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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. Phil

    Nice article indeed, however, Jonathan, may I also add to your points as to why Christians can become jerks: alongside the Internet and "policing" comes the aspect of fear of anyone different. If we see someone acting differently, dressed differently or even speaking differently than us, we fear that difference because our innate nature – which should be to reach out to that person – is to avoid anyone not within our comfort level of Western Christianity (i.e., nice clothes, nice haircuts, nice physical structures, etc.) and, thus, become a jerk to that person. As a Christian and member of a particularly hated sub-culture I've received plenty of bile, sadly, from the Christians here in the U.S., rarely, if ever, from outside the U.S.; this bile was due to my choice of dress and choice of interests which are fully biblical in nature but culturally frightening to those unfamiliar with things outside of "western American Christianity", also known as "churchianity" at times.

    July 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  2. Gene

    Isn’t Atheism an organized religion – “Freedom From Religion Foundation“,, is a big one, and there are Atheist organizations everywhere. I’ve heard that the goal of Atheism, is to remove all religious belief for the purpose of uniting humanity. Some of the Atheists, I know, are pretty rebellious. Is that goal, in any way, related to freedom? What is the Atheist definition of hypocrisy?

    July 6, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
    • peace2all

      Hi Gene.......Yep...those darn atheists can be pretty rebellious. Not believin' in god's word and all...

      I think, part of the motivation of atheists is that they are tired of the 'believers'..(christianity) attempting to blur the lines of the separation of church/state...by having their 'unprobable beliefs'....which they are unprovable....swaying politics, education, etc...

      One of the scariest things is that the 'believers' truly believe in the biblical garden of eden story...on down. I think the atheists are fed up and concerned for the welfare of our society and life...right now, not to mention the absolute untruths that they (christians) are trying to shove into education, etc....

      Too much to answer here.....but that is a starter.....

      July 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      That's like saying that football is an organized religion because of the NFL.

      July 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      Removing all religious belief for the purpose of uniting humanity? Maybe that was Stalin's goal, but most atheists, agnostics and other brands of non-religious folks really don't give a whit what religion ANYONE practices. We might be annoyed by Bible-thumpers attempting to infuse Christian beliefs into political platforms, but that's not an attempt to make sure nobody believes in God, Allah, Vishnu or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We just believe that's a PERSONAL choice and should remain PERSONAL.

      July 6, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Leah(TXanimal)........Pretty much agree with everything you said.....AND......some of us do care as to the beliefs of the 'believers' as they do end up having real world effects on policy, education, law.

      While I certainly know that it is a PERSONAL choice......Some of these choices carry with them very real world effects that can and do effect us all.......

      I believe that we are in agreement, but I don't want to underestimate the ramifications of 'believers' beliefs, albeit personal as they may be....

      I

      July 6, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      @ peace2all: Agreed 100%. I should have been a little more articulate!

      July 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  3. Samuel

    Mr.Wong, Jesus alone is able see through your emotional wounds which are clearly deep. However I would point out to you that Satan shared your sentiments that his opinion was of greater value than God's word. Please do not interpret my observation as intimating you are aligned with Satan. That is not my personal opinion. Actually I am very sorry that you have lost your children and home. How tragic. The Bible tells wives of unbelievers to carry on in a manner that will cause their husbands to have respect for their Christian faith, not to abandon their marriage and family.

    July 6, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Samuel, thanks for your sympathy but I did not actually lose my wife and kids. She realized what they were doing and stopped attending that church. She is a truly wonderful woman with whom I am still happily married today.

      I'm sure you're a nice guy and I hope you don't take it personally that I don't take your beliefs seriously. But look at it this way: when you read about Hindu beliefs, do you take them seriously? Of course not; you won't go up to a Hindu and ridicule him to his face, but you don't take his beliefs seriously. That's the same way I feel about Christianity, and it's something I hope you can appreciate. It doesn't make me a "hater"; it just makes me someone who doesn't take it seriously.

      July 6, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
  4. Samuel

    John, that is exactly what I am saying. Jesus foretold the dismal state that Christianity will be at prior to the end of the world. Jesus would have no part of the hypocrisy and war and duplicity of worldwide official Christianity. It is so bad that Mr. Wong has rejected Gods word because of his disappointment in Gods supposed messengers.

