Internet Pride

I have an enormous respect for the way humanity has chosen to describe God. The atheist may mock the “old man in the sky” picture of God as childish, but I admire the same description because it is childish. No, it is not scientifically accurate – nothing is – but it does illustrates a radical accuracy; that we are God’s children. That he is a Father. And that he is above us. Ever noticed that atheists aren’t great at understanding when we’re being metaphorical? Oh well, maybe they’re using metaphors I haven’t picked up on yet…

That being said, there is a major downside to our human view of God being above, of heaven as being “up”. It is this: If heaven is “up” then God looks down on us. We’ve all entertained this idea, that God sees us milling about our days like ants, just waiting for someone to smite. That he is the great eye in the sky, marking down our sins on a celestial notepad.

 

I believe – and this was struck home to me on a plane ride back to Virginia – that if that’s anyone’s way of seeing humanity, it’s Satan’s. The Enemy sees us as vermin, as a mistake God made, as miserable creatures crawling along the face of the Earth, undeserving of the status God grants to us. The Enemy’s sin is Pride, and Pride sees from above. If anything, God’s view is the opposite. It is personal enough that he became Man, humble enough that he became Bread; he is not above, but in front of us, gazing back.

How do we view others? Eye to eye? I maintain that there is an enormous temptation on the Internet to see everyone from above. To see others as a set of profile pictures and brief descriptions, to underestimate the effect of our words, the effect of our actions, so puny and small our contacts appear on on a 12-inch screen, over emails and com-boxes and chat.

So it would be utterly fantastic if Catholics – perhaps the only human beings left railing against pride (am I proud of that?) – if we could be a witness against that particular side of Internet culture. To undertake the momentous task of overlooking the distance and distortion between humans on the Internet and seeing the souls behind the pixels. I have learnt one effective way of doing this: When someone is in disagreement with you, don’t argue it out on a comment thread where the world can see, and you are actors on a stage, weighing your words not only for the sake of the argument, but for how you to your other Facebook friends, or blog followers, or – heaven forbid – YouTube commenters, but instead asking the individual if he’d like to discuss the issue with you over email, or messages. To make encounters personal instead of public. To make an attempt to develop a relationship instead of just being “The Catholic Type”, instead of, well, being a douche. (Which I have certainly been guilty of being). It would be a great victory if Catholics could be the one’s to baptize the Internet, a digital repeat of what we did in the Dark Ages; to insert some civilization, holiness and humanity in a depressed and hostile culture.

What about you? Any particular disciplines you find useful when communicating on the almighty Web?
Of course, our man Chesterton was always aware of this danger, the temptation that comes with a pride-from-above:

“I think there is something rather dangerous about standing on these high places even to pray,” said Father Brown. “Heights were made to be looked at, not to be looked from.”
“Do you mean that one may fall over,” asked Wilfred.
“I mean that one’s soul may fall if one’s body doesn’t,” said the other priest.
“I scarcely understand you,” remarked Bohun indistinctly.
“Look at that blacksmith, for instance,” went on Father Brown calmly; “a good man, but not a Christian–hard, imperious, unforgiving. Well, his Scotch religion was made up by men who prayed on hills and high crags, and learnt to look down on the world more than to look up at heaven. Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak.”
“But he–he didn’t do it,” said Bohun tremulously.
“No,” said the other in an odd voice; “we know he didn’t do it.”
After a moment he resumed, looking tranquilly out over the plain with his pale grey eyes. “I knew a man,” he said, “who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that, though he was a good man, he committed a great crime.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03836634127448740415 Matthew

    I wrote my thesis on this very topic using Kierkegaard's "Two Ages" as a lens…indeed the temptation of disembodied and/or anonymous communication is to be irresponsible, impersonal. We as Catholics, like you said, should do what we can to personalize the experience. Your advice to maintain private communication is great – I also find humor to be a great wallbreaker. And, as always, have joy!BTW pleased to learn you're just 18 – wonderful blog, you're wise beyond your years!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12679230722483582032 Marc

    Peter Liao wrote this, but it ended up in my spam folder. Thought it was insightful so:I would agree except for one thing- many people you engage with dialogue nowadays are not interested in learning or understanding, no matter how gently or charitably you approach it. Just check out Jenn Fulwiler's recent smashing by internet atheists (a particularly rabid breed) http://www.ncregister.com/blog/reasoning-with-atheists. My point is that in my experience, sometimes there ends up being no benefit for the other person no matter how hard you try. There is a lot of worth, however, in a public dialogue where anyone can come across your discussion and weigh the issues and arguments themselves. It is not necessarily a pride issue, although I will be the first to admit that it can be; humility is not hiding light under a bushel basket. We do not need to discuss all things behind closed doors, but we do need to always be charitable and prudent. There is a time and place for every argument, and while sometimes it is a personal matter, other times it is rightfully on a stage for the consideration of all those watching. That is indeed what a true debate is, which is not an attempt to convince merely one person (who often will not be convinced) but rather is a forum for each side to argue publicly for the benefit of all who will listen and consider the issues. If I can be honest, I think that Catholic pride on the internet is not quite as strong as the opposition. I mean come on, who are we going to impress if we stand up for our faith? The response online is usually trolling or attacks. The benefit that I do see in taking arguments into private space is that it removes your opponents from that pressure. Catholics are pretty free to argue online since a lot of people already hate us anyway, but I think that very few people want to be seen in public admitting that the Church could be right. That is the major benefit that I have seen come from a personal discussion. I don't think my arguments are affected by how many people are seeing my arguments. I really hate debating, honestly, because I dread the flood of angry responses that are always inevitable. I do think that responding to attacks with humility and charity is extremely difficult, but I don't feel like that difficulty changes with where my argument takes place. I just realized something weird; if anything, I am MORE humble and charitable in public discussions because I simply have to be. If anything, those who oppose the Church are less humble and charitable in public because they know very well that they have public support. Food for thought, I guess. If you argue in public there are always going to be people who deem you "the Catholic type" and a douche, but they would do that anyway. The only way that they wouldn't think that about you is if they never read or heard what you have to say. Personal discussions mean that you don't have to deal with as much of that kind of judgment, but it is a difference in the number spoken to, not in humility/charity. If you are charitable in your discussion, then the one who deems you a douche is the problem, not you. The only difference in taking the discussion into private is that he wouldn't have to hear you, and that isn't a very good reason, especially since so many other people would be equally deprived of hearing what you have to say. Honestly, I wish I had more help. If more people would be willing to publicly, charitably, and PRUDENTLY contribute to dialogue on behalf of the Church, then we wouldn't see the current situation, which leaves all the public diatribes to crazies. Unfortunately, it seems the case that most all the good, humble, knowledgeable and charitable Catholics are so charitable and humble that they never decide to actually stand up. /End ramble

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09595148905728912326 My Feminine Mind

    Your post reminds me of Franciscan spirituality. St. francis, while always keeping in mind the absolute grandeur of God, liked to meditate on Christ's humility shown in the Incarnation, the Passion, and the Eucharist. I've heard one theologian say that For Francis, instead of trying to reach God who was so high above him, he was always trying to reach down to God, to get humble enough to reach him. I always thoug that was a cool visual. The Eucharist is such a profound lesson in humility. Before the Eucharist, I retain my human dignity, but God strips himself of both his divinity and his humanity and so radically humbles himself to me as he takes the form of bread.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/06624317806947588259 Rachel Gray

    I like the suggestion about moving combox arguments to email. I'll try to remember that. Also, extra points for quoting Father Brown!


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X