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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. GnosticOnline

    I haven't seen many Christian jerks online (outside of the Westboro baptist Church anyway)...however, its quite true that faith (particularly Christian faith) in America is a mile wide..but an inch deep. You want to bring out the jerks, start asking people about what they believe, question them, and you often discover they have no idea what they believe. They just parrot what was taught in Sunday school ad call it good. Some can get really bent when you challenge their assumptions. (same is true of all faiths really...reason and religion tend to be bad company)

    Trouble is most who claim to be of faith have no idea about any other faith, and no interest either. They don't even want to hear about their own history let alone that of a non-believer.

    It doesn't help that history is full of examples of the faithful going forth to purge the apostate, the infidel, and the heretics in misguided attempts to purify

    Maybe the jerkiness comes from the common source of jerkiness, being insecure about what it is you think you believe. It seems that if one was secure and confident about their faith, they would see no need to belittle other faiths or fear their influence.

    July 1, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  2. Christian

    Did you see the movie "The Jerk" that was a funny movie. Maybe Steve Martin is a Christian?

    -Christian

    July 1, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  3. Scott

    For the one that does not believe that I have read the Bible: I have read it from cover to cover 10 times. I also have a BA; MA; and a Doctorate in theology. I am well acquainted with what the Bible says. It is all about Jesus. You should get to know Him. He will change your life.

    July 1, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Gary

      Scott. just book no matter how many times you read it. written by men just like the quran and all the books Opra talks about.

      July 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
  4. Doug Funny

    About time!

    July 1, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  5. Tard

    I worked with a seriously judgmental and narrow-minded 'born again' Christian who wouldn't leave us alone about his religion.

    Not wanting to elevate the problem into the HR world like cry baby sissy tattletales, we all started ending each and every sentence with "... according to scripture". He immediately filed an HR complaint and got each and every one of us in trouble with our bosses.

    Ah... so very forgiving, yes?

    July 1, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Kate

      Well, certainly not very effective for his supposed purpose.

      July 1, 2010 at 6:42 pm |
  6. JB

    I loved this article. I think we all could afford to be more careful with the words we choose- online and offline for that matter. This artilcle has encouraged me to re-read what I write online to ensure that it properly reflects the vaules I've set for myself.

    @Jonathan (the writer) thanks for addressing an issue I think we've all encountered at one time or another. I too hoped that the comments section would reflect- a lesson learned by those who read it.

    The fact is- Christian or not- we're all capable of being a jerk on and offline. I hope no one is above admitting that and moreover, I hope no one is above making the effort to change that.

    July 1, 2010 at 4:35 pm |
  7. TELLitStraight

    Morality is Human based for non believers and Commandments from the Lord our God for believers. What I do not understand is how can one human think he is so superior to think his morality is more valid then another's when all humans are born and die in the same fashion. If we assume that all humans are created equal sitting here discussing who is more hateful and harmful to humanity Atheist versus Christians based on their spoken opinion is and exercise in the futile. Neither human being equal can command that how he/she feels and thinks is any better then the human next to him or her.

    What we can measure however is impact. We can measure works that benefit humanity as whole. The Atheist against the Christians. That would at least talk about the tangible rather then the abstract. So would it not be a better use of time if we are going to have a discussion about who is nice and who is not to use the tangible?

    Christians do not follow the bible because they lack the ability to think. Rather they believe the bible is God's word. Humans are not only prideful, thinking their opinion is the only one that matters but their opinion is guided by some agenda and thus short sighted. We see humans doing a 40 or 50 year study patting themselves on the back saying well we did this study and we deem that this is not harmful.

    The truth be told it might take thousands of years to see a trend effect on society. If you took even a 100 year study at the beginning of Roman's empire that study may not have predicted the fall of Rome. But if you took that hundred years and referenced it with a 10,000 year study on pre Rome empire(s) then you may have indeed been able to predict Rome's fall.
    And Christian believe themselves to follow the book of a God who sees all time past, present, and future and rightly say they cannot match the wisdom of such and individual. I do not think anyone is aware of an atheist society that existed anywhere near the 3,000 the bible has. Christians have a judge to determine who is right and who is wrong, humanity has no such judge.

