Monday, February 11, 2013

A Choice

I really should be cleaning.

It's Monday morning, and I've already had more than my share of my new, chocolate coconut coffee, and the kitchen is calling to me with crumbs and drips and Staub frypans needing a good scrubbing. My sister is coming over to stay for the week, starting tomorrow, and I'd like the place to be as tidy as possible. But, as usual, articles online - faith, fame, feminism - are sucking me in, and I'm finding it hard to focus on my bleach and Tide detergent.

Jezebel has been crashing in Safari - that being my regular morning reading - so I turned my attention to CNN. On the front page was news about the Pope stepping down, articles about the Grammy Awards, sensationalist words about severe weather, and one little blip of opinion writing, "My Take: A Word to Christians - Be Nice," by Pastor John S. Dickinson.

Of course, this caught my eye immediately - I read a lot of online posts about religion, on CNN and on other sites. Already anticipating a firestorm of comments (which, on CNN, are almost universally negative) I clicked on the link with little hope for intelligent discourse.

The Internet has a special and inherent quality as a free and accessible podium for the common person to anonymously cry out her or his beliefs with no consequences, no circumspection, no need for politesse or courtesy. I see this not only on major sites like CNN, but on local news outlets, like the HoCo Patch pages, and on feminist sites, and on personal blogs. Comments come from anywhere and from anyone, sometimes addressing the original intent of the author, some skewing the source and turning one topic into a myriad of others. Often, on CNN, commenters turn to entirely fabricated grudges - a so-called war on religion, or an equally ridiculous socialist conspiracy, or the perennial favorite, America as a baby-killer.

Even typing those out feels silly.

But, silly or not, being online means that there are no rules - social boundaries are dismissed, no one is accountable, nastiness is the norm. Personal attacks are more common than intellectual inquiry. People who dare to use their own names open themselves up to what feels like an invasion, and anything from their grammar to their weight to their politics are targets for comments that sound more like schoolyard sniggering than adult debate.

This, then, is why I was surprised by the article mentioned above. Oh, sure, the comments were as nasty as ever - the first asserting the "war on religion" nonsense - but the content of the article addressed that immediately. It's easy to find pieces written by priests and pastors which focus solely on religion, but this particular article adeptly quoted scripture to talk not about faith, but about humanity. Boiled down to its most salient point -

What we believe is not our faith; rather, it is what we do.

This may seem like an unoriginal platitude, one with which we can easily agree and just as easily ignore. But I think the author hits on something truly important, something which we should remember when we enter into online dialogue. That, in fact, is what Pastor Dickinson is saying - the way we behave online, the words of hate, the diatribes of un-Christian ugliness, make our faith shallow, petty, a crutch for the worst of human behavior.

Calling yourself a Christian does not make you Christ-like.

My parochial primary school included mandatory religion classes, and I remember clearly, and with a smile, a lesson on piety. My priest, famous for his Bullwinkle impersonations and his yowling renditions of, "Jesus Wants You for a Sunbeam," folded his hands under his chin and nearly skipped across the classroom, shouting, "Look at me, I'm so pious!" Dissolving into giggles, my classmates and I were open to the message - piety is an action, piety is a practice, and piety is not, nor will it ever be, an excuse for bragging, for superiority, for bad behavior. Silly as my priest's mincing steps and fluttering eyes were, his lesson was a solid one - and I've already said it -

Religion does not make you a good person. Claiming a faith does not make you infallible. Loving a god and not loving your brother? That makes your faith a facade, a false testimony, a lie.

And I think there's a broader message here, because Christianity is just one doctrine of many, and there are more topics online than faith or religion. Whether or not you are Christian, whether or not you are addressing faith, there needs to be a renewed contract of courtesy and respect between authors, readers, fellow people. Just as I desperately need to get off my behind and clean my kitchen, we need to wipe away the surface layers of grime and find what I hope is the true nature of being human - listening, learning, loving one another. We need to reawaken our accountability.

I'm going to put aside the iPad for now and tackle the housework. But, as I scrub and launder and straighten, I hope to keep Pastor Dickinson's message in my heart - not just a message for the Christian in me, but a message for the very human woman who wants to make the world a better place.

Words, actions, computer keys, Lysol and bleach - every breath a moment to choose love.


  1. Your description of those long ago religion classes tugged at my heart strings. We were all so young then.