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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. Jess

    Dwight L. Moody once said, "Character is who you are in the dark."

    Because of the anonymity of the internet, there is unlimited social freedom, and some people are starved for it. It's too great an opportunity not to indulge.

    July 15, 2010 at 10:13 am |
  2. Mauricio

    Today I had an opportunity to be Christlike. As I was enjoying a portion of the word on my Motor Home. Someone knocked so hard in my door that it looked it was going to break. As I was putting my boots to go out, this one shook it and disconnected the electricity cable. I came out. It was a young man, as soon as he saw me he was very afraid, he probably thought I was going to do something to him. I was gentle with him, I wanted to express Christ. He demanded that i tell him personal information about me like my name. I told him I could not do that until i knew him better and knew his intentions. He said I was trespassing; I told him it is the owner who wants me here. I gave the owners name. Then he wanted to know why I was not working; I told him that it is because my mind needs healing that I still think other know my thoughts. He felt a bit taken. He asked why I am not on Social Security; I had no time to explain to him that I was denied twice because my condition was too recent and I did not have enough credits. Before, he left he told me to connect my cable. After he left i went to connect the cable; I have two cable extensions – one was missing. So I had to start the motor home and pull closer to the receptacle. He never came back with my cable. Normally, I would not have shared this because I do not like to blow trumpets. But since no one saw what happened here and some Christians want proof of me handling myself as a Christian, i shared this. I was very happy because I was able to express Christ in all this. It did cause a bit of anxiety because, I do not know if he is coming back for more. By the way I constantly get harassed and provoked, yet I been meek and gentle. Is this not being Christlike? But how will anyone know it if the young man does not say anything about it? Or those who persecute me?

    July 15, 2010 at 3:05 am |
  3. Big Nate

    I debated if I should say anything at all. It has all been said. However I did want to put in my two cents.

    1. Not all Christians are jerks online.

    2. Not all Jerks are christians.

    3. It is okay to defend yourself as a christian but just because you are a christian does not give you the right to down someone else.

    4. I do have beliefs and I do stand by them just like you have your beliefs. Nothing is wrong for standing up for what you believe. You don't have to FLAME anyone to stand up for what you believe.

    5. I could go on and on however lastly if you want to be viewed as a christian be christ like. You are the only hands, feed, mouth, that God has on this earth so act accordingly.

    July 14, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  4. Mauricio

    Problems with definition of "belief" , "empirical" and "experience" in Wikidictionary. One of the definitions of "belief" in Wikidictionary is "1.Mental acceptance of a claim as truth regardless of the lack of supporting empirical evidence". When I looked at the definition of "empirical" in the same dictionary i got "1.Pertaining to or based on experience". When I looked the definition of experience, again in the same dictionary, I got as one of the definitions, "1.Event(s) of which one is cognizant". In conclusion, from Wikidictionary definition of experience, an experience does not necessarily has to be physical or tangible or with the five senses, it can be something one is cognizant about. So, a cognizant, non tangible, non-sensual, experience can be construed as empirical evidence for the basis of a belief. So, a belief, in order to be "belief", according to Wikipedia, does not have to be based upon tangible, sensual experiences. Also, I have read many comments arguing that because a belief have no purported empirical evidence -that is,there is no tangible, sensual evidence – that the belief cannot be true; when, according to Wikdictionary, empirical evidence is not always tangible or sensual – by sensual i mean,that experience which is from the five senses. So, according to Wikidictionary, it would be incorrect to say that a belief does not have empirical evidence if it does not have a tangible or sensual experience.

    July 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  5. Alisha

    I just want to say that I have been a believer for mostly all of my life. I don't do stuff like this. I don't yell at people online...ever.
    You won't see me at a rally holding up any hate filled signs. I wouldn't say that I am passive, I can see from both perspectives that's all. When other believers get online and rant and rave saying that they are quoting from the Bible, it embarrasses me. Not because I am embarrassed of my God but because their lives or what they are saying are horrible examples of who Christ is. Not to say that I am any better, but I do not force my beliefs and opinions on anyone.
    I appreciate though that people can fess up to this, even if you aren't Christian EVERYONE does this. I see atheists, pagans, and the likes all bashing SOMEONE. Even if you don't follow the bible...if the ultimate commandment is love, what's so wrong about that? So let's just love and stop being so hateful.

