I’ll Have Some Charity Please
One of the things WordPress’s comprehensive stats page gives navel-gazing blogger-types like myself the opportunity to do is observe as certain “milestones” come and go in the life of their blog. Recently, the 4000th comment came through here, and I am coming up on 400 posts in the nearly four years I have spent in the blogging world. This may be a testimony to my stubbornness and persistence (or egotism!) more than anything else, but it’s still kind of neat to track how this forum has evolved over its lifespan.
So last week, when the “momentous” 4000th comment came through, I did a little browsing through the archives and had a look at some of the comments that have been a part of conversations here over the years. It was an exercise that was often illuminating, at times bizarre, sometimes downright hilarious, and always interesting. I continue to be amazed by and appreciative of the wide variety of folks and views that have found their way onto this forum.
The exercise was also, I have to say, a bit frustrating. One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that some of the topics I write about and, apparently, the way that I write about them, tend to draw criticism from both ends of a very broad spectrum. I have spent a lot of time interacting with either, a) atheist/agnostic types; or b) extremely conservative Christians. Both have been/continue to be critical of positions I take, often with respect to issues like theodicy, the nature of Scripture, and various theological issues such as the nature of God, the atonement, etc.
This is all well and good. The exchange of ideas is, after all, what this blog is about. Disagreement is to be expected—indeed, it is even welcome. Who knows—if I’m drawing criticism from both ends of a huge spectrum it might even mean that I’m doing something right. Blogging about faith and culture is not, I suppose, for the faint of heart.
What is less welcome (although regrettably predictable) is that some of the most uncharitable and intemperate discourse here has come from the Christian end of the spectrum mentioned above. Of course, conversations with atheists/agnostics can get (and have gotten) fairly spirited over the years, but not to the same extent or in the same way as it does with Christians who hold particular views in particular ways. There is a more reactionary, defensive, angry, fear-based tone that is sometimes (not always) discernible. There is a more protective, less open approach to questions around the interpretation of Scripture or how to think and talk about our convictions. At least this is how it seems to me.
Specifically, in the tiny little Mennonite Brethren world I am a part of, there have been a number of online forums over the years devoted to exposing the “errors” and “heresies” of those who either teach at our seminary or write for our publications. Just this morning, I was made aware of the latest example of this genre of (often anonymous) blogging, where my blog (as well as a few others I highly respect), are cited as evidence of all that is wrong with our little tribe. The nature of the critique(s) is familiar enough: too liberal, too willing to adopt this or that feature of this or that suspicious movement, too accommodating of this or that element of science/culture, too much appreciation for this or that author, too little mention of this, too much of that, etc, etc. It’s a pretty depressing laundry list of assertions and accusations, and it makes for tiresome reading indeed.
Based on my time spent in the blogging world, and the interactions I have had with both ends of the spectrum, I have come to the rather odd realization that I find atheists and agnostics to be much more interesting and enjoyable conversation partners than the Christians described above. There is a willingness to consider a broader range of human experience and questions and often an ability to celebrate (or at least acknowledge) common ground that isn’t always evident in some Christian circles. This doesn’t describe each and every conversation, of course, but it describes enough to observe a trend. Ironically, I sometimes feel much more at home amongst the skeptics than I do with the defenders of the faith.
Of course, this reflection is based upon a very small slice of a very limited form of human discourse. By its very nature, online communication seems to cultivate or at least make more broadly accessible, a kind of accountability-free nastiness and general bad behaviour that wasn’t possible in the same way in the past. And God knows that this little blog, and whichever others this little blogger happens to be aware of, do not represent the final word on whether atheists or Christians behave better in cyber-space.
But however limited my experience may be, it’s still something. And it’s enough to make me uneasy—as a blogger and, more importantly, as a follower of Jesus. I think we should expect better from ourselves. I can’t help but think—maybe I’m just idealistic—that online discourse between Christians ought to be different. There ought to be a way to disagree Christianly—even online—in a manner that provides evidence, however minimal, of where our allegiance lies.