Someone is Wrong on the Internet

Do you know what makes me really sad? Apart from the fact that dinner tonight is basically going to consist of lentils and porridge oats or something and maybe a tin of tomatoes?

Christians on the internet. That’s what makes me sad. I shouldn’t read comment threads especially on things like, for example, this video, which is of a young man making a passionate defence of his loving and supportive upbringing in Iowa by his two mothers, simply making the point that the gender of your parents is not what matters. Very well done him, but it’s a shame that in the 21st century this is something that still needs saying.

Anyway, yes, Christians on the Internet. Presumably those same Christians hold those same views away from the internet as well. I don’t like to say that they’re wrong. I believe everyone has a right to the opinions they hold, but people get so angry in these kinds of arguments and then quote bits of the Bible, e.g. Corinthians and Leviticus, where homosexuality is clearly made out to be a sin. Then other people jump back in with ‘JUDGE NOT LEST YE BE JUDGED’ and, I’m sorry, but if you feel the need to put an argument or quotation in capitals, well, you’re probably going to lose your audience. Everyone has different views on all of these things and the problem with the Bible is that you can pull out quotations from all over the place to justify more or less any opinion under the sun.

You can also pull out quotations which are either completely irrelevant in the 21st century, or have as hard and fast laws things that no decent person would do these days, like keeping slaves or exchanging wives for material goods.

Of course I think the Bible is a very valuable text. A lot of wise people contributed to it and a lot of Godly people had a hand in it and I do believe a lot of it to be divinely inspired. I’m not a biblical scholar by any means – I haven’t even read the Bible all the way through once yet, so arguably I’m completely unqualified to jump in on any debate like this. But even the youngest books in the Bible are nearly two thousand years old. The old testament is even older. It was written for a different people in a different set of cultural conditions. Parts of it were very specifically addressed to very small groups of people with very specific concerns – for example, look at most of the letters of Paul. You cannot take a literal approach to the Bible. But you cannot choose on a whim which bits you like and which bits you don’t, either because you’re a massive hippy and think Jesus would probably encourage you to get stoned and have lots of sex with lots of people because he hung out with 12 guys and a prostitute and his first miracle was turning water into wine, or because you sit on the political right, think that turning your 5 talents into 10 is the best idea ever, believe that that line about camels passing through the eyes of needles and rich men getting into heaven is probably mistranslated and means almost entirely the opposite, and meanwhile that homosexuality is a sin which will get you cast down into hell.

The Bible says a lot of things. Some of those things almost directly contradict each other (see the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible for a list). Furthermore everyone coming to the Bible has their own opinions, feelings and thoughts, biases which they apply as they begin to read. There’s a whole wealth of meanings and layers and interpretations there and though I would say the Bible hugely informs my faith, so do a lot of other things. And I would never feel qualified to get into an argument about Christian morality or philosophy without a lot more thought or unless very obviously on the understanding that I am not qualified to comment in any way. So it makes me sad when people simply use the Bible as a sort of armoury of quotes to back up their opinions so they can say ‘Jesus would definitely agree with me’. It doesn’t work like that.

Still, it’s not as if the atheists are any better. If your argument consists of ‘WELL THE BIBLE SAYS WE SHOULD STONE ALL THE HOMOSEXUALS SO YOU CHRISTIANS ARE ALL IDIOTS’, you can quite frankly get off the internet now thank you.

I suppose what I mean is, if you’re going to argue a belief in any thing, you should know yourself why you hold that belief and you should have interrogated that belief a little bit more deeply than ‘Leviticus says we should stone all the gays so let’s do that’, or ‘Mary Magdelene was a prostitute, hooray’.

Furthermore, I mean, I’m sorry that some obviously very angry and emotional people somehow manage to consistently make Christians look a bit stupid. I feel like a bad person for questioning anyone’s intellect or how much they have really interrogated their faith, but I don’t believe that mine is a religion which is homophobic by necessity or nature (or indeed anything else, I’ve simply been using homosexuality as an example), and what really makes me sad is that there are as many intelligent, responsible, thoughtful and wise Christians out there as non-Christians, and those good people are so much less likely to be listened to because so often everyone assumes that they know what’s coming, and what’s coming won’t be wise or intelligent or liberal. That’s not necessarily the case, and I really wish that the dim and intolerant voices out there didn’t somehow often seem also to be the loudest.

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11 responses to “Someone is Wrong on the Internet

  1. Lucy

    Yes! Alas, I fear that Christianity and homosexuality are not the only topics on which People Are Wrong On The Internet. (Do see this for a bit of faith in humanity on those lines, however.)

