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June 29th, 2010
08:20 AM ET

My Take: Why Christians are jerks online

Editor's Note: Jonathan Acuff writes the blog www.stuffchristianslike.net and recently released the book "Stuff Christians Like." In addition to commenting on Christian culture, he’s also written branding for clients such as The Home Depot, Bose, Chick-fil-A and AutoTrader.com. He lives outside of Atlanta with his wife and two young daughters. Follow him on Twitter @prodigaljohn.

By Jonathan Acuff, Special to CNN

Bono is a born again Christian.

Or he’s not.

It’s one of those two. I’m just not sure which, but I am certain that the faith of U2 is something we Christians like to argue about. That and beer. You never know if your small group is populated with prohibitionists. You have to say things like, "Is there anything you need me to bring to the dinner party, anything at all?" Then if they say, "Sure, how about a bottle of wine?" you’re good.

U2, beer, our favorite pastor’s kid-gone-wild Katy Perry: these are usually the topics I write about on www.stuffchristianslike.net. (Which is indeed a direct rip off of the site www.stuffwhitepeoplelike.com.) But today I thought I might deal with something with a little sharper teeth. Something you don’t see addressed often, but you might have experienced.

Put simply, I want to talk about why sometimes we Christians are jerks online.

Much like "Christian hate mail," being a "Jerk Christian" defies logic. We serve a loving God. We follow a Christ who very plainly told us what to do. In Matthew 22 someone asks Jesus, "What is the most important commandment?" The answer is simple:

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

There’s no confusion about that. No smoke monster. No mystical wisdom that must be found on a mountain peak after growing a ZZ Top-worthy beard. Someone asks Christ what matters and the second thing is "Loving your neighbor as yourself."

So then why are there so many hateful Christian blogs? Why do Christians write bitter messages on Twitter? Why do we send hate mail?

I think there are two reasons Christians are jerks online.

  1. The business traveler approach.
  2. It’s unfortunately not that uncommon for business travelers to get in trouble when they’re on the road. With a "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" approach they tend to do things they would never do at home. "The rules don’t apply here. I’m a different person. This is 'road me,' not 'home me.'" I believe sometimes Christians approach the Internet the same way. The rules of "real life" don’t count. Sure, I have to love my neighbor, but are people on Facebook my neighbor? The Internet doesn’t "count." These are just words. Surely I can throw a missile of hate at someone on Twitter. And when we buy into this logic, we develop an unloving, anything goes, whatever happens online stays online mentality. We become two different people, "Offline Christian" and "Online Christian." And we become jerks.

  3. Room Cleaning Christianity

Why do Christians argue about drinking beer or why the tankini is the least slutty of all bathing garments? I think it’s because we sometimes practice "Room Cleaning Christianity." Think of it like college. When you’ve got a final paper due Monday, you will be amazed at how energetic your desire is to clean your room. You will scrub tile with a slow toothbrush if it means avoiding the bigger, more difficult work of writing your paper. The same thing happens with Christianity. Loving your neighbor might be simple, but it’s not easy. Maybe my neighbor is a jerk too. Maybe they hate God. Maybe they are actively and violently opposed to everything I believe. And showing them grace feels impossible. So instead of dealing with that, we get online and police people. We find small things to focus on that will distract us. I think God wants us to discuss the little stuff, but we make it an idol when we practice room cleaning Christianity at the exclusion of love. And we tend to become jerks.

Hopefully you’ve never experienced either of these things. Hopefully this article feels like Amish Romance Fiction, currently a hit amongst Christians. But if it doesn’t, if you’ve been an online jerk, if you’ve acted like I have, there’s hope.

Jesus came for the mess-ups like us. Jesus came for the failures. Jesus came for the jerks. (That’s not in the King James version of the Bible, I remixed it like Timbaland.) And the truth is, grace is the antidote to being a jerk online.

So my hope is that you won’t prove my point in the comments section. My hope is you’ll accept my apology for the times I’ve been a jerk to you online.