    July 13, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  6. Gene

    @ Matt;

    You're right – it won't shake the faithful. Christians are not the ones, trying to "control the masses or peddling Lies." Most (but not all) Atheists are intelligent, but ignorant – ignorant of Gods' word, the reality of God and void of faith. Unless you (or ANYONE else) can know everything and explain exactly how, when and why all existence occured, then I choose to believe God.

    July 10, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
    • Kate

      It is inherently immoral to pretend something is true when you have no evidence. You are an atheist – you don't believe in all the gods but one. I am not immoral enough to pretend that last god is any more real than the rest.

      July 12, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  7. Matt

    The problem with Christianity: God is 'Perfect'? Why then are there genetic flaws in the world? Jesus was real? Why then does every profit of every religion follow the same mantra: Born on Dec. 25th of a virgin, died on a cross, had disciples, healed the sick, the light, the lamb etc... Christianity is based on plagiarism of Pagan gods, and is entirely astrological. Timeline? Totally wrong, proven by fossils, sedimentary layers, and carbon dating. Adam and Eve? Genetically impossible.

    The biggest problem? Christianity is covered with the blood of those who didn't agree. The crusades, the inquisition.... the Iraq war... Why would I EVER worship a book full of lies, inaccuracy, and hypocrisy? THAT is why Christians are jerks. You peddle lies as truth, and get mad when someone points out that you're completely insane.

    While the basic tenants of Christianity are noble, (dont lie, cheat, steal etc) the nitty-gritty parts are arcane, and you KNOW IT. Does a woman REALLY bare 'original sin' or is that another excuse to be a chauvinist? Will God REALLY forgive you? Or are you just believing that because you are incapable of taking responsibility for your own actions and being judged by your peers (who I have to tell you probably have a lot more pull on you than God does). Does God speak to you directly? Or would you benefit from anti-schizophrenia meds?

    I know this post won't shake the 'faithful', but hopefully some people out there are smart enough to understand religion is a joke. Its a method to control the masses when law fails. Its a business of epic proportions that takes from the poor and gives to the rich. Wake up.

    -M

    July 9, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Veronica

      Why are there genetic flaws? Because of natural suffering. After the fall of man, death and sickness entered the world. Aging, illness, disease, these are inevitable in this world.
      God is perfect, and did create a perfect world, however, God created the potential for evil when we gave humans freewill. I mean, God wanted us to have authentic love for him, rather than program us like robots, and that created the potential of evil. It's the same reason why we open new relationships with significant others, etc, and put trust in them, because the possibility of authentic love is worth the risk.

      Where in the bible is there hypocrisy, lies, inaccuracy? I want to know the verses and look it up myself. To the best of my knowledge, the bible does not contradict itself at all, but show me the passage, and I'll look at it. And also, not every person who calls themselves christians are christians. If anything, the bible says very clearly, not everyone who says lord lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Are there evil divisions within the church that occur. Yes. But is there such a thing as righteous anger? Yes. Is there such a thing as good division within the church? Yes.

      Another issue I get annoyed with is the idea that christians are narrow minded, I mean, if anything, the same people who say that, are also narrow minded. As a christian I have my beliefs, and to some, my beliefs are close-minded, and I get criticized for it, but why? It's my belief system, I'm not trying to convert anyone, force my beliefs on anyone, I'm only being honest in my response to a question that someone may have for me. God doesn't call us to convert people, to save people, that's not my obligation. Yes I am supposed to minister, and there are many ways to do that. Just living a life that looks different from the world is fulfilling God's purpose for me. Living a life that brings him Glory is our purpose, not to force my beliefs on others. If I live different from the world, and live for God, not religion, as my top priority, people are inevitably going to see that my life is set apart, I don't have to force them to see. Only God can save people, only God can stir something in a person's heart, only God can convert the lost into believers, I can't do that. God may use me as a tool, just by the way I live, inviting someone to church with me, hosting hangouts where both believers and nonbelievers can gather and become friends. I can have some type of influence, but salvation is God's work alone.

      When does the bible say that women bare the 'original sin'? Yes eve is responsible for having taken the apple of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but Adam is also just as responsible because he was passive. He followed Eve, rather than be the spiritual leader, like God intended husbands to be to their wives, and God knew this. If anything, accepting God's forgiveness also means conviction, which is the farthest thing from being incapable of taking responsibility for my actions. If anything accepting God's forgiveness makes me aware that yes I'm a sinner, but as a believer, I have the freedom to choose not to sin, does that mean I'm free of sin? No, I'm human I'll always fall short of the glory of God, but I have the ability to choose not to sin. I am just as susceptible to ANY sin, like every person, but sin has lost it's grip on me. Knowing this only makes me take more responsibility for my actions, but thankfully I can't do anything that will make God love me less.

