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. Anon

    Let me get this straight - Christians have been serial killers, rapists, wife beaters, pedophiles, KKK members, warmongers, theives and on and on (and spare me the weak "oh they're not REAL Christians" argument). But the fact that they're sometimes jerks online is supposed to be so mystifying? What's next, an article expressing shock that some Muslims are jaywalkers or bad tippers?

    June 30, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • Gary

      true...reason Christians Muslims and other religious fanatics are so angry is they want to be in control. They want to use man made religions and man written texts to control others. Many religious people cant comprehend why others dont believe in the same crap they do. It makes them very angry..

      June 30, 2010 at 11:52 am |
  2. bhharrin

    I think it would help if you thought about the whole evangelism issue from the position of a believer. I mean think about it. If you're a Christian, then your beliefs tell you that believing in Jesus, as God's son, and that he came to Earth and died on the cross for your sins is the only thing that seperates non-believers from ETERNAL life. If you believed something that radical and life changing, wouldn't you want to try and tell others about it? However, I do agree that Christians shouldn't try and force anyone to follow their beliefs. But it still remains that if a person is a true Chrisitan, he ultimately can't just "do what he wants privately," it's his/her job to show God's love through his/her actions and if necessary through his/her words.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • TC

      Where does this concept of duty come from? I don't believe as you do, and I don't want to believe it. Again, I'm not attempting to change your faith. I respect it as different from mine. There is no dogma that tells me I must attempt to convert you, or I'm not doing my job as a non-believer. Maybe not maliciously, and maybe even unconsciously, you don't love me as much as you'd love me to be more like you.

      June 30, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • sharideth

      tc: apology right up front...i hit the abuse instead of reply button. so if you get a weird, investigative email, totally my fault. i've been meaning to learn to read for some time now.

      also, in response to your response: you are absolutely right. you are correct that many people "witness" out of a desire to create the jesus borg. no question about that and it is an excellent point. what you may not know is that we, as christians, are charged by scripture "to make disciples of men". it is a duty, as you called it. however, i believe it is done, more often than not, in a way that is contrary to the example set by the bible. when someone says "no", we are to accept that and love them anyway instead of pushing our point or simply employing the "next" mentality like people are taking a number to find out about eternal damnation.

      thanks for making your case so clearly and i hope others on this thread have a moment's pause over your words.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  3. a.

    Education and knowledge are the enemies of the religious, their lashing out on the internet is a reflection of the fear that discussion and debates causes by bringing light to the hypocrisy and fallacy of religion. The truth is that they have built their lives on a lie, and the truth of that is unbearable.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:26 am |
  4. Chris

    As a reasoning species, we need to wake up to the urgent need to set forth a new paradigm that will influence, guide and educate our offspring in the long term to "do unto others as you will have them do unto you". A universal principle that can be found in nearly all religions, moral, ethical and humanistic creeds. We need to grow into a more compassionate, empathetic and socially conscious world community. Stop the preying on each other and look for ways to strengthen and lift humanity and our planet. How much human energy is being wasted as a result of not seeing the whole, the big picture and the things that really count. We must look for the common thread.
    When religion divides, creates "us against the world", breeds hate and intolerance, it's on the wrong track and has stumbled over some dogma or false belief. As for Christianity, the thing that stands out is "love your neighbor as yourself". The rest can be discarded. That's the point, the message, so move on.
    We don't need any animal or human blood-sacrifices to cleanse us and their won't be any "saviors" flying in from outer space or heaven, as the ancients called it, so let go of the things that divide and separate and reach for the things that unite, bind and uplift. Let's believe a little more in what can be seen and done in the here and now. Stop being such a baby and worrying about what will happen after you die, if anything. Why are we so fearful and why do we so easily believe in a vengeful, wrathful, destructive deity who will strike us with lightning if we don't utter the holy mantra? Relax, there's nobody out to get us. We are our own worst enemies.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:24 am |
  5. Mark from Middle River

    "Do whatever you want privately,"

    Is this not the same thing some Christians said to the Gay and Lesbian community? I do not believe it worked. Be a adult, there will always be someone out there attempting to force their way of life down another throat. You can not fight oppression by attempting to oppress another.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • TC

      I am an adult, a responsible, educated adult. I was simply pointing out that you can't try to change other people without the expectation that they may offer resistence. I simply want to be left alone. Who am I oppressing with that?