    July 1, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Tell – The question of who is nice and who is not, can not seriously be settled. If anything all we can do and I am glad to see are instances of non-Christians saying "some" Christians. You have those that try to paint the entire group as such but in the end they are no different than those that say that all Muslims are terrorist.

      July 1, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
  8. Annette Snyden

    You wanna see christian jerks go to the Baptist Board carpro reformed baptist refuse to tip....cheap greedy jerks

    July 1, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  9. Cheyla

    A spiritual experience should be a quiet, personal journey to find the source of your inspiration and compassion. Organized religion has turned this process into a hate mongering dictum of political power in order to subjugate people, particularly women. Women never come out ahead where religion is involved. Instead of cowering to threats of eternal punishments, why can't we just be good for goodness sake?

    July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  10. KUMI

    Our Father, who leads the Black Stars, Blessed be thy name, our time has come, let the trophy be won, in South Africa as it was almost in Egypt, give us this Friday our daily Gyan and forgive our performances, as we forgive those who played against us, ...and lead us not to the airport, but deliver us from Uruguayans,for Ghana is...... the kingdom of football and we want the glory, forever and ever, Amen!!.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  11. Belarius Marek

    I tend to think Christians are just mean people and don't even read their bible. I have studied comparative theocracy, and what I see being practiced by a great number of so called Christians seems to be a capitalist form. In other words, their Christianity becomes capitol upon which they trade and use to control and abuse others. For the record, I am not a Christian, but know many that have acted, well, very un-Christian according their letter of the law. So, I am left with a very unsatisfactory taste in my mouth as to Christianity as a whole. Now, let me be very clear here before I am flamed by the "mean Christians" out there. I don't dislike Christianity and its teachings.. Just the people that claim to practice it and then cut in line, or steal, don't help the old lady across the street, or write flames denigrating ones lineage. The rest of you are ok in my book. Or, I guess in yours...

    July 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • AM

      So your labeling a large group of people based on your experience with a few of them? I would like to know what your "letter of the law is" and whether you follow it perfectly or not.

      July 1, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
    • Jessica

      AM – why do you assume its only a few? Most of the people I know claim to be christian, thats not a "few" people, thats quite a bit actually...and I agree, the do not practice what they preach, at all. They pick and choose. Im not saying im perfect, but im not a believer and I dont have this "god" i have to behave for, just myself. I let myself down a lot, sure, but then, im not trying to hold anyone else to the standard by which I hold myself, and the same is not true of most christians. I work with an evangelical, and the hypocrisy she exhibits is amazing. She judges people a great deal, makes disparaging remarks about "those" kinds of people, especially gay people...and unbeknownst to her, im gay, and out of respect for her beliefs I just dont talk about it, but the thing is, she thinks they are these "awful people" but she loves me. She wouldnt if she knew, and thats the hypocrisy im talking about, love thy neighbour...sure, but that doesnt mean you have to like them or ever talk to them again, right? If more christians were like Jesus christ, this planet would be amazing...and im not talking about making water into wine, just being loving and caring, and thats it. nothing more needed (and I have met some christians who are just like that, but you get to know them long enough and you see how false that niceness can be, you have to believe GOD knows they are putting on a show right?)

      July 1, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • AM

      I would agree that it is a shame that woman isn't more considerate about the people around her, but saying that all christians are like that is the same as saying "all gay people are awful", double standard? If the same things were being said about african americans or latin americans, the term racist would be thrown out in an instant. How is this any different?

      July 2, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  12. AM

    The term "Hyocrite" is thrown around so loosely. Just because a christian who is striving to live a good life messes up, this makes them a hypocrite. I didn't realize yhr rest of the world was so perfect either. I'm a christian, and yes i've been a jerk before, but does this make me a hypocrite? I don't think so. A solid premise of christianity is that humans are imperfect, and there is forgiveness.