      September 2, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  8. Tardis

    Many Christians especially fundamentalist confine God. They place boundaries on his abilities, they confine him to only what is in the Bible.. If it's not in the Bible then it didn't happen. They give him no credit for creating the cosmos, for putting evolution into motion. The faithful have turned God into an insecure selfish being constantly needing his followers to worship and praise him. We created him into our image not the other way around. If he had created man in his image he would have done a lot better job. Why would a god, an omnipresent being or entity, creator of the universe need the silly human race to remind him of how great he is?

    July 8, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  9. Pete

    One of my friends urged me to join Conservapedia.

    What an arrogant, bossy group of hate-filled people, chiding one another as leftists, liberals, and Obaminationists while pretending to offer Christian advice. When I questioned why they were rewriting the Bible to suit their own purposes, they quickly shut me up and kicked me off.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

    July 7, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
    • Mauricio

      Sounds like what happened to the blind one whom Jesus restored his sight. As soon as he started teaching the supposed teachers, he was cast out of the synagogue. This happened to the apostles too.

      July 7, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  10. Gene

    @ Verify and Peace2All; Oh… so each individual Atheist, make up their own rules? And THAT will unify humanity and solve the worlds’ problems?

    July 7, 2010 at 5:05 pm |
    • Kate

      Make up what rules? You mean atheists are supposed to not believe in fake rules and then make up some others? That would be kind of self defeating, now wouldn't it.

      July 12, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  11. Lao

    im a christian but i dont think im a jerk bec when I do comments; i'm mindful of what others may have to say. i make my points real and senseful based on the topic and i dont impose faith when it's not applicable

    July 7, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
  12. Ken

    Very good article Jon! I agree with you completely! I try hard every day not to be that "jerk Christian," somes days are good and some are bad. I think if we are constantly shaping our lives to Christ, we are heading in the right direction. Thanks for the article!

    July 7, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  13. Gene

    No – my question is specific, not rhetorical. Who/what is the moral guide, for Atheists – whether they are humanist or communist?

    July 7, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • verify

      Gene: I think that you are being purposefully obtuse. The moral guide for those who don't believe in the supernatural, is much like yours, except for the supernatural part. Does it really need to be spelled out for you? Rational minds can figure out what works beneficially in life and what doesn't. Perhaps more so, because they only have this life to work it out - to be good for goodness sake, and not for fear of some god's wrath, or from belief that this god will forgive them eventually, no matter what they do.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Gene..... Yes, @verify is correct...

      And let me add that it is you and your kind 'believers' that need a 'book' to tell you what is right and wrong. Any rational or thinking person needs no such directive from a supernatural source...

      We already know not to hurt anyone, steal, cheat etc......

      And by the way, a lot of so-called true-blue 'christians' seem to break the big 10 commandments delivered to Moses from a burning bush, no less......they break them on a daily basis. Wow....I guess they have lost their way from god....they need to repent and re-read the bible dribble and get back on the 'kool-aid' .......isn't that right @Gene....?

      So between @Michael Wong, @verify, Myself, and many other 'non-supernatural' believers, WE HAVE ANSWERED YOUR QUESTION.

      But, I guess you are a bit needy and dependent on a book to tell you not to....oh...kill, or hurt....Wow....says a lot about your ability to actually THINK....

      Good luck....

      July 7, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
    • Kate

      It's very easy Gene – we don't abuse other people because we care about them. Don't you care about others? You have to have someone tell you not to kill, steal, cheat and injure others? Why would you want to?

      July 12, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Dan

      The Atheist's moral code is the same as everyone else's: the conscience that God gave us.
      14For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. Romans 2:14-16
      Christians don't need the Ten Commandments to know right and wrong. We use our conscience like everyone else does. If a Christian is using the Ten Commandments as a moral guide, they're missing the point anyway. The law was created to show us we are naturally selfish and sinful, and we cannot fulfill it ourselves. It also shows how holy God is.

      September 2, 2010 at 1:00 am |
  14. Mbane

    Michael Wong is the perfect example why others think Christians are jerks. The guy is ignorant beyond belief. Go educate yourself.