    July 6, 2010 at 2:46 pm |
  5. John

    Christians are JERKS ALWAYS.
    Especially when they invoke the Bible to keep a couple apart...but throw it in the trash so they can get REVENGE.

    Christian BOMBS and BULLETS rule the world.

    If Jesus was alive today he would disown just about every Christian.

    July 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      No doubt people will attack you as a "hater" for what you just wrote, but that happened to me. A bunch of Christians tried to break up my marriage. They discovered that we were a mixed-faith couple (she was Christian, I was not), and they started trying to drive a wedge between us. I used to accompany her to church (I didn't believe, but I felt like I should go with her just for the sake of marital togetherness), and they told her that she should come without me. Then they told her that she should try to limit the time I had with the children, presumably to keep me from "poisoning" their minds with non-Christian ideas. Essentially, they started telling her to slowly cut me out of the family, because I'm not one of them.

      And these people call themselves supporters of "family values".

      July 6, 2010 at 2:44 pm |
  6. Samuel

    Your dismissal of the prophesied end of the world is based on your personal opinion, not scripture. I have no interest in challenging your opinions. I am simply expressing a point of scripture that has a direct bearing on the overall subject of this board.

    July 6, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Of course it's not based on scripture. Since when is scripture more reliable than logic?

      July 6, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  7. Gene

    To Atheists; The goal of Christianity, is to love God, ourselves and others (everyone else). As a Christians, we try to love, as Jesus would. It is a journey and most of us fall short, allot of the time. Mother Theresa believed in and followed Jesus’ teachings and she came close. What is the goal of Atheism?

    July 6, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      What a silly question.

      You don't believe in Zeus, right? What is the "goal" of not believing in Zeus?

      July 6, 2010 at 2:25 pm |
    • Matt

      The 'goal' as you put it is not a means to an end. The main point of being an Atheist is that you reject arcane dogma for more rational explanations of 'why or how we're here'. Atheism is un-spiritual. Meaning that by and large Atheists reject the notion or idea that deities exist. I am an Atheist, and have never seen what I would call evidence of a god of any kind. Some people see miracles, I see explainable coincidence. Some people believe in creation, I understand physics and it explains the origins of the universe far more definitively.

      There is no motive to be an Atheist. It is merely a state of being where people who tell you that the invisible man is watching you, and you dont buy it. I have no agenda other than to help people take responsibility for themselves and their actions, to use rational thought rather than reference a 2000 year old book, and to really reject what they're told by people and seek the answers for themselves. Its about being smart, independent, informed, and able to make decisions that are based on your life, not the life of someone who may or may not have existed. Hope that helps explain. (and I hope I did not come across as rude, which was not my intent).

      July 9, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Kate

      In my case, the goal is to be able to live with myself. Can you imagine pretending all your life that fairies were real and performing elaborate rituals to appease them and to obey their imaginary directives that apparently they only reveal to some people? Then you have some idea of what you are asking.

      July 12, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  8. LJ

    You know, I think the bottom line is that no matter your religion, we are all human, and we stumble even with out own beliefs. I believe author was simply trying to point out one of the ways many of us stumble, and provide a fresh perspective in order to help others better themselves.

    Peace, my Internet brothers & sisters.
    Be kind, judge not.

    July 6, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
  9. Michael Wong

    Christians are jerks on-line for the same reason that EVERYBODY tends to act more like a jerk on-line. Having said that, I guess it's especially jarring when Christians do it because they keep using words like "love" and "caring" while they're doing it.

    I understand why some people let out their Dark Side on-line. There are a lot of good reasons that flow from human nature, regardless of your religion. But if you're going to do it, don't pretend to be spreading peace, love, and understanding at the same time.

    July 6, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  10. Middle Aged in MN

    Jonathan,
    I liked your article/blog. I'm a first time reader...My Take about the article, then the comments: Aren't all Christians hypocrites to some extent? I can safely say that I'm not perfect and never will be. Do non-christians think that Christians think they are perfect? Maybe we give that impression somehow. Maybe there is a distinction between trying not to be a hypocrite and not really caring. Doesn't loving others as yourself mean asking for forgiveness when we make mistakes (say things that are jerky)? Comments: I'm really surprised at all of the negative comments that people have toward each other...I must be naive...

    July 6, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  11. Gene

    To Johnathan Acuff; Are you Christian, Atheist, or just someone used by CNN, to instigate religious rivalry?

