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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. Mark from Middle River

    It is interesting because if you read most of these anti-religion post they seem to have a rabid belief that they hold the total truth. You have ones that declare that all the evils of the world are due to people of faith. When confronted they are forced to go back and say the "all I know" statements. A few post later when they feel that more anti-religious posters are behind them they revert right back to painting all people of faith as one.

    In the end it is just another case of hating those that disagree with you. Some one told them a gotcha question and they are just itching to drop it on anyone one of faith. I remember a neo-naz that I encountered in school who's idea of communicating dialogue was for me, as a African American, to explain drug violence, welfare fraud, Prison population numbers and the woes on the entire continent of Africa. That is not dialogue and it is what I am seeing here. No discussion just hate sound clips. Also I will be fair, some of persons of faith here who post these long sermons hoping to convert in a 5 to 6 paragraphs are not helping.

    In the end we can wonder why some Christians are jerks online is because in the end most of all of us, ones of faith, ones without faith and those questioning it... pretty much the entire online society are jerks online.

    Abd al-Latif – Welcome and I know some one told you that Christians are trying to wipe you out around the globe. Someone possibly a parent or a teacher has told each of that someone , somewhere was trying to cleanse us off the planet. As a African American I was told that every white person was at home dreaming of the days to send us to the gallows. al-Latif, do not buy into this line of thought, it is not original and in the end found too often to be false.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Patrick in Chicago

      Mark, really like the sentiment of your post. I am a Buddhist, but I know many Christians from different denominations, as well as Muslims, Atheists, etc... I think the number of people who spread hatred and anger through online posting are the exception in most cases, rather than the rule. Although this is just anecdotal, I know several people who spend long hours each day posting tirades on websites that post news and information contrary to their beliefs. People should always be wary of any religion or belief system that endorses or encourages the mistreatment of others. We all live here together, and everyone has the right to believe what they like, until it infringes upon the someone else's same right.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
    • Kate

      So pointing out that someone is not making sense is abusive? Pointing out that religion is the reason for a lot of abuse is abusive? Religion is all about power. Someone is seeking power by telling others he knows how they can get what they want because he knows the rules that the god lays down. Of course it's going to cause wars and mass murder when powers (religions) clash. Governments do the same thing and they are not intrinsically evil.

      Religion may co-ordinate good works, but I never see that as being used for their main reason. I see lots of secular groups that do – without all the extraneous abuse of power.

      I'm sorry that you feel that you can't join the debate and clarify things in your mind. IMO this is why you are religious. You have some reason for avoiding clarity.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  2. Abd al-Latif

    Christians, if you love your neighbors, and your neighbors include Muslims like me, then please stop supporting political policies like neoconservatism and Zionism, which lead to the active killing, dispossession, oppression, and ethnic/religious cleansing of us Muslims all over the world. "Love thy neighbor" and "kill they neighbor" are mutually exclusive. And that applies to both Muslims and Christians who commit acts of unjustified violence. We make too many EXCEPTIONS to these "rules" for members of groups that we don't like.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Dan Lilledahl

      Abd al-Latif:

      Do YOU support ethnic cleansing? Just asking because there SEEMS to be a hatred towards Jews and Israal from Muslims. It is an HONEST question, not an attack. Do YOU support converting all infidels to Islam, and with the threat of death to those who refuse? Again, this is an HONEST question, not an attack. Honestly, these are just questions and not an attack on Islam or the prophet Muhammed.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
    • Gary

      your religion has proven to be the most intolerable cult of all....As an agnotic I am appauled @ your attack on Jews,Christians and all infidels.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
    • Tim Perkins

      Abd al-Latif,

      I am a follower of Jesus(Isa) and agree with you. We have chosen to believe that God loves one group of people more than another, which is not true. God is intimately concerned with each and every person in this world, irregardless of their religion. He loves them all (Jewish, Christian or Muslim). I believe the only certain way to be set free from our bondage to sin and death is through what Isa did on the cross; this was out of God's love for everyone... that love didn't go away when people stopped believing it.

      Point is, thanks for bringing up the point and we should be careful to mix politics and religion. Wrong to have ethnic cleansing of any peoples. Each life is important and valuable.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  3. Dee

    Not a Christian phenomenon, found in every religious community – dare I say every community period–on earth.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
    • senor obvious

      yes. obviously. i wish more people would realize this as well. thank you.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  4. Jess

    Wonder how many people making comments about what's in the Bible has actually read it...