    July 1, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  13. chakrapoint

    I love these discussions. I really do. What I think many of the commenters have forgotten, though, is the commonality between 'christian people' and 'non-christian people.' I'm speaking, of course, of the "people" part. With our without religion, some people are going to be jerks–online or off–and some people won't. And most of us fit somewhere in between depending on our mood. Things like hypocrisy, unkindness, judgment, lack of charity–these are as eminently human as are kindness, creativity, and selflessness. Neither a religious superstructure nor a lack thereof will prevent people from acting, in essence, humanly.
    One thing that I don't understand about many world religions is their insistence upon ascribing human characteristics to the unfathomable. As if a pluripotent being of higher consciousness would even stop to consider such human concepts as "judgment" and "sin!" It certainly wouldn't give the proverbial rat's ass what you do in your bedroom. I think the assignation of human characteristics to the unknowable in order to make a vast and largely uncaring universe more relatable is one of our most enduring fallacies.
    AND YET...I accept that it will happen. Because, of course, it is so very human a thing to do. And we cannot help but be human. I am no less lost and no more found than the next person. However, it is my fundamental belief that to try to reach an unattainable cosmic state through one "spiritual" path or another is a waste of a life. The predilection of the human mind is to quest and to question, but all too often we forget that we've already found what we should live for, and it is all around us in the people we care about, and the pursuits that fulfill us during this unimaginably brief period called "life."

    July 1, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  14. DaveC

    As an atheist, I have to say that atheists can be jerks online as well. Those people don't speak for me, but I think it's easy to be a jerk when you feel there's so much venom directed at you. I don't feel that the majority of one side or the other are really jerks, but it's easy to loose sight of that in the heat of an argument. That's why you hear phrases like you christians/you athests.
    Christian, athiest, moon worshiper, I don't care. I'd just like to see poeple treat each other as if they matter.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:49 pm |
  15. AB

    "I agree that most Christians aren't just jerks online. They're mostly just jerks." – I don't notice Christians being jerks any more than the population as a whole. Choose any demographic and you'll find a percentage that fall outside the norm. It is the people who choose certain demographics to complain about that are the real issue. Go a conservative, liberal, Christian, Muslim website and you will see people with aggressive beliefs. Whether you agree or disagree with those views doesn't make them jerks or not.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  16. Scott

    Mark from Middle River,

    I am not suggesting thst we should ever be a jerk, I am simply stateing that I would rather be a jerk in the eyes of others and go to heaven than go to hell for lack of faith in Christ.

    July 1, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  17. MArk in California

    As an ex-Catholic, I have to say I left the church, because all the Christians i knew were more than jerks, they were hypocrites. The problem I found with most religions is that most people involved with them are Religious (and Jerks), not Spiritual. If you take your spirituality to heart, it's less likely that you will be a jerk, as that's not part of your life. Be one with your God and you'll be one with the people around you.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • Gary

      MArk in Cali........Amen

      July 1, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
    • verify

      I left the church, not at all because of the people... some are jerks and some are not. I left because of the beliefs.

      I might have a surgeon who is a jerk, but if he/she can remove or repair what ails me, I will put up with the personality flaw. If he/she, however, suggests sticking pins in a voodoo doll to cure me, I am out of there...

      July 1, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • KG

      News Flash: Most "Christian's" dont even consider Catholic's Christian. Catholics don't practice their religion the way "Chistian's" want it practiced. Unfortunately, Tolerance is not a trait that Christianity practices very well. They tolerate the Mormon's even less.

      You can see the anger in a Christian's eyes when Mormon's are brought up in conversation. It's all part of that "MY WAY IS THE ONLY WAY TO SALVATION" thing.

      I am what Catholic's call a "Lapsed Catholic" I call myself "Anti-Religious Dogma". Christianity in it's current form of practice was invented during the Dark and Middle Ages in Europe by largely criminal enterprises. The gentry of this time were murderer's and thieves and oppressors. These are the people who decided how we should practice our reverence to God. Religion as written and as practiced are two different things. Think Fundamentalism.