My hope is that I’ll see Bono in heaven, or at the bare minimum "the Edge."

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jonathan Acuff.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Jesus • Opinion

soundoff (1,722 Responses)
  1. Z

    Seriously, everyone! It just amazes me how people read too much into a posting! Many here seem to be under the impressing that Jon is trying to imply that Christians are jerks ONLY online. As a Christian (and a pastor, for that matter) I am ashamed to admit that I have definitely misrepresented Jesus in both the online and real worlds. Jon is just giving us an example of ONE of those. SHEESH!

    June 30, 2010 at 9:58 am |
  2. Jeff Goins

    Great post, Jon. And I love the diversity of opinions here. What I find especially hopeful is the gracious dialogue happening here between Christians and non-Christians. It tells me that we can all identify our flaws and own up to them. Good discussion, guys.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  3. birdword

    "BO-no!" or "Edge" it would be easier for a camel to fit through a key-hole than for either one of them to get through the gates.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:56 am |
    • Jennifer

      Judge not lest be judged. Unfortunately a post like this is why the author wrote the article he did.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
    • Jennifer

      Judge not lest ye be judged. Unfortunately a post like this is why the author wrote the article he did.

      June 30, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  4. shari

    Loved this! Thanks for speaking the truth, dude.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:53 am |
  5. Fred

    I'm just waiting for the companion piece, "Why atheists are jerks online." Funny how atheists consider themselves to be of a higher moral standard than anyone else. Hypocrisy of Christians? How about the hypocrisy of atheists!

    June 30, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Eric G

      I only consider myself to have a higher moral standard than your god. Is the bible an accurate description of your god's character? Is the bible an accurate description of what your god has decided is acceptable? If so, I know my moral standing is superior. And, I can prove it. Please show me the hipocrisy in my statement.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • ttwp

      It amazes me how some will comdemn God to justify themselves.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
    • Eric G

      @ttwp: I did not condemn your god because I don't believe he exists. I just asked a question. Is the bible an accurate description of your god's character?

      June 30, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
    • Kate

      Hmm, theists lie and say they know there is a god. Atheists say they have not seen proof and therefore will not pretend such a thing is true. You tell me who is more honest and ethical?

      June 30, 2010 at 2:55 pm |
  6. Armarna

    Or how about they tend to be hypocrites? Like every other human being out there?
    They're human – just like a Muslim, Jew, or atheist. All of these little groups tend to have a jerk or two. I've met plenty on all sides that are absolutely amazing people... and then there are those that aren't so absolutely amazing.
    One point that's always frustrated me is that, upon finding out I'm agnostic, I generally either get treated like I have the plague (because agnostics are evil and evil is, I guess, airborne) or they suddenly talk about saving me. Or start sending me inspirational emails. Or both.
    I don't take this as jerkish – I think they want to genuinely help. But in helping, they have forgotten how to be decent and respectful of what I believe. After all, I used to be Christian and was going to be missionary – I found out later (in my own opinion and belief) that nothing was more vain then assuming you have all the right answers and everyone else on the planet was wrong.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  7. Marie.

    Stefan,

    Religion, NO religion can purify ones soul. Only Jesus can do that. By one man who lived(Adam), all men die. But, by one man who died(Jesus), all men can live. Adam died in the midst of what he saw as good, as pleasure. Jesus died in the midst of what He saw as evil, and He died in agony. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, Adam can live again. Sin was destroyed in the body of Jesus, for He shed the evil blood of man. Now those who dwell in Him and in whom He dwells can live by what Jesus did. The simplest thing for man to do is the most difficult, because of the sinful nature he acquired from Adam. To "see" this, one has to want to know and have a living relationship with God in Christ Jesus. Or, come to know Him, as Paul did on his way to Damascus. Paul could have refused to be true to the heavenly vision, but he chose to obey The Lord who spoke to Him. All must come by the way of the cross of Jesus, for it is written that there is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved, except the name of Jesus. If there is some othe way, then Jesus died in vain, and God is a liar. It is written, "Let God be True, and every man a liar.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:41 am |
    • david