    June 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  5. Abd al-Latif

    Seems like a nice topic to write about, and on the surface it even seems self-deprecating. But you'll notice that the writer carefully avoids the worst of Christians' on-line behavior. Christians are most hateful not to other Christians who are supposedly not toeing the line, but to Muslims like me. They say unBELIEVably hateful things about us and about our beliefs. The second most hateful group after Christians are atheists–but in the atheists' case their bile is distinctly tinged with uninformed, psedo-intellectual, sophistic arrogance. Christians, please stop alleging that we Muslims follow a "pedophile prophet" and bad-mouthing Allah (you might want to consider that Allah means "God" in Arabic, and your Arab Christian brothers & sisters refer to Him as Allah). You may not think that Muhammad, peace be upon him, was really a prophet–OK, you've got a right to your opinion–but you don't have to INSULT him. Why do the rules of "love thy neighbor" not apply to Prophet Muhammad and his followers? Why must you make an exception ONLY for us?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  6. Noble9

    Christians just think they're better than everyone else. When a religion claims a monopoly on truth, how else would you expect them to act?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  7. joe

    "Why Christians are jerks online"

    For the same reasons they are jerks offline.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
  8. Eric G

    @Ella: Maybe you have the wrong impression. I am not asking you to listen to me and my opinions. I asked for your thoughts. I will give you as much time as you need. Please answer the question. Hypotheticaly, if there were a box on a table and in it was evidence that will either prove or disprove god, would you want to know the answer? I am asking if god being "real" is important to your faith? If it is important to your faith, and the evidence existed to prove if he does or does not exist, would you want to know for sure?

    June 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Ella

      Eric, I could look in the box, but I simply can't wrap my mind around the fact there would be something in there to change my mind. I'm really not being difficult to annoy you, it's just that no matter what proof might be there, I'm still gonna believe.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Eric G

      @Ella: LOL Thanks for your response! No, you are not annoying me. I do have another question...... Why did you assume that the evidence would prove that there is not a god? I am not questioning your faith. I have a close friend who is a pastor and we have many discussions about this and we ran into a road block with the question of "Is it important that what you believe to be true, is actually true?" This lead us to the question that I asked of you. My pastor friend answered with "The very fact that I believe something provides a sense of reality." I then told him he was too drunk to drive home and would be sleeping on my couch. Thanks again for your honesty!

      June 30, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  9. Jay

    Thanks for this article Jonathan.

    I am NOT a christian. I DO believe in the morals and teachings of Jesus (of Nazareth) and I strive to uphold those morals and teaching EVER SINGLE DAY, however I do not believe in him as the Messiah or Christ, nor do I pray to him, I DO wear a cross but that is to remind me EVERY day of what I regard as HIGH morals and a HIGH consciousness. I believe in one G-d and I pray every day in some form or another. I put all my trust in a Loving G-d that I feel speaks directly to me and not through the Bible, although I do think the Bible has a lot of GREAT things to teach us. Such as the story of Job and being battered throughout life while still maintaing his faith in G-d.

    I wanted to say thank you for pointing this out to a lot of readers out there. I have noticed firsthand some harassment in the Christian community online and I feel saddened by it. Jesus was a Good man and to see people that claim him as their MESSIAH and yet have such dark places in their hearts is VERY saddening to me... When I see a lack of compassion by "Christians" I always think "Jesus wept."

    Thank you again for this article. Please try to keep up a positive online community through positive affirmations.

    -Jay

    June 30, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • TC

      You'll see from my previous posts here that I'm as far from a believer as one can be, but I do enjoy engaging in intellectual debate on the subject, not about the basic principles of belief themselves, but about the practical application of religion and sociological idiosyncrasies associated with those applications. That being said, if you want to type "God", you shouldn't have to type "G-d" to avoid spam/impropriety traps or to avoid offending others, and you shouldn't have to say "XMas" or "Holiday" party. Just as I won't let you force me to believe, I won't try to force you to avoid words like "Christmas" to make me feel comfortable.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:19 pm |
    • Dan Lilledahl

      TC – Chill.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  10. Kate

    The whole point to religion is about my group being the right ones and every other group being wrong. When you don't have to be nice to someone because you need to patronize their business or work with them, no wonder you will come off like a jerk if the subject is religion. There is very little you can say that isn't judgemental, subjective and basically talking like you know something that the other person knows you don't.

