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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. Al Gore's th'rapist

    Al Gore invented Christianity. He also invented Christians being jerks online.

    July 2, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  2. johnbeer

    "Be angry and sin not" says the Bible. Anger is justified when unborn children are being murdered, often by having the brains sucked out of their heads. Anger is justified when virtue and hard work are penalized and laziness and crime are rewarded. Anger is justified when right is called wrong and wrong is called right. No wonder it bleeds into the internet. But to make you happy, I am angry in other venues, too!

    July 2, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • Kate

      Are you also angry when pregnant women and their fetus are allowed to die because if they got a life saving abortion, it would be an abortion and abortions are a sin? Many Christians are not.

      July 2, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  3. Scott

    Gary,

    As you read the Gospel of John, honestly ask God to speak to you. I believe He will. If He does, then you will have your answer. Thanks for your honesty.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
    • Gary

      Scott, Will do have a safe 4th.

      July 2, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  4. Gary

    AM the existence of Matter , time and space being eternal is not proof there is a God. Eternity is proven through science and is an obvious conclusion. Who made God? who made the maker of God, who made the maker who made God. who made the maker of the maker of the maker of the maker of God? Beliving that God exists is fine. But why shoud anyone ahere to books like the Quoran or any other religious texts written by men have anything to do with God?

    July 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm |
    • AM

      I would have to agree with you about the texts. The way the early christian church picked and chose what they wanted to include troubles me a bit. As a christian I just use what is at my disposal, but for athiests it is out of the question. Being a "bible thumper" isn't the way to go because of that credability question.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  5. Hud

    After reading the comments, I can understand why Christians would be jerks – on line and in person. Some of the hate spewed forth here is actually quite impressive! In the end, Christians ARE humans and the God-given "fight or flight" response will kick in. Is it right? Probably not. But it appears that there is just as much "jerkiness" going toward Chirstians as there is going from them. Don't believe me, read the stuff above from both sides....

    July 2, 2010 at 1:18 pm |
  6. Kate

    AM, bad reasoning. If you want to insist everything has a maker, than you have to come up with a maker for your maker and then a maker for that maker and then you won't ever have any end..

    It's turtles all the way down.

    July 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
    • AM

      Where in that arguement did I say that everything has a maker? The conclusion is that there is something divine that has dominion over the universe in order to explain its existance. When divinity comes into play, does it have to adhere to the physical rules of humaniy, i.e. the limitations of time? Explain to me the first mover question.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • AM

      Aristotle's argument for the existence of the unmoved mover progresses as follows:

      1.There exists movement in the world.
      2.Things that move were set into motion by something else.
      3.If everything that moves were caused to move by something else, there would be an infinite chain of causes. This can't happen.
      4.Thus, there must have been something that caused the first movement.
      5.From 3, this first cause cannot itself have been moved.
      6.From 4, there must be an unmoved mover.

      July 2, 2010 at 2:58 pm |
    • Kate

      Since no one knows or can measure what happened before the first thing came into motion, there is no way to know if something did or did not set it in motion.

      You apparently have a problem with the answer " I don't know". That you don't know something does not equal a god's action.

      So- try again.

      July 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • verify

      Yes, Kate. Thank you.

      While I certainly can't claim to have the reasoning powers of Aristotle, I think that a lot hinges on the first part of his #3:

      "If everything that moves were caused to move by something else..."

      Perhaps that is the way we see it with our grasp of physics. But could it be any other way? Could there be other dimensions in which things don't operate by the laws that we have discovered? The only answer is, "I don't know", or maybe, "I don't know... yet!"

      To attribute the unknown to a god, and to give that god human-like characteristics such as, desires, demands, love, anger, revenge, etc. is simply imaginary.

      July 2, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  7. Mark from Middle River

    I wanted to wait until there was a thread on CNN.com concerning another religion to see if the challenges from atheist would give a repeat performance there as they have here. The thread about a Muslim school holidays gave me that chances. What I did not see was the all out blitz on the Muslims from Atheist that I have seen here against Christians.

    Why, my atheist friends. Is there something you are afraid of? Where are the post degrading those who follow Alah while those who call him God have been called so many names on this thread? Where were all the challenges and the sheep being lead and the "man in the grey beard" statements that flowed here on the Muslim thread?

    Maybe this answers the question for some of the Christians today on why they are jerks online. After seeing the way Atheist went after Christians here I have begun to feel that maybe those Christians that are called jerks should be supported and given free reign. I am serious, I was starting to give some atheist respect but your silence against other faiths while attacking Christians is way wrong. If your cause is just then be fair.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Gary

      Mark from Middle River, attacking on both sides...when coworkers advise me if I dont adhere to their religious beliefs my punishement is hell I consider that attacking. As an agnostic I simply say I dont know and I dont think any religious person knows. I believe you believe you know and I do respect that, Most devout muslims,hindus and sect of Christianity and all religions have members who strongly believe they are correct and their God is the "real" God. burdon of proof is on folks claiming they know God and that he exists. Agnostics like me are just waiting on the proof. .....My observation is religion is faith based and science is fact or fiction...