    July 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Mr. Acuff is a Christian, and quite a committed one judging by his blog. But he's quite willing to rebuke fellow Christians, even if it's half in jest). Indeed, his religion calls for no less.

      July 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  12. Samuel

    Jesus clearly foretold the demise of Christianity in the last days. Revelations reinforces this view by exposing Christian alliances with world governments. Most of the posts here are expressing indignation at Christian hypocrisy. It is already foretold as a sign of the last days. Christians are actually warned to “get out” of Christianity. We are at the point where we are now responsible for our own hearts and can not fall back on the doctrines of unholy Christian corporations. Read your Bible and discuss it with other “sheep”, and don’t worry about the Christian “jerks”. There is no end to them and they are not Christian, they only belong to a registered group.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      I don't know exactly what the news headlines will be 500 years from now. But one thing I do know is that Christians will still be telling everyone that "the end is nigh". They've been doing it since the dawn of the church. Paul even advised men not to marry, because the end was coming soon.

      July 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • verify

      Samuel: It sounds like you are on your way to reality, having rejected the "registered groups" of Christians. Keep going - bible scholar after bible scholar after bible scholar reject the veracity of those writings.

      I wish you well on your journey.

      July 6, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Samuel

      Hello Verify. Actually I embrace God’s word. I reject the effort of individuals and originations to subtlety modify it to their own ends. I am not a Bible scholar, I am a “sheep”.

      July 6, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • verify

      If you really want to see how it has been 'modified', you can get a taste of Bible scholarship from Bart Ehrman, who even has some of his talks on youtube. Hector Avalos is another one (an archeologist/Bible scholar) who you can also find on youtube. There are many, many more if you want to search.

      July 6, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Samuel..... the book of revelations and the bible in general, is known in logic and reasoning circles as 'circular-self sealing' arguements. The very fact that anything said against 'believer' i.e...christianity, bible etc....will just be used to further validate your 'unprovable' and quite frankly very ignorant beliefs...

      @verify.......Good to see you still posting...and by the way....good posts...
      Hope that you are well....!

      July 6, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  13. johnny

    Everyone is more of a jerk online. Why" Because you would never say half the stuff you post online to someone face to face or you would get your face beat in. It is easy to hide behind the cyber veil and be a bad*ss.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  14. David Bruce

    Jonathan, I just wanted to tell you that your article was great. I think you nailed it with the Business Traveler analogy, and it applies to all kinds of people.

    As a secular humanist, I try to put my best foot forward, and the older I've gotten, the easier it has become. So often it's easier to pass judgment on others while turning a blind eye to your own actions, something we all have been guilty of at one time or another.

    While no one has a monopoly on truth, we all are capable of controlling how we behave around others, physically or online.

    July 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  15. Natalie

    Someone made the comment that Christians think they are always right. Personally speaking, it's not about what I think. It's not about ME. It's about the word of God and believing the word of God to be the truth and the only truth. People take it as a personal insult when we speak the word of God. It is what we are supposed to do as people of faith.

    And Christians or not, we are ALL human and make mistakes. We ALL do things that are imperfect. Christians are just judged more harshly. It is something we have to live with. I feel like one of the fortunate ones who only has to deal with a few insults rather than those in other countries whose lives are at risk because of their Christianity. We are spoiled and whiney people, aren't we? lol

    July 6, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Leah (TXanimal)

      But you follow what you perceive to be "God's instructions" because YOU believe that is the proper path, correct? You could just as easily read the Bible and say "what a load of bollocks". So in that way you DO believe you are "right". When you press the issue with non-believers, you are still pressing YOUR personal belief. You've just chosen to believe that your way is the ONLY way...hence "God's way".

      July 6, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  16. Captain Nemo

    Here is my sincere, caring, loving advice for our Christian neighbors, many of whom I know are truly good people who care deeply for, and want the best for, people with whom they share this world.

    We understand that you are required to witness the Word and proselytize for Christ, and with most of us that's fine. After you have done so, let the other person respond. If the other person is not receptive to the message (politely or not), let it drop. You will have discharged your duty through your witness, and pressing the issue further is rude. You don't see it that way, but it is just plain bad manners to continue pressing an issue (any issue) after someone tells you they aren't interested.