      June 30, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  6. TC

    I am sure Christians can't stand hearing things like "intellectually dishonest" or "imaginary wizard in the clouds", but you're bringing it on yourselves. I should say, those people who are representing themselves as "Chrisitians" and seem to think it's ok to speak for all of you are bringing it on to you. By shoving these purported beliefs down our heathenous throats, you are insulting me. Are you so surprised that non-believers are turned off by this self-touted sense of moral superiority? I am a good person, and I know it well enough. I don't need your judgement to make me feel better about how I live my life, and you shouldn't either. Just leave it alone. Do whatever you want privately, but don't believe for a second that it applies to me. I worship Mother Nature and Father Time, and you can't stand it. Why, when I could care lesss who you worship? As long as you don't try to force it onto me. Stop forcing it, and you'll see how people respond.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  7. lunasolara

    This article is nice. As a member of a minority religion living in the most conservative area of a conservative state in the South, I get on the receiving end of a lot of not-so-Christian-jerks. It's refreshing to be reminded that they are not representative of the whole of Christianity and there are still many who remember that the best (and least contradictory) parts of the Bible, the parts that really should be minded the most closely, are the words of Christ. People of all faiths can agree with his message of love, compassion and tolerance. It sometimes seems to those of us who have found our paths lead away from Christianity, but still think it's a fine religion-just not for us-that loving thy neighbor has fallen by the wayside to be replaced with judging and hating of thine neighbors. It seems, in fact, that those who abide the words of Christ are in fact the minority, since those who hate are so very vocal in their hatred. I would love to see and hear more from those good, loving Christians out there. They, like so many good, loving Muslims, are getting a horrible reputation thanks to the radical hate-mongers among them. Both sides need to be more vocal, as do we Pagans...though getting Pagans pointed in the same direction in not unlike herding cats. 😀

    Gods and goddesses all bless.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • Tena

      To Lunasolar;
      To tell you the truth, most of those good, loving, Christians don’t waist their time on these blogs, they’re busy with more productive and loving activities. Blogging can definitely promote negativity and cynicism. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). Thank you for opening my eyes. God Bless You!

      June 30, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  8. Lowly Pastor

    I am saddened reading these comments. No, I did not read them all, there are other things to attend to today...and tomorrow... But one thing I must say. To all who complain about Christians who insist on sharing their faith with non-Christians, please consider this. Hopefully, and I certainly know this isn't always true, Christians share their faith not out of hate for other faiths, but out of love for people. Yes, we do believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to have a right standing with God. Jesus said that himself (John 14:6). If we truly believe this, of course we feel compelled to share Jesus with others. It is actually hateful NOT to. Sharing Jesus is part of 'love your neighbor as yourself.' So I ask you, if someone accosts you with their faith, by all means, let them have it! But if someone respectfully tries to share the grace of God in Jesus Christ with you, refuse if you like, but understand they do not approach you out of hate, but out of love.

    Thank you.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • at

      Well said Pastor! I was looking for a comment like yours, and finally posted one of my own (I hope it posted anyway!) I think the article is absolutely true. We Christians must watch our communication no matter how strongly we feel about our faith. At the same time, many on these types of blogs, really arent seeking the truth and looking to butt heads with the opposition. This serves as a distraction (just like the author said!) to real service. I'm speaking to myself here too! With that I thank you for your comment and pray you have a blessed day!

      June 30, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Kate

      Unfortunately, my honest response to someone trying to 'share the love of their savior' is to point out all the inconsistencies, the truly evil commands, the lack of logic, science and reality in what they are trying to 'share' with me and why no honest ethical person would want to follow that, and this invariably is taken as an attack. If you can't stand the heat, don't share.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Lowly Pastor

      Kate, I challenge you to reconsider the facts before claiming that Christianity is filled with inconsistencies and lack of science. As a pastor and engineer, I have studied much science and enjoy it quite a bit. And the more I learn about science, the more I am amazed at the complexity of God. There are certainly Christians out there who are anti-science, even anti-intellectual. Don't assume that they are all of Christianity, or even the most correct. Investigate the Bible for yourself; research authors who are Christian and yet also open to science.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Kate

      What facts? Christians aren't allowed facts, they must accept everything claimed on faith or they are lost to their God.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • John

      Sorry, pastor but I don't buy it. I don't believe those who seem to revel in spreading the word of God do so merely out of love for the wellbeing of others. Unsolicited favors for strangers are exceedingly rare in this world. Rather, I think those who proselytize loudly do so mainly out of a subtle sense of self-superiority. I belive its like something resembling schadenfruede.

