Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Will Christianity Survive the Internet?

Of course it will.

But there are difficulties. I will name three.

#1: The Internet abstracts solidarity into slogans.

#2: The Internet makes possible complete anonymity.

#3: The Internet gives us the illusion of discharging our spiritual duty by "taking a stand."

This is a perfect recipe for presumptuous, self-righteous, unChristian rhetoric in the name of God. We have to internalize - accept in the accusative - the demands of truth. This is what is meant by the log in our own eye. The Christ-ian posture is humility, self-criticism, coming-under-others, believing the best.

It takes discipline and integrity to do this when no one can see you. Posting angry comments on the internet is like tailgating: you can safely send an aggressive message because no one knows who you are. Your engine will not fit in someone else's trunk, any more than your log will fit in someone else's eye. (This metaphor is particularly convicting for me; I don't like it any more than you do.)

Love is not rude; that is our starting premise. Ridicule and incredulity are uncivil - therefore unloving - therefore unJesus. And the rightness of what you say is immaterial if how you say it is wrong.

This goes for interaction with believers and unbelievers. Being Good Samaritans means we serve and affirm people we are culturally distanced from - people we disagree with. According to Jesus, this is the definition of neighborliness.

“If we feel the answers are too obvious to consider, then we have a worldview but we have no idea that others do not share it... What is obvious to us may be ‘a lie from hell’ to our neighbor next door. If we do not recognize that, we are certainly naive and provincial, and we have much to learn about living in today’s world.”
-James Sire, The Universe Next Door, Third Edition (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 18

The world is pluralistic. (John Caputo defines postmodernism as "the condition of irreducible pluralism.") People begin from multitudinous starting points in their search for meaning, (they may not even believe in the search for meaning,) and even Christianity is interpreted across a broad spectrum. To communicate effectively with someone you must use a mutually understood language, as well as appreciate the differences between what you take for granted and what they take for granted. It does not work to treat someone who does not share your assumptions as simply mistaken. We must dig underneath to the why together.

Most people are starting to recognize that a mature appreciation for the inherent limitations of internet communication is imperative. This does not mean we are somehow anti-internet, it only means we correctly assess it's capabilities, dangers, and mono-dimensionality.

To be faithful to our Master may require that we hold our beliefs looser and more generously. It may require us to repudiate the shallow, self-serving zeal of dogmatism. We need a zeal to be wrong.

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