      July 2, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
    • AM

      Religion can be deduced from reason alone, at least the existance that there is some kind of God. One example is the question of the first mover. Yes the big bang theory is what is given credit for how the earth is created, but where did the elements for this come from? With our perception of time, there had to be a beginning, something had to set these things into motion. Is there any other explanation other than something divine? With this arguement, it doesn't it seem prudent to at least try to find some kind of faith, rather then do nothing?

      July 2, 2010 at 1:13 pm |
    • Kate

      Well, for one, that thread wasn't on the main page and for two, I don't see Muslims quoting the Quarmam like it's the rules, or even posting anything much at all that I've seen yet. I didn't read the entire thread though. It's hard to respond to someone who doesn't post.

      But for your information, I used to see a Muslim troll on an atheist forum and he got nailed same as anyone else. He never bothered to respond – just posted rants and left.

      July 2, 2010 at 1:15 pm |
  8. TexinVA

    Of course they're jerks, they're stupid. No one with any brains at all believes that nonsense.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Dare you to go and post the same statement over in the Muslim thread kid. Come one gain some respect for your cause by honestly being fair and not a troll.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  9. Scott

    Gary,

    An honest doubter is one that will not make an honest examination before speaking of something negatively. Read the Gospel of John in the Bible, ask God, if He is real to speak to you through it. If He does, then you wiill know that He is real. If He does not, then you can go on your merry way as you are.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
    • Gary

      Scott, Okay I will read the book of John. I have read the bible before and many books like Matthew and revalations many times. I find them interesting. I dont see how reading a religious text will prove that God exists. Its just a book like qoran and all other religious texts. but I will take the time to read over book of John. Remember Scott , My feeling about religion is it is faith based.

      July 2, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • jersey

      i'm Christian and absolutely agree that this is faith based.

      July 3, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  10. timetraveller35

    Many of the people I know, including a few that I like are christians. They seem normal enough until for reasons I've never been able to fathom, they inexplicably start their dribble about all the fairy tales they fiercely believe in and why your facing certain eternal damnation if you don't think like they do.
    If they only could see what boring jerks they are when they start this tedious process. The solution to this awkward situation is quite simple really, just be as religious as you want but do it on your on time and dime and we'll get along just fine.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  11. Tim from SC

    I think that a lot of Christians live in a tiny boxed in world. They love to spout Bible quotes and bash other religions and non-belivers. The core teachings of the NT is to basicly love god and to love others. They seem to forget this message when they spew forth their rhetoric. As a hardcore atheist I find it strange that I can incorporate ideas from many religons into my life but Christians reject any notion from outside their circle. Thank goodness that we are moving into the 21st century and as people become more educated they will quit believing in magic and start believing in themselves.

    July 2, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  12. canal walker

    In Indiana you can request "In God We Trust" license plates. Some of them drive like they seem to think they have more rights than others, or maybe they figure that having that plate means they will be covered when they get to the Pearly Gates. I have to wonder if how they got there won't be taken into consideration.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:22 am |
  13. Lee

    I love the fact that there is loads of responses to this many of them proving his point. I'm a follower of Jesus I like Bono and beer. Amen!

    July 2, 2010 at 11:02 am |
  14. Monster93

    Good article. Made me think of the unbelieving Jews as recorded in John 8: They wore the label that they were Abraham's children and he (Abraham) was their father. Jesus told them "If you were Abraham's children, you would do the works of Abraham." John 8:39 Anyone can call themselves a Christian and wear the label Christian, but the true children will be known by their works. The outsiders looking in don't know this. The insiders looking out do.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:46 am |
    • Gary

      Monster93 sounds like a typical exclusionary cult ...another post which strenghtens my Agnosticity ,and why I cant stand any organized religion.

      July 2, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • Monster93

      Gary,

      uhm Gary, I'm confused, how can this be an exclusive cult when everyone has the choice to join?

      July 2, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  15. NonBeliever

    I see it all the time. I never discuss religion. I'm not angry about religion or god. I just don't believe in god. However, I have a coworker who wouldn't shut up about god and his religion. He pressed and pressed me on my thoughts, and so I finally told him that I didn't believe in god – any god. He looked at me as if I stabbed his child. I didn't attack him or his beliefs. I just told him I don't believe. I'm an atheist, but not an anti-theist. Nevertheless, he began peppering me with questions and accusations. "Aren't you worried about the devil or your eternal soul?" No, I don't believe in those either. "You are being selfish. You are risking the souls of your children." No. They are good kids. If I'm wrong and there is a god, I doubt he'd punish them – unless he's the old-testament, wrathful god. ... It went on and on for a while. Now he just shuns me and treats me like an enemy. I never judged him or drew a line in the sand, but he did – and quickly.

