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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. Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

    Not believing in God harms, at most, the person who doesn't believe. I know of no atheists who torch churches, try to talk strangers out of their beliefs, insist that evolution get equal time at the pulpit of your church...

    Whereas the faithful have killed untold millions and enslaved, subjugated, ostracized, tortured, and otherwise destroyed many more simply because of the differences between religions, all of whom are arrogant enough to suppose that because they believe (without proof of any kind) that they are right and everyone else is wrong that this gives them a free pass to act craven in the name of whatever god and book they take their orders from.

    And it is the atheists, sir, who are unprovoked? Are you sure?

    June 29, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • W0lfman

      I believe you don't act because you live in your mind, because you have no strength, no guts, no core, no convictions, no passion. Better get some.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.: I believe you don't act because you live in your mind, because you have no strength, no guts, no core, no convictions, no passion. Better get some.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:26 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      Wolfman - what do you mean by "you don't act"? I live my life, I love my wife and kids, I work very hard to do right by my employees, I support many charitable causes that lift up my fellow people, I read and travel and write and act tirelessly to do right and make the world a better, saner, more rational place. I really don't get your response...I have tremendous passions in my life, one of which is fighting for equality and freedom for all - the religious and the non-religious alike.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  2. TM

    Here's my thinking. Organized religion is an artifice created by man to establish supremacy over other men, to provide alternate explanations for things whose true nature is painfully random, and to distract people from the idea that EVERYONE IS GOING TO DIE sooner or later. Those basic human needs have existed far longer than Christianity has. Human history is littered with the debris of various and sundry religions and the carcasses of Gods created, worshipped and then forgotten. I personally find it easier to forget all of that stuff and focus on helping other people. That's the best thing I can do in this life. And it doesn't involve condemning people for believing in a God or gods either – so long as that belief produces good.

    I'll take a Wiccan who stops and helps someone change a tire along the roadside to ten Christians whose idea of "helping" is to throw pamphlets in your face and tell you you're going to hell unless you watch Pat Robertson. I'll take a Christian who spends hours in a soup kitchen serving meals and talking to people who feel forgotten by the human race to an atheist who spends all his time trying to convince people that there is no bearded sky-bound taskmaster micromanaging their existence.

    Look, this life sucks enough on its own without having to stoop to such depths to make yourself feel better or more worthy than someone else. We all eat, drink, crap, pee, ache, cry, laugh, love and learn in the same human way. The world would be a better place if we could figure out how to acknowledge the sameness instead of revel in differences.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:12 pm |
    • Tom

      TM, I agree with much of your post and it is very logical and sound in regards to proper actions and not condemning each other. However, your belief of why religion exists is solely your interpretation of human behavior and does not address the fact that many people connect and feel the spiritual presence of God and others. Who is anyone to say whether my experiences with the spiritual world are real?

      June 29, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
    • Rob

      Bravo and well said. Although for my part, I may crap a little more than the average person.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  3. james gordon

    no, you are not a jerk at all , you will have eternity filled with people just as you, that will make you happy , us too.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
  4. AlexA

    I expect I will be called an atheist jerk for saying this, but I really am very sincere:
    Isn't Jesus coming back for his flock? Is there any way you can tell him to hurry up and do it?

    June 29, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
    • marilyn

      this was super funny, alex a.
      may the Lord bless you.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  5. Tom

    Regardless of one's beliefs, you can always tell what kind of person they are to the core when they attack and then claim the persom they are attacking is intolerant of their beliefs or lifestyle. The gay and lesbian PR machine are masters at it.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
    • Josh M

      Repression of a people can cause attacks. The best course of action is to love them and let them live as they wish to and there will be no attacks. Thats exactly what this article is talking about.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
    • Karen

      Christian jerks are people who come into a situation and assume they have the right to ask personal religious questions without knowing the person at all. I had one person presume to ask me if I accepted Jesus as my lord and savior without any introduction. My answer turned him pale and had him backing off. Christian jerks are people who act the way you describe people with alternative lifestyles behaving. I have met magnificent Christians - I have a degree in theology - and I have met people who make Jesus seem hateful. I expect the same respect I am going to give the other person as a child of the same God.

      July 4, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
    • Captain Nemo

      Many Christian individuals and organizations are very good at this, too.

      July 7, 2010 at 1:29 am |
  6. nels d

    What has Jesus taught you to do in this situation? Be Jesus.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
  7. Zeke2112

    This just in: water is wet, air required to live.

    Christians are like any other group of people: a few winners, a lot of losers. Faith does not change that.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:06 pm |
    • Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

      But....shouldn't it? I mean, part of claiming to adhere to a moralistic religious faith is that you're be held to a higher standard, be able to demonstrate the moral precepts of your faith (e.g. turn the other cheek).

      June 29, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  8. Tree

    It's time like these that I'm glad I can sincerely say Hail Satan.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:05 pm |
    • Tom

      And God Bless you online jerk troller.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  9. james gordon

    Well Joe , you might be onto something , Why don't we all act just as Jesus would .OR test as Jesus would .rather simplistic.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  10. Josh M

    "What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world, where each person is clinging to his piece of debris? What's the proper salutation between people as they pass each other in this flood? " – Buddha

    Enough to live by. =)

    We each have our own problems and we're better off helping each other. We all really want the same thing, we're just too self-absorbed to care about everyone else.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
  11. Todd

    Just goes to show that no group of humans is better than another, even when they claim to be receiving greater light and truth than everyone else. I see a lot of justification from Christians throughout this post. If you truly believe you are what you say you are, then why respond? Why justify anything? If you're right, just keep on truckin'. No need to post here if you truly are who you say you are. We'll know it from your collective behavior, not from your justifications and rationalizations in some obscure post. Walk the walk, people.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Because that is the nature of love, to point out to others the true good as well as what has been long ago been determined to be error by much greater persons than ourselves.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:16 pm |
  12. james gordon

    If you have 10 people in a group , one is going to be a jerk , Christian or not , the other 9 in the group should keep that person in line . many times they do not.

