows that before human beings can kill another human being, they must depreciate their human worth. They must see them as a “thing” rather than as a human being. The Nazis were able to exterminate 7 million Jews because they did not regard them as human beings like themselves but as sub-humans, things. For the same reason the proponents of abortion refer to unborn babies as fetuses, things. The boyfriend who slams his girlfriend’s baby against a wall sees the wailing colicky baby as a thing whose crying annoys him. The Islamic extremist who shoots down a Christian in the street sees him as an infidel, a thing.
This development suggests that large numbers of people are assigning worth to a very small group of people, those for whom one reason or another have immediate value to them. Everyone else they are assigning little or no worth to them at all. They are basically regarding most people around them as things, not deserving of deferential treatment of any kind even for simply being human.
Communication with other people on the Internet is frequently an unpleasant experience. In face-to-face contacts people generally maintain a persona, a mask behind which they hide their true feelings and reactions. This persona serves also as a buffer. On the Internet people do not just let their persona slip. They drop it altogether. They show little or no concern if they hurt the feelings of other people. In fact, some take delight in degrading, insulting, and injuring them.
As a Christian this development also troubles me because many of my fellow Christians do not behave any differently than non-Christians on the Internet. The lack of courtesy and kindness that they exhibit is not consistent with how the Scriptures teach that they should behave. It not only suggests that they lack spiritual maturity but even worse—that they are only nominally Christian.
It does not speak well for Christians when we behave like everyone else. It suggests that becoming a follower of Jesus has made very little difference in our life. We may attend a church. We may take an interest in religious matters. But otherwise we are no different from our non-Christian friends, relatives, neighbors, colleagues, and fellow students. Accepting Jesus as our Saviour and following Him as our Lord has not impacted our lives. To use an old-fashioned word, we are “unconverted.” Conversion infers a change in our lives. Our behavior suggests that we have not undergone that change.
Conversion—that is, the transformation that we undergo—says that God is working in us to will and to do his good pleasure. The Holy Spirit is at work in us, making us more like Jesus. Jesus taught his followers that they should not only love one another but they should also love even their enemies. He modeled this love for them.
Derogatory, injurious, mocking, or rude comments, sarcasm, and other forms of unkindness are not expressions of love. They are not what the apostle Paul would call “fruit of the Spirit,” the result of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Rather they are what he would describe as “works of the flesh,” things done as a result of the human inclination toward evil, which Paul tells us wages a relentless war against the Holy Spirit.
A Christian who evidences more of the works of the flesh than the fruit of the Spirit is not a good sales representative or a good advertisement for Jesus or Christianity. This realization gives me pause every time I become cross with someone to the point where I feel like saying unkind words to him. While I seldom if ever stay angry for any length of time and I do not hold grudges against people or harbor resentment against them, I do sometimes misinterpret or misunderstand people and I lose my temper. I may become annoyed or angry about something that I might have easily ignored or overlooked. I usually feel foolish afterwards, realizing that I let my temper control me instead of controlling my temper.
It is impossible to take back words said in anger. You may apologize to the other person and the other person may forgive you but you have altered your relationship with that person. You have sought to cause hurt or to inflict injury. The other person may have deflected what you said, may have not taken offense at it, or may have refused to let it fester in his heart but it does not change the fact that you sought to hurt or injure him—to do harm to him.
What frequently attracts people to the Christian faith is to see a friend or acquaintance transformed before their own eyes. They are more likely to attend a meeting of a church for this reason than due to a great band or an inspiring preacher. This is not to say that the band or the preacher may attract some people to a particular church. However, it is a changed life that is most likely to pique their curiosity. They must come and see for themselves what is making the difference in the life of their acquaintance.
I often hear the comment that what really matters is sound Biblical teaching. God does indeed use sound Biblical teaching to bring people to faith and to transform them. However, unless that teaching is brought to us, into our home—our apartment, barracks, dorm room, house, or trailer, we must go to where that teaching may be found. While God may prompt us to hunger for such teaching and even to search for it, He usually draws us to where it may be found through a fellow human being rather than an inner guiding voice. The transformation of that human being is what attracts our attention and guides us to the right place.
I live in a university town and I attend a campus church. I am around university students during the week as well as on Sundays. University students live next door to me and across the street from me.
Two kinds of classes are popular with the university students. In the first kind of class the subject is not difficult, the professor is entertaining, he is not too demanding, and he is generous with grades. These classes fill up quickly each semester. Students quickly learn about such classes from other students who have taken them.
In the second kind of class the subject may or may not be difficult, the professor may or may not be entertaining, he may or may not be too demanding, and he may or may not be generous with grades. Students who take these classes come away with more than a grade. They actually learn something that will help them in their career. They recognize it. So do the other students.
Those who take the class are better equipped for whatever they have chosen to do in life when they finish the class than they were when they started it. They do not even have to tell their fellow students. Their fellow students recognize that they are better equipped. They have the knowledge, the skills, and the self-confidence.
Some churches are like these two kinds of classes. In one church the pastor preaches an inspiring message every Sunday. The choir or band is great. The kids love the children’s ministry and the youth group. The sanctuary is spacious and comfortable and filled every Sunday. No one must park on the street or walk two blocks from the empty lot that the church uses for overflow parking. The nursery is well equipped and well staffed. The restrooms are clean and pleasant smelling, and, yes, they have toilet paper!
In another church the first time worship visitor may or may not find what he would find in the first church but he does find sound Biblical teaching. A real change is discernable in those attending the church. They are growing up in every way in Jesus Christ their Head. They are bearing fruit.
When we run into them on the Internet, they are recognizably different from other folks on the web. They do not slam the people with whom they do not agree, either behind their back or to their face. They may express disagreement with them but they do not deride them or cast aspersions on their character. They do not jump all over someone who shares an opinion that differs from their own. They do not join in the Internet version of gossip in which a group of people lean over cyber back fence and badmouth one or more people who have in one way or another become the topic of conversation.
I have noticed that life on the Internet at times resembles life in the rural village of the last century and earlier, and even this century in some parts of the world. Villagers have frequent contact with each other, living as they do in a small community, in close proximity to each other. On the Internet we may be hundreds of miles apart but we do have frequent contact with each other. Village gossip can be very spiteful and vicious and can do a great deal of harm. Some village gossips are quite malicious. They spread false rumors, poison friendships, ruin reputations, and otherwise stir up trouble with their idle talk.
Those in whom the Holy Spirit is at work evidence the fruit of the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…(Galatians 5:22-23).
This means that they are more likely to be courteous and kind in their words and actions both on and off the Internet. When they are not, they are also more likely to recognize that were not and to do something about it.
They are also likely to assign great worth to other people and to treat them with deference because God created them and Jesus died for them. (If they hold the doctrine of limited atonement, they realize that they do not know whom Jesus died for and therefore they should be promiscuous in their treatment of others as they should be in their proclamation of the gospel.) Jesus taught his disciples to love even their enemies. He taught them to do to others what they would have done to them and that whatever they did to others, they did to him. Jesus himself modeled what he taught.
Their witness is likely to be more effective because they not only show courtesy and kindness toward other people but also they have acquired a listening eye and a seeing ear and they are more sensitive to where other people are. They are also pleasant to talk to.
One thing that we as Christians must always keep in mind is that we all are works in progress. We must pray every day what the church prayed for us at our baptism—that all carnal affections may die in us, and all things belong to the Spirit may live and grow in us, that we may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.
We face the devil, the world, and the flesh on and off the Internet twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. We must not forget that we were signed with the sign of the Cross upon the forehead, in token that from our baptism on we should not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully (valiantly, in the newer Anglican service books) to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants to our life’s end.