      In my book, anyone who has an issue with the way someone else practices their Religion is showing a lack of Tolerance, which is in opposition to what that their own Dogma says. Think Contradiction. That is what Religion is. The practice of a series of Contradictions.

      How can you "Kill in the name of God"? How can you force a people to abandon their own culture and religion to save them? How do you torture someone to make them repent?

      Now that brings me to Jesus. Why are so many of his miracles, similar to feats of older Phoenician and other Pagan religions? Because St. Paul was the "snake oil salesman" of Religion. Your God healed people, Jesus healed people too. Your God brought people back to life, look what Jesus did with Lazerus. Your God rose from the dead, so did Jesus. He was the used car salesman that would say anything to get the masses to follow his burgeoning Religion. And religion meant $$$$$ and Power.

      In closing, Christian's are Jerks, Catholics are Jerks, Jews are Jerks and Muslims are Jerks, Athiests are Jerks, etc... People are Jerks. And Religion was created by... yes you got it, JERKS!

      July 1, 2010 at 3:36 pm |
    • KG

      And to be fair, those who are "Anti-Religious Dogma" are Jerks too!

      July 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Bethany

      MArk in California, there does seem to be a bit of hypocrisy among Christians. You mention that "if you take your spirituality to heart, it's less likely that you will be a jerk." Sure, if we attempt to interact with the world in a genuinely loving way like Jesus did, we would demonstrate kindness and not jerk-ness. Some people just focus on the wrong stuff. A blog post by John Scalzi discusses Leviticans – a word he made up – or people who love Old Testament rules, compared to genuine Christians who love humanity. Google it; it's worth reading.

      As a Christian myself, the reputation the "Leviticans" have earned for me is really frustrating. I'm not here to rip them apart, but merely point out their immaturity. Like children who see the world in a clear-cut way, they are shocked to find that being an adult takes understanding, effort and subtlety. Mature Christians work to not lose sight of the fact that God IS Love, even when love doesn't match my own preferences. My number one goal is to show love: to Christians, non-Christians, and even Christians I disagree with. I'm not an expert at it yet, but I keep trying. I hope that in aiming for this goal, God is visible.

      "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John 13:35

      July 1, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  18. Fr. William Lugger

    ...try being a Catholic on-line...you really feel that hate....add "priest" into the mix and it is overwhelming such hatred by others including "Christians"...and yes believe or not Catholics ARE Christians......

    July 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Gary

      Fr. William Lugger . my wife is a devout catholic she feels the hate from her prodestant friends and coworkers...

      July 1, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Don H.

      Fr. Lugger – so sorry to read that. The anonymity the Internet provides isn't good for us. I don't think the human race is evolved enough to handle that kind of anonymity honorably – with grace. I wish it wasn't that way for you... most priests have devoted their lives to the service of others. It's just those few... and the terrible way they were handled by the church for so many years. That's what people are angry about. But YOU aren't responsible for any of that!

      I think everything we say and do matters. It is important. Our behavior – all of us – influences each other. These angry people on the Internet provide a sad example of the worst behaviors average people can engage in. I'm sorry this is your experience.

      July 5, 2010 at 5:24 am |
  19. Scott

    Christians are not perfect, but we are forgiven. I love Christ for what He has done on the cross. I serve a risen Savior because He rose from the dead. If that makes me a jerk, then I will gladly be a jerk in anyone's eyes. I have eternal life, I am on my way to heaven, and I will rejoice throughout eternity in the presence of my Lord Jesus Christ.

    July 1, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Gary

      Scott, You dont sound like a jerk to me. You have sincere faith in your religion. Hope you have a great after life eventually

      July 1, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  20. Shrike

    Praise Jebus! HalleBerry! Believe the words in this book! Now please send me your money, lawyers cost money!

    July 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
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