    And yes, the article was really badly written. It could have been condensed into one sentence.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  11. Turnipghost

    Way too deep. Christians are jerks online because they were told by Jesus to go out and spread his word... Which to the non-Christian population, is a HUGE pain in the ass.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  12. Ed

    Apparently this guy doesn't know what hate is. His rant makes no sense. Be specific. If Christians are voicing their displeasure with something how is this equated to hate? I am actually surprised CNN allowed this blurb to go through. I've been attempting to voice my displeasure with gays attempting to ram their lifestyle down everyones throat and could never make a comment. Disagreement is not hate. Hate is blowing up churches and lynching. Sound familiar? If all that comes across the internet is disagreement and some sharp words the better. This kinder more gentler society we live in wants everything......well kinder and more gentler and whenever pressure, disagreement and anger come across our radar screens the kinder more gentler addicts fold like a deck of cards. Adversity is the sauce of life. It allows you to grow. This world is not perfect, never has been and never will be until the Prince of Peace comes. Until then. Deal with it.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  13. Gary

    TC you nailed it on the head great post!

    June 30, 2010 at 12:31 pm |
  14. Gary

    God is blessing China and India with American jobs.....lets turn all churches into trade schools and factories...lets put Americans back to work. Lets get rid of unions,minmum wages laws,seal off the boarder and get rid of all trial lawyers. Let China's fat million man army tend to wars in middle east too.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • Bubba

      Um, no, actually that sounds like a really bad idea.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  15. Bubba

    Well, too many of them are jerks 24/7.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  16. Dan Lilledahl

    Seems like more hate is directed towards Christians here than Christians directing hate towards others.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  17. bhharrin

    @TC ...I can see what you're trying to say, but the difference is that you're comparing two things that are virtually incomparable. When Christians evangelize, they're doing it out of love for people, who otherwise might not know how to gain eternal bliss with God in heaven. That's a little different than picking up chick in a bar. It's a matter of eternal life and death. And if, once again, you can put yourself in a Christian's shoes, then you can see that a true believer can never be quite about the love of Christ.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • TC

      @bhharrin Maybe that's why you wind up with so many of the not-so-true "Christians" referenced throughout these posts that are giving the true believers a bad name (or otherwise leaving a sour taste in the non-believers mouths).

      June 30, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  18. KJ

    Many Christians believe that all people are looking for God. Believing that their God is the true one it then follows that their God is the one that all people are looking for. Many Christians also believe that the standards and values that are taught in the Bible are generally accepted by all and that if someone says something that indicates an opposing view a reprimand is in order– sort of like "you know better than that and need corrected." Well, Jesus didn't chase people down begging them to accept his message. When people turned away from him, he let them go and turned his attention to those who were interested. He was very hard on hypocrites. Scripture is clear that most people reject Jesus and his message. Many of the people on this blog have rejected him for various reasons. They will likely never be convinced and if they ever are, it probably won't be by a Christian (or "Christian") railling about his/her point of view on the internet. I think if people want to be left alone about it, we should leave them alone. And don't be so horrified that people have views that are in opposition to the Bible. Where do you think you are?

    June 30, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  19. sharideth

    wow, john. relevant much? does it make me a jerk if i point out the epic irony of many of these responses? yes? fine.

    for my part...guilty as charged. the ability to say whatever i want with no one to answer to except my browser is intoxicating. my fingers simply cannot type fast enough to accomplish all the judging judgment and preying on the ignorant and less educated in order to display my god-breathed word-smithing super powers.

    all in the name of jesus, of course. after all, i am doing him a service by making people feel small and question their core beliefs. naturally, swearing as often as possible makes me edgy and imbued with wisdom that transcends the slavery like bonds of antiquated "holiness".

    i have done all this and more. my desire to end this nonsense is new but profound so thank you for your timely article.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  20. bhharrin

    The concept of duty comes from the Bible, which Christians believe was divinely inspired by God, and also from the Holy Spirit which lives inside Christians. And the reason that Christians tell you their beliefs, etc isn't because they want you to be just like them, it's because they do love you and want you to, as Christians believe, live eternally in heaven.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • Gary

      Bharrin bible just a text like the quoran...written by man ...you are welcome to believe it was inspired by God. tell Benny Hinn,Jim Bakker Jimmy Swaggert,David Koresh,Andrea yates,Jim Jones and all the others to think like you do...

      June 30, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
    • TC

      Thanks for the blind love, as I can see that you do believe it, and I mean no disrespect by the following. I believe that there's nothing wrong with getting drunk and having unmarried relations, but I wouldn't expect a Christian to come out to the club with me for a few drinlks and to pick up women. Sounds preposterous, right? It's not something you could ever go along with. Same works for me and the Holy Spirit. Just pointing out the inconsistency.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.