      July 1, 2010 at 12:54 am |
    • Lowly Pastor

      Again, I know that there are certainly people out there who share for that reason. It is a shame, certainly not true Christianity. But don't doubt the existence of true, selfless love for others. Check out a good church, a real community of believers. In my own church, acts such as these are not so rare as you think, and done not only for other church members, but for the community in general. God is real, and his effect in the lives of people is real. It's there to see if you are willing to look.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  9. mike

    But you don't want to know the truth,,, you can't handle the truth!!

    June 30, 2010 at 10:23 am |
  10. Ken Tul

    God is great, Beer is good & People are crazy!

    June 30, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  11. mike

    You don't need a church, or prest/preacher to hook you up with what ever imaginary god you worship. People seem to be like sheep, and need the flock and a person to heard the flock! Why create huge multi millions dollar bussinesses. You can read the BOOK and communicate with your diety fine without out them! I for one am a born again agnostic/atheist... but I will pray for all of you to see the light. The truth is out there...

    June 30, 2010 at 10:19 am |
  12. Joyce

    I was so glad to read this commentary. So often "Christian writers" hold forth as though they represent the feelings , opinions and beliefs of every person who is a Christian when, in fact, most of the time they do not represent those of us who are faithful Christians in the so-called "mainline" denominations. This is one time that I find myself in full agreement with the writer. Thank you, sir, for your candid comments.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:17 am |
  13. jim

    "Maybe my neighbor is a jerk too. Maybe they hate God"

    Why do Christians insist upon believing that those of us who aren't Christians "hate God"? I could no more hate your god than I could hate Donald Duck. They both have the same level of reality to me.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:09 am |
    • Bubba

      Both God and Donald Duck get on my nerves with their squawking.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:15 am |
    • paul

      Why do christians believe that others "hate god"? Good question. Great question in fact. I would say the answer is faith. It's hard to understand that your faith is not shared by others. They have faith, they believe in some image of god, and here's the important part, they can't understand that you do not share that faith. They believe that god is real and is they way they describe him, with all the conviction that you believe the chair you sit on in is real. Because they think you share their faith, and think that you know God exists the same way they know God exists, they can't explain your words and actions in any other way that makes sense. If you saw someone who was kneeling, or squatting, or standing and leaning over, in front of their computer, you would conclude they don't like chairs. It would never occur to you that they don't believe in chairs, can't see the chair that is right there. You see the chair, they must see it too, and have some reason for not sitting in it.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:41 am |
  14. Steve

    This article doesn't get to the root of the problem, which is that Christians believe they have a monopoly on truth, which leads them to become arrogant. Not that this doesn't occur in other religions as well, to some extent.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  15. peter parker

    Well great article. First they are worst off-line. I seen some girls coming out of church cursing a guys appearance. I seen some people in church shake hands then under their breath insult the other person. It's not just Christians but it a lot of people. People are people. Today is not like when I was growing up. Just as written in the bible... When I was growing up people avoided the word "ugly" . Now with all the VANITY IDOL WORSHIP teens have little respect for teachers or parents. The former parents become parents or sub parents while the so called parents go to work. If you told me 20 years ago it was going to be like this 20 years later I would have "doubted" it. I heard a pasture on the radio say were are going to the worst place as fast as possible. FULL SPEED! He said the only place he see's people treating people good for the most part is the Country, He said even dogs don't act like they should in a city. I've seen non Christians be better people than Christians. But I know GOD does exist and we are going to give an account for everything. I don't have the answers
    but I think it's logical. Think about it. What is water? How did water get here. How did these material get here.. The Sun is just the right distance to the earth to give it's light and energy and the earth has an atmosphere. Other planets near us don't have life. What would have happened if they did? We would do the same thing we do here. WAR! That's why the creator
    ((GOD)) made one planet. If a man has lived without love he has lived not. Do something nice for your friends. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:08 am |
    • ChoCho

      I remember that saying that I heard alot from the elderly growing up: God don't like ugly!