    July 2, 2010 at 10:44 am |
    • Eric G

      Believers are the first to judge others. I was a passive atheist but I am becoming an antitheist. I am no longer "going with the flow" of the believers in my own family. Rather than discuss it, some have chosen to take to making comments under their breath. It really is sad.

      July 2, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • Gary

      Nonbeliver agree with you 100% ...I have been through the same scenerio a few times but you really made it clear how I can respond....thanks !

      July 2, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • Michelle

      Your coworker push you further away from God. There are three types of God people, The sower, which your co worker obviously is, all your coworked needed to do is plant the seed, tell about jesus, next there are the ones that will come into your life and manure the seed (God words) that the sower planted in you, and that can take weeks, months, years, than comes the reaper. That special person will just say the right word at the right time, and God will speak to your heart. My point is your coworker wanted to be all three things, he want instant result, that the worst thing a Christian can do, is nag an unbelieve. lol! don't be surprise if on day you become a Christian, you will have to thank that coworker, he planted that seed.

      July 3, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  16. Aaron S

    I once heard "don't judge Beethoven by the middle school symphony." Please don't judge God by the foolish things we as humanity do and say in His name.

    July 2, 2010 at 9:35 am |
    • Gary

      Aaron S. ,as an agnostic I have never judged God. I have never seen or met him in my whole life. I cant judge what I dont know even exists! I can and will judge humans ..free speech my right.

      July 2, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  17. carlaj

    Does this also answer the question why Christians who choose to display the ichthus symbol on their vehicles drive like jerks? Just saying...never ceases to amaze me.

    July 2, 2010 at 8:05 am |
    • Gary

      carlaj, remember the " Jesus fish" episode on Seinfeld?

      July 2, 2010 at 10:08 am |
  18. Dane Gressett

    Okay, so everyobdy commenting seems to be arguing about if Christians are guitly of being negative and mean more than non-Christians. I read about 2 dozen posts, and they were all critical and fault-finding. But only 2 of them were writtten by professing Christians. Sure was a lot of self-righteous energy being poured out toward the Jesus people.

    Seems hypocrisy runs deep on both sides of the fence.

    July 2, 2010 at 7:26 am |
  19. John Boyd

    Whichever Sun God you wish to pray to, honestly most of the rest of us dont really care. Just dont keep running up to us trying to convert us. Imagine being constantly hounded by three-year-old children wanting to show you their latest etch-a-sketch drawing. Amusing, but it gets tiresome. Look at the numbers. Percentage of Academy of Science who are agnostic or atheist. Going up the ladder from Mensa to Mega and beyond, the numbers get slimmer and slimmer. How many Sun Gods do you need to see born on December 25th or abouts, of a virgin birth, etc etc etc. At least give Horus his dues for being the OG Sun God.

    July 2, 2010 at 6:00 am |
    • John Boyd

      Clown Filter: If you can do a triple integral in your head, please respond. Yes, I've earned it, believe me. Otherwise, go back to your large-print Readers Digest, I apologize for interrupting you.

      July 2, 2010 at 6:07 am |
  20. m

    Actually, I have seen more hateful and negative posts by those in favor of the gay lifestyle. I am coming to the conclusion that many gays believe that the word "no" is hateful. I.e. If you say no, you hate me. If you loved me, you would let me do whatever makes me happy. Sometimes saying no is loving when it prevents harm to others or disrespect to God. Jesus became very angry with the moneychangers when they were conducting business on the Sabbath. Although loving others is the first commandment, those who believe that being loving means always saying yes and always speaking in soft tones have an incomplete understanding of the meaning of love.

    July 2, 2010 at 5:49 am |
    • Mauricio

      Gays belong to the world. The Lord and Paul made it very clear that they did not come to judge the world but to save it. What business do the church has in correcting the world? None. Christendom is out there correcting the world and wonder why they get in trouble with the world? The church is not judging them; it is Christendom! Not only we are not supposed to correct the world as if they were saved, but it is absurd. Do you tell a dead man to behave like a Christian? They do not have the Life of Christ and you are asking them to behave like Christians? Are you nuts. First, Christ has to come inside of them; then they can live Christ. Not before. You cannot do one simple verse in the scripture without the Holy Spirit and you are asking those who do not have the Holy Spirit yet to stop sinning? You never see me telling the world not to fornicate. Even if they managed not to, what would I gain? A dead man that does not fornicate?

      July 2, 2010 at 7:29 am |
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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.