      And you were there to witness these events firsthand? or are you taking it on "faith" that these events occurred? Think about the billions (with a B) of people on this Earth, past and present, who will never have a concept of what you just explained, and your buddy Jesus is going to send them all to hell! He is a loving God? Really? why doesnt he just forgive all the poor Hindus and Muslims who because they are raised on the other side of the ocean are never exposed to his teachings and warnings?

      July 6, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  8. Santiago

    It has always been a mystery to me that many people who comment on how Christians are "suppose to behave" don't practice Chritianity nor are serious "observant" Christians. If you ask them about the tenants of the Christian faith they start to stutter then say Christians are jerks because they asked for some clarification of their understanding of what the Christian faith is about. The same is true about Christians who comment on other religions and do not know the first thing about them. If anyone wants to know what Christianity is about and wants to be intellectualy honest whenever discussing Christian behavior follow this simple rule: read the New Testament, look at who the authors are writing to specifically. When you are reading ask; If there really is a God, the God of the Bible, then show up, let me know you are really there! It's really pretty simple. After that experience...you will come to the conclusion that no matter how weak or strong your experience may have been, a change of some of our behavior can take a lifetime.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  9. Ella

    Eric- My God is real, that's what faith is about. There isn't enough information out there to convince me otherwise.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:33 am |
    • Eric G

      Ella, what I am asking is for you to immagine that there was undeniable proof that either he exists or is just a myth. Proof that will no longer require you to have faith. Would you willingly seek that evidence?

      June 30, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • paul

      Ella, that is what faith is about. From your perspective, god is as real as the chair you sit on and the air you breathe. The tricky part for you is to understand that for others, that is not so. From where I stand, there's nothing that I can see that makes me think that the god you describe is any more real than any other figure from myth and legend. You have that faith, for whatever reason, and I don't. The mistake of faith is to think that what you believe is true for all. I don't, deep in my heart, know that your faith is correct. I am not just denying that truth out of stubborness, greed, hedonism, or whatever. To me, it's a myth, and a farfetched one at that. If your faith is justified, if your god is real, for whatever reason, he has chosen not to show himself to me, not to give me that faith that comes so easily to you. I could struggle to find that faith, but why would I? Why not study the book or mormon, scientology, the torah, or the koran, or any of the many books of the many faiths of the world?

      I am glad that you have your faith. Celebrate it, live it, take comfort in it. Dance naked under the moonlight, or kneel in church, whatever your faith calls for. But I don't share it, and telling me how wonderful it is, over and over again, doesn't convince me.

      June 30, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • Teeph

      Hey Paul . . . not that it matters to you in any way, shape or form, nor should it necessarilly . . . but I DIG you, man. I just really like the cut of your jib. You're a class act.

      If more people (from both "teams") online were as polite and courteous as you, I think the world would be a much better place. I love the tone you set. So, from a semi-jerk-like-Christian-in-recovery, thanks.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  10. DanT

    Wow! You evidently struck a nerve here! I am reminded of the scripture that asks that we judge ourselves BEFORE judging others (ultimately so that we won't judge others!). Thanks for leading the way! Blessings...DT

    June 30, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  11. Fred Goepfert

    There are many CINO's (Christians In Name Only) who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk.
    There was one other very simple teaching that Jesus gave; that you cannot love both God and mammon,
    that receives much talking but little walking.
    No body should pretend any level of perfection at walking the walk.
    We are only human.
    But we can try again each day to get closer.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:33 am |
  12. Ella

    Jerks are everywhere, whether Christian or not. I am a Christian and yes, I do have strong feelings about my faith and I am blessed to live in a country where I can express my feelings. I don't want to shove it down anyone's throat but neither am I going to just be quiet about it. I am free to express my feelings and you are fre to express yours. I don't hate you because you aren't a Christian (in fact I love you more). As a Christian, I'm even a jerk sometimes- that's life for all of us. However, I am a forgiven jerk and I take responsibility for my jerkiness and know how to say I'm sorry.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • Jessica

      Ella – but what if you are wrong about being "forgiven" since you are a jerk, sometimes? Is it possible that GOD will exclude you from heaven, because he thought you were more of a jerk than you thought you were, and thusly, he deemed you not christian enough?