    But the cover of an IP address does seem to turn people into twats – or maybe they already are twats, but we just don’t encounter them and their views in real life quite so easily (which is a Good Thing…)

  2. I’m genuinely surprised that most of the usual suspects haven’t already piled in on this one, so hooray for that. Time to start wading in all guns blazing…

    Christianity is a religion well known for not being homogenous (the Great Schism, the Reformation, etc.) so it’s not terribly surprising that there’s an awful lot of disagreement on if some imagined notion of canonical Christianity is pro or anti gay.

    It’s an even dafter notion, of course, to suggest that atheists speak with a particularly united voice on any topic. Our whole point is about not being dictated to by a book or by clergy; it’s not terribly surprising that we’re pretty divergent.

    That said, the Bible really does depict and say an awful lot of truly horrible things; many of them are directly attributed to God himself. It doesn’t necessarily follow that Christians are idiots, but it certainly does surprise me that you carry around such a great deal of bronze age baggage. Especially considering how the choice of which books you consider to be part of the Bible is an essentially arbitrary choice, only lent legitimacy by the details of the decision being lost to the centuries.

    I’m not denying that the Bible an important text, with a great deal of historical and literary importance, but so’s the Illiad, for instance, but I’m not about to start seriously considering the worship of Zeus, or consider it to be a source of examples of moral virtue.

    I guess what confuses me about the whole endeavour of religion is, if the aim is really just to be a good person who does right by the world, then why the heck are you limiting yourself to a particular set of books decided upon by a bunch of people centuries ago?

    Why not delve into the Koran, or the Bhagavad Gita, or Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill?

    Why be so hung up on it all having to revolve around the God who created Man imperfect, then almost wiped them out when they didn’t live up to his high standards? Why carry that crap around with you? Why believe in the good bits of that one book and disregard the bad bits?

    A friend of mine is… the best term I can think of is “recovering Christian”, and he’s still vaguely annoyed at having believed at all. He said to me that being a Christian involves so much double-think to paper over the logical flaws in the system that the whole lot just broke in his head all at once.

    That seems to be the crux of the issue, from my point of view; you’re having to jump through all sorts of logical hoops to say that it’s possible to be a Christian and to not believe in big chunks of your own holy book.

    That said, even if you patched up the book, I still would have a bit of a problem with Christianity; don’t really like the metaphysics very much. Nietzsche makes a compelling point that Christian metaphysics seeping into Western thought was not a particularly good thing.

    Lucy: A Penny Arcade comic from 2004 sheds quite a bit of light on why people are dicks on the Internet: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/19

    • “why the heck are you limiting yourself to a particular set of books decided upon by a bunch of people centuries ago”

      I believe I made pretty much precisely that comment on your blog a few weeks back. Nice to see that you pay attention to at least *some* of what I write 😉

      • Occasionally. Haven’t quite got around to going back to your climate change post. I have a feeling I’m going to be needing to be in the mood for it 🙂

      • Also yeh, I remember a discussion a lot like this coming up on the comments on my blog, and for one reason or another I never actually posted what I thought, so some of it ended up here.

      • Probably need a couple of hours free too :p

        Funny thing, after I published that post, I keep getting quite a few referrals from Google, particularly from image search.Probably a lesson in that somewhere

  3. I’ve posted this before, and I’ll post it again.

    http://scalzi.com/whatever/002675.html

    🙂

    Interesting post Jenny, thanks.

  4. Also, I should really blog at some point. Last time I blogged was before the General Election…

  5. (OK, not quite, but March)

  6. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that everyone “assumes what’s coming” purely because of someone’s faith. I mean, looking at politics, there are Christians on the extreme left and the extreme right; they have wildly discordant political views, even if their faith is similar.

    So personally I find it very easy to untangle the two. Of course if someone wants to support a particular opinion (e.g. homosexuality is bad, to use your example) by saying “well it says so in the Bible”, then I’ll probably ignore that person’s opinion. But I’m certainly not going to assume that you or anyone else also believes the same thing just because you’re a Christian. That’s as daft as assuming, for example, that Andy and I are likely to share the same opinion on something, just because we’re both atheists…

    I’m with you though in wishing that “the dim and intolerant voices out there didn’t somehow often seem also to be the loudest”. Seems to me though that dimness and intolerance are not restricted to those who are religious. But I digress…

  7. @Martin – thank you so much for that link, that seems to be more or less what I was trying to say. I don’t like to say that anyone ‘isn’t’ a true Christian but equally, if we take ‘Christian’ to mean ‘a follower of the teachings of Christ’ then no, people who are intolerant and unloving and not accepting of others, it seems to me, are not following Christ. They’re following bits of the Bible, sure, but I don’t think they’re following the teachings of Christ.

    Andy and Dickie I very much suggest you read that link of Martin’s, too.

    I wish I could welly into this thread a bit more, chaps. But revision calls…

    xx

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