      June 30, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  16. Him

    All, I find it amusing how this author is aoplogizing for and justifying poor Christian etiquette. Christians have less and less rights in this world, but do the most good. Why are Christians as a group more willing than any other to put themselves at harm risk to help others, without getting anything in return? Because our God is real and we want to truly help our fellow man. We are no holier than anyone else, we have faults and messy lives too, but I dont see the Muslim Red Cross rushing to anyones aid, or the Pagan Childrens Fund, or the Athiests for Asia organizations, or any Gay groups doing anything besides trying to shove Christians into the closets they came out of. Lets get a grip on reality, to those "scientists" out there, look into the decietful religion of evolution, dont follow these pseudo-scientists like Sagan and Dawkins. Check out amazing discoveries dot com or answers in genesis if you truly have an open mind. Only then can humanity progress, by embracing the God who created this universe.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:05 am |
    • Eric G

      Wow, lots of hate there. By the way, the Red Cross is a secular organization.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • paul

      If you don't see other faiths acting to help those in need, it is only because you are not looking. There are many many muslim charities. The American Red Cross is a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. An organization called "Islamic Relief" is active in more than 35 countries. Pagans have their charities as well, although as a much smaller group, their charities tend to be smaller and more local as well. The idea that only christian organizations are active in charity work is shortsighted and serves only to boost your own ego. There is a reason christians are seen as self centered and ignorant of the world around them, and you demonstrate why. Twenty seconds with a search engine could expland your knowlege of the world around you, but you are happier casting stones and bragging.

      June 30, 2010 at 10:35 am |
    • Jessica

      I did a quick search, and all those exist that you seem to think dont. Maybe, just maybe, you seem to think its only christians "doing good deeds" because thats all you want to believe?

      June 30, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • teecha

      Another perfect example of what I said before. Some, and I emphasize "some" Christians believe they are members of an elite group. They are the ones that "get it." They are the ones that are always right. Rather than seeing that they are just humans like the rest of us in this great big world full of people who do good things and bad things. They see only the good that THEY do and the bad that everyone who is not a "Christian" does. Open your eyes! Live the way you are supposed to live, don't preach to others about the way THEY should live.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  17. Sakura

    While they have their participants, Christians are far from having a monopoly of being online jerks.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  18. paul

    Why is anyone a jerk online? For the simple reason that there is no face. People don't comprehend that there is another person involved unless they see a face, and even then, often they don't get it. It's easy to be rude on-line, when that rudeness is directed at a comment box. It's easy to be rude when driving for much the same reason, you aren't being rude to a person, you are being rude to an escalade, or a prius, or a pickup truck, not a person. Many people just can't make the connection and understand that at the other end of a lot of wires is another person. To them this is just some program in their computer. They can't see, for example, that I am a real person, who wakes up in the morning and hates the alarm clock, wants to eat a big breakfast but doesn't have time and can't afford the calories anyway, loves his wife and kid, and all those other normal real human things. Just words on the screen.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:04 am |
  19. maggie

    Randy (and anyone else who says they transformed their life by accepting Christ)....If you have indeed become a better person through your faith, I commend you, but I still wonder why could you not have done this without that particular belief. It is not necessary to believe in religious dogma to become a better person. All it takes is a sincere belief that it is wrong to cause harm to others, that others deserve respect and love as much as you do. Humans can accomplish wonderful things, with or without a belief in any one version of God.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:02 am |
    • Sakura

      But why is causing harm to another wrong? Wolves kill all the time, but we don't condemn them for it. They are just competing for survival in their environment. Why are humans held to a higher standard?

      June 30, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • Kate

      Humans are a social animal. We survive by banding together. That which we do for the benefit of the group is termed good. We don't do it for a god, we do it because it's genetic. The god and religion thing is just an excuse and a tool to push members of the group into line and encourage self sacrafice.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  20. Josh

    Nice job, Acuff. You have incredible talent, and it is always a pleasure to read what you write. Thanks.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:01 am |
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