      June 30, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  13. Eric G

    I have a question for the believers here today. Does it matter to you if your god is real? Not being a jerk (at least, not now), I am really interested in your responses. If you had access to information proving your god does or does not exist, would you really want to know?

    June 30, 2010 at 9:31 am |
    • crazy8's

      Its like thinking about heaven and hell.
      To believe there's a place (Heaven) where there will be no pain, no suffering, no tears. where all is peace and joy and love...where the soul never dies. you have to believe in the alternative...that Hell is there too. where they'll be weeping and nashing of teeth.

      to believe in God & the Devil would be the same...BUT
      I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't a God, and die to find out there is...

      June 30, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • Eric G

      @crazy8's: What I am asking does not require "Pascal's wager". I am asking if you would want to know, one way or the other, if your god exists? Would you seek that knowledge? Is it important to know?

      June 30, 2010 at 9:49 am |
    • crazy8's

      well then sure, I'd want to know. I would think that if there was more then just a person's own faith and by "word of mouth" others might believe.

      But bc there isn't, I'll stick with my faith.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • paul

      crazy 8s? Sure, but which god? Do I eat kosher, halal, vegetarian, or some other set of restrictions? I am I commanded to celebrate the lord with dance, or to avoid dancing as a sinful temptation? Is the sabbath on saturday, or sunday? Should I avoid all work on both days?

      Pascal's wager is good logic, but with a broader cultural perspective, it's hard to play it safe. There are so many ways to end up dammned by picking the wrong version of god to place your wager on. I put my bet on simply being the best person I can, treating others well, and trying to be a great father to my kid, without worrying about any of those holy books.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:25 am |
    • crazy8's

      Paul your right, no one living can really know which God is really in control but I guess that saying "to each it's own" is a good way of putting how some ppl wanna live their life and we just gotta respect it. whether we have proof or not people will believe what they want and that's their choice.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:39 am |
    • paul

      Sure. But I don't think "choice" is the right word. I could choose to act like I believed anything I want, but that wouldn't mean I actually feel the belief. I wish it was that easy. It's much harder being left out here with no substantial religion that speaks to what I feel. I can't just set aside my feelings and join a church, when I don't believe in what they preach. Christianity is based on an act of blood sorcery. Islam reveres a jealous and insecure god. Judiasm tells me that my soul can be made impure by what my body touches or consumes. None of those religions celebrate love the way I feel love, and all of them treat s*x as a sin that can only be sanctified through marriage and offspring.

      I would take pascals wager, if I could figure out what it meant that I should do, and if that were something I could reconcile with the morality I feel in my heart.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Ella

      Eric, I would be willing to listen to you. However, I would ask that once you were finished you would be willing to spend the same amount of time listening to me. And it would not cause me to question my faith.

      June 30, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • Kate

      There are two problems with taking Pascal's wager. If you pretend to believe in a god and really truly don't, don't you think he/she/it would be able to tell you weren't sincere? The issue is he wants you to believe (which I never could understand how anyone sane could force themselves to believe anything).

      And then, what if you believe in the wrong god? Gods are jealous by all accounts, so believing in the wrong god on purpose sounds like a much larger sin then just being honest to the world and saying – sorry, no proof. I can't tell and will leave it at that until something comes along that is convincing.