    July 7, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  15. HeIsGod

    Hi, Housla, thank you so much for your reply! I see, well I hate that you are receiving hateful emails from these immature Christians. Please know that not all Christians are true followers of Jesus Christ. "Many have been called, but few shall be chosen". Also, no matter how much proper teachings are given by the church leaders that can help to follow and walk the Jesus Way, it is up to the individual to receive and follow the teachings. We have many so-call Christians in every church and some are just drinking spiritual milk and refuse to grow up to eat solid spiritual food. That is what takes a Christian to become mature and strong to proclaim the Gospel of the Good News to those that are held in captivity by Satan. Once more, please do not label us all as these immature Christians, God is not done with them yet and some of us need more shaping and molding by God than others.

    God bless you and thank you!

    July 6, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
    • Mauricio

      You cannot love those whom you do not know. As i was searching the Living Ministry online publications for light on an issue; I chanced upon their practical living and history. I have known this Ministry revelation but not their life for the past 26 years. From their trials and tribulations and their consecration love spontaneously is awakened. This brothers practiced the real church life. They had everything in common. They did not have anything for themselves, they overcame the power of mammon. They sold their lands, possessions migrated to other places for the sake of the gospel and paid a very high price even with lives. They took occupations that pleased the Lord and rejected those that did not in spite or their need. Some were even starving but will not take an occupation that would offend the Lord.Some could not afford to send their children to school. Some gave up positions and status to follow the Lord's way. They did it all without taking advantage of anyone without making anyone poorer. They took care of their widows, the elderly, the sick from their own resources. The government had no part in this. The money they produced was clean. Obviously they were so burdened taking care of their own that they could not take care of the world. Many in Christianity see a high revelation from this ministry but they do not have a clue of what it took to produce it – including me. I encourage you to know them. I am of course the least qualified to suggest them to you. Because I have yet to overcome the power of mammon and because my testimony seems to be the opposite of what I preach.And, in part, is true. Unfortunately, it seems I am the only than can point them to you. My situation is more complex that meets the eye. Even if could overcome the power of mammon and lived among them; I could be very damaging to them. Just one bad memory and it could do as much damage as an H-bomb. It seems as if the Devil knew what i think; It seems crazy but it appears so to me. If this is some kind of strange power, I want it gone.

      July 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
    • Mauricio

      To HeIsGod. Please forgive me. I have no intent to post my previous post as a reply to you. What happened is that i was going to post something to you before but changed my mind. I left the page open. Then i refreshed the page and posted not realizing that it was on reply mode. In any event I do appreciate you too.

      July 7, 2010 at 8:05 pm |
  16. Gene

    Correction Moral, not morale

    July 6, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Gene.....Please see response again above...

      July 7, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  17. Gene

    God (through Christ) is the morale guide for Christians and sin is separation from God. Our guidelines are the 10 Commandments. Who/what is the morale guide and what is sin, to an Atheist?

    July 6, 2010 at 5:58 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Atheists don't have a shared moral guide. Some atheists are humanists. Other atheists are communists (despite what your pastor might tell you, humanism and communism share almost nothing in common). Still other atheists are Buddhists (contrary to popular Christian belief, Buddha was not an Asian Jesus).

      Your question is, of course, obviously rhetorical. You're clearly trying to argue that atheists have no moral values, just because they don't share yours.

      July 6, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
  18. Lydi

    I was at a Cursillo grouping, yesterday. The woman I get together with made a statement that really had an impact on me. We were talking about our "Rule of Life," or how we intend to live our lives so that we are in line with Christian belief. She said that she has been struggling to define what her Rule of Life is, and hthought she had finally figured it out. She was to be a steward of Christ's message to and and all who are in need of it. A steward is a "caretaker." She will help those whom she can, since she cannot help everyone, by whatever means she can, without asking for anything but a "thank you," in return, but praying that those whom she helped would help another person when they were able to do so. The part about being a steward, a caretaker, of Christ's message really moved me. A "caretaker" of Christ's message. That is what I hope I am being as well.

    July 6, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
  19. Moderate1234

    People in general are jerks online when it comes to ideological, political, or religious debates. This includes both religious and non-religious, liberals and conservatives, etc. Why does the author of this article single out Christians? Political correctness?

    July 6, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • Mary

      I agree. people are jerks online and Christianity is an easy target.

      July 6, 2010 at 5:17 pm |
    • Aloisae

      It is more anti-political correctness. The writer is a Christian (at least, he refers to Christians in the first person implying that he is one). As you said, people in general are jerks online... the writer seems to think that being Christian should make people better than non-Christians, implying Christians have superior moral guidance that they are ignoring in their online activities that those poor misguided non-Christians lack.

      July 6, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  20. Megan

    Can't we all just get along? 🙂

    July 6, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
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