    If you can't understand why pushing the issue is rude, try this thought experiment: someone walks up to you and tells you Christianity is a lot of nonsense. You reply that you disagree and that you'd rather not discuss it any further. The other person continues disparaging your beliefs despite your professions of faith and your requests that they stop vilifying what you believe. Imagine that happening to you: the other person's behavior is rude. Do you see it now? In a way it has nothing to do with religion, it's just bad manners to keep pushing any topic after someone say's they aren't interested, asks you to agree to disagree, or otherwise makes it clear they don't agree with you. Also, it is particularly rude to go on and tell them they are doomed, damned, deluded, or dumb, even if you believe it to be true.

    The more you push, the worse you look, the worse you make Christians in general look, the more likely you are to generate a nasty response, and the less likely you are to actually gather people to your flock.

    Say your piece, fulfill your duty to spread the Word, then let it go. Otherwise, you're an a**hole.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • Michael Wong

      Well said, Captain Nemo. You write very well for a guy who was killed by sea monsters.

      I think the most incredibly offensive thing I ever heard of was from a friend of mine in Ottawa who was accosted by a Christian handing out pamphlets in a mall. When he said "no thanks", the guy went to HIS CHILD and said "do you want to see what your father is trying to hide from you?"

      Unbelievable. I wouldn't have blamed the guy if he punched him in the face for that.

      July 6, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
    • Samuel

      You are totally correct. Jesus told the apostles to move on when confronted with unreceptive hearts. That does not mean they were to avoid challenging discussions. Christians that push their beliefs are quite possibly building unnecessary prejudice and a level of resistance that may one day inhibit your inclination to search for God.

      July 6, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  17. Rouche

    Was Jesus being a 'jerk' or a 'hater' when He called people 'vipers' and 'children of your father the devil?' Truth is, Jesus offended people all the time.

    July 6, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  18. Rodney

    People complain a lot about Christians and the fact that we are a majority and claim we are always trying to ram our positions down their throats. Let me say this, if we don't take a stand and stand up for our beliefs then this in turn enables the accomplishment of exactly what non-believers want, to eliminate us and our beliefs. Secondly we are taught also to go forth and spread the Gospel of Jesus and I attempt to do just that, if your offended then I do also apologize as it is only my intent to offer a plan of salvation and not to force anything on you but an attempt again to offer you a plan. My teachings also are that their is only 1 God and any others are idols. Yes I do get mad at times but name me someone who does not? You see when Adam and Eve committed eating of forbidden fruit they actually introduced sin into our world, our God did not do away with man but at that point began to judge man and his ways. Again if your offended then first why would you be reading this Blog at all? Could it possibly be that your truly searching for God?

    July 6, 2010 at 10:53 am |
    • Michael Wong

      I don't care if you believe in your mythology or not. The problem is when you try to FORCE your beliefs on other people by writing them into law.

      In order to do this, you try to drag science down to your level and pretend it's just another religion, when it is COMPLETELY different than any religion in history. What religion has ever had a formal method for disproving and revising its beliefs through empirical study? Not one, and that is what makes science unique. That is what makes science the only logical common ground for a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious society, and hence the only legitimate basis for law.

      July 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
    • Mbane

      I can only shake my head at the ignorance of these so called Christians. Don't they understand that Adam and Eve is just a story, that evolution is science, that hell is a mistranslation of the king james bible, that the rapture is made up by the evangelical church, that Jesus had quite a few siblings, that Joseph and Mary were not married but lived together, that 666 refers to emperor Nero and not any deamon, that working on Saturdays is punishable by dead but being gay is not, and that a lot of the stories contained in the bible were writen for people at the time and have no relevance in the world today? But a lot of these so called Christian don't have a clue about the religion they practice. They take pride in their ignorance and want everyone to conform to their uninformed conservative views. The Bible is a very liberal book, but these people like to turn it on its head and give it a bad name. And before you flame me, I am Christian.

      July 6, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  19. barry

    the Lord says: "we will know them by their poor spelling and grammar".

    July 6, 2010 at 10:28 am |
    • Tardis

      Amen to that, brother!

      July 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  20. Leah (TXanimal)

    I think they're jerks because they feel since they're "good to go", they have license to judge those of us who choose not to participate in their particular brand of religion. Their arrogant hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me.

    July 6, 2010 at 10:26 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.