      June 30, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
  14. Robert

    I have many Christians in my family, and as a spiritual, but non-religious guy who doesn't accept Christ as my only savior, it appears that Christianity is inadequate to the task of dealing with anger. The Christians I know repress their anger, and then act it out unconsciously. They become judgmental, and say things like "If I wasn't a Christian, I would punch him out". Christianity does not promote self-reflection, or seeing things from another's perspective. Christianity is a simple, crude tool for dealing with the complexities of interpersonal relationships, and the feelings that necessarily arise. It does nothing to help people accept their "dark side" (as in Jungian psychology), nothing to help them reconcile themselves to their darker, baser impulses. Christianity denies the spontaneous in people, with thoughts and feelings filtered through a scrim of intellectual idealism ("if only I were truly good. I SHOULD be good"). It alienates people from their feelings.

    Thus, I steer clear of "dedicated" Christians, as I find them shallow, punitive, reactionary, and primitive. Their social and emotional development appears stunted. Many Christians appear cut off from their feelings, and are therefore prone to acting out their feelings in unconscious, uncontrolled, destructive, hurtful ways. And if you look at the failed marriages, failed professional lives, alienated children, and other objective measures of personal effectiveness, they come up short.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  15. Teeph

    First, let me just say, "amen."

    Then, as a hopefully FORMER part-time online Christian jerk, let me humbly submit one more reason that we Christians are sometimes jerks on the interwebs. . . that being the fact that, deep down, at the very core of us, we ARE jerks. We're self-serving, prideful, arrogant, mean-spirited, jealous, slothful, ,lazy, lusty, greedy, glutonous, angry JERKS!

    Which is sort of the whole reason we were in need of salvation in the first place.

    But sometimes we forget where we came from and how we got to where we are. And what that means in regards to how we are supposed to act.

    I've done it. Worse yet, while I was doing it, I ENJOYED it. For that, I'm sorry. And I'm going to work harder at being more loving in the future.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  16. JoeSCSU

    Michael, I like what youve said the best!!

    June 30, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  17. Chosen

    WE ALL NEED JESUS! Everyone on here commenting, both christians and non-christians.... I have never tried to "shove it " in the faces of those that don't believe in Jesus but I refuse to sit quietly on the subject when others feel they have a right to dispell what they clearly do not understand... and that is that it is not about religion but relationship. How we treat each other whether online or offline is a direct reflection of each persons character.. for those who claim to be Christians it would do us all a great service if you would take on the heart of the One you believe in, we probably would not have to argue our faith as much if our lives spoke for us. And for those non believers, I would rather live my life as if there is a God, and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't a God, and die to find out there is........ Many blessing to all.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:24 am |
  18. David R

    In all my many years on this earth, I have met very very few self professed Christians who by their words and actions would make me want to be a Christian. Since the Internet came around, I have an even stronger negative feeling.

    PS: I used to be a Christian before I realized that my belief in science and the belief in the supernatural were not compatible.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  19. DD

    "Grace" is a vastly underrated virtue.
    "Amish Romance Fiction"?? Yeah, I liked the movie Witness too.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  20. Tempest Fujit

    If there is a god. My god is not a bearded angry omnipotent being sitting on some throne emitting thunderbolts from his fingers who demands (commands) through fear and judgment or else I suffer perpetual damnation. My god is intelligent. For this universe can not give birth to an intelligent people without being intelligent itself. Gives me solace that the plan is unfolding regardless of the the things that are done or going to be done by man. I was stopped by some obvious religious folks recently and was asked: "Have you followed Gods commandments today?" My reply is: "My god does not command me. He gives me the suggestion with the hope that I live life that do no harm. Isn't that "Free Will?" "I think Jesus would be a little upset that his words have been manipulated and idolized into the form that organized religion has become. What does turn the other cheek really mean? Try transposing the word "God" with "Universe". After all, "God is everywhere." Isn't that the definition of "Universe." Peace. The Universe is unfolding as it should.

    June 30, 2010 at 9:21 am |
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