    June 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  13. Joe

    The comments here bring about many different thoughts for me. The first is that there are so many people who do not understand what true Christianity is supposed to be about. It should be about Love and Grace. That is what Jesus taught. Some Christians get caught up with all of the "rules" as well as do's and do not's. Many humans all the way around miss the point of the message of Jesus.
    My God (Jesus) spent time with the hurting people of the world. He opposed the tyranny of the Roman government, and hung out with the derelicts of society in his day. He also spent time with some of the oppressors, Roman soldiers at times. He opposed the values of the morally wrong but still accepted and Loved them as people (as all Christians are supposed to) with all of his heart. Jesus turned the society upside down 2,000 years ago and things have never been the same in the world since. Otherwise people would not have responded to this comment page.
    Am I guilty of sin? Absolutely, just like anyone. I was born that way, just like everyone else in the world. What I do have however, which is available to anyone, is the Grace of Jesus. He is my rock and leads the way I choose to live my life. For me, it's not a religion but a life style.
    I do not think we can say that Christians as a group are one way or another. Just with any person, Christians have strengths, weaknesses, good as well as bad.
    If people were completely honest with ourselves, how could one argue with the idea of Loving your God and neighbor with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Seems to me the world would be a bit of a better place if each of us tried to live a little bit like the true Jesus.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
    • Barb

      EXACTLY! Well put Joe! The simplicity of the Gospel has been perverted into legalism and that's what turns people off. The traditions of the elders are what Jesus condemned. This behavior has gone on for centuries, but is a result of fallen human nature. God is the only One who knows the motives of every heart and those who are truly His: those who are humbly striving to be more like Him vs. those who are just putting on a pious show.

      June 30, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  14. Jeffrey Lebowski Jr.

    I am a content atheist (really more of a naturalist in the Spinozian sense of awe at the majesty of all that is, but I am quite comfortable there are is no personal God, no judgment other than our own sense of morality), yet I do my best to follow many of the same moral teachings of Christ, the Buddah, and others who by their words and deeds seem to have seen with great clarity into some of the key ways we can be good and do right.

    I do not hate God or Christians or those who follow any dogma, I simply regard religious dogmas as anachronisms of frightening power in a modern world. Faith - in one another, in the power of love, in the value of acting morally, in the stewardship of our planet - is a laudable thing, and personal faith in a deity on the part of others is of no concern or business of mine (would that they could feel the same way about me); I guess for me it ultimately comes down to a rather simple yet elegant rephasing of a favorite Christian concept: I can love the religious while hating the religion.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
    • W0lfman

      Man is not a creature of thought alone – only when thought manifests into physical action can the person be considered integrated. Religion is the physical manifestation of the religious – without it, people will relapse into fundamentalism, such as I believe is happening with you.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  15. nels d

    Jesus, please don't let this be the seed of another holy war.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  16. eltegee

    Or maybe a lot of Christians are just self-righteous jerks, period, on or offline.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
    • Tom

      It is not Christians – it's people in general that are jerks. People get so consumed in what they are doing and how it personally affects them and Americans are the worst and yes, I am an American and I defend the nation.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:58 pm |
  17. Amy

    Most Christians I know are easily offended if you don't believe what they believe. They act like your beliefs are ludicrous and their's need to be protected, or held at some esteem that it's the most possible possibility. Believers and non-believers debate on a different level, using completely different tools; believers can't prove anything without the Bible, and non-believers can't prove anything without science, and it's very frustrating for your adversary. Which goes back to my point about Christians being easily offended if you don't love their god, too.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • Tom

      I will take what you said a step further. Without humilty and realizing that no one has all the answers, everyone can have the belief that what they believe is better or more important than another whether Christian, Muslim, Bhuddist or atheist.

      June 29, 2010 at 8:54 pm |
  18. james gordon

    'My daddy always said " Throw a rock at a pack of dogs , and the one who yelps , is the one you hit" Was nice to read the yelping .

    June 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  19. ArrKay

    You don't seem to understand just quite how insulting "read the bible and you'll feel happier" is. It is about as condescending as anything else you could possibly say. But you'd never notice that, since you believe you're just "doing good" by saying so. Just like when you say you'll pray for someone who's an atheist.

    If I told you, "Stop believe, you'll feel happier." , or "I'll keep my fingers crossed for you that you come to your senses." , you'd say "That's insulting!" Guess what, it's the very same thing.

    June 29, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
    • Surthurfurd

      We can hurt each other when we are thinking we are trying to help. Maybe we need to consider not what one group does to another; but, how we can honorably deal with each other. I have been called all sorts of things by those who were sure that their position was right and rarely do I see someone defend my rights who holds a different religious view. The problem seems to be more universal and as such we have a common need to work with each other to deal with it.

      June 29, 2010 at 10:25 pm |
  20. Greg

    If the holy spirit is within all of us, and it is a part of God, doesn't that mean love thy neighbor is the same as love God?

    And didn't Jesus say Love thy neighbor was the #1 commandment?

    June 29, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • W0lfman

      I believe He said, as the first part, Love God with all your strength.

      Then as the second part, He said, Love thy neighbor as thyself.

      Then later says, He loves who obeys the Father's will.

      June 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.