FYI: There IS a Combox Policy UPDATED

And part of that policy is this: you post a comment that’s obnoxious and stupid enough, and I may just edit it into something more benign. I don’t edit them all: I usually just pick one commenter once in a while as an example, especially when that person insults or threatens me.

There are some easy ways to get spamboxed or rewritten. Use loaded words like “hater,” “bigot,” “fascist,” and “Nazi.” Say you wish all people “like me” were dead/gone/never existed/aborted/would just shut up/etc. Talk about the Christian “myth” or “my sky friend” or the “Nazi pope.” Exhibit raw stupidity and/or an appalling sense of basic punctuation, spelling, and grammar while also being insulting.

I’m not posting anti-Semitic or anti-gay comments either. “Lying Jew,” “faggot,” and “fairy” also earn you a trip to the spambox. It’s a sad place in there, filled with Chinese male enhancement ads and Nigerian ponzi schemes. You don’t want to be there, do you? Of course not. Who would?

This ancient post on Dan Savage* must have gotten linked someplace where the trolls gather (I’m guessing Reddit), because the comboxes are being pounded like a ten-penny nail by the least creative trolls I’ve seen in ages. Most of them got flushed. I think one got posted, and a couple got revised.

A message for the haters: I’m not “afraid” of “dialog” or of engaging your raw genius for dialectic. I’m just bored. I’ve read it all a million times, and it’s nothing new. I think I’ve written maybe two posts about homosexuality since I’ve been on this blog, and (even more than the atheists) the gay rights people just go nuts in the comboxes, no matter how mild are my comments. (And they’re always mild: it’s not an issue that really fires me up. Mine own sins are quite black enough, thankyouverymuch.)

I’m still puzzling over which part of that Dan Savage post earns me a promotion to obersturmfuhrer and a general wish of slow painful death, but then again I’m not an active member of the Forces of Tolerance(TM), so maybe there’s some secret coded meaning in my own writing that I’m just missing. Sure, it’s an insulting, name-calling post and about an insulting, name-calling person. Charity is a consideration, but sometimes you just need to return the volley you’ve been served, as forcefully as possible.

In any event, if you just toddled over here from some hate site, read the policy before wasting your time on a comment. Moderation is on, and I spam more than I let through. Be generally polite, even if your comments need to be sharp or you strongly disagree. If you’re going to insult me, at least try to be original. Make sense. Don’t be boring.

And, seriously: there are shift keys on both sides of the keyboard. (I know, right?! It’s like they planned it that way!) For the love of St. John, patron saint of typesetters, capitalize names, places, and the first word of each sentence. One day, your life may well depend on proper capitalization.


*I toned this line down down from my initial characterization after the (quite correct) chiding of a fellow Patheos writer. Given what I’ve written in the past about identifying act with Person, it’s inappropriate. Obviously, the initial post is what it is, and I don’t think the characterization of Savage as a “nasty little creep” is too far off the mark given what he’s said about us in the past. However, I’m trying to aim for a little more charity these days. Most of the time I miss the mark, but I’ll keep shooting.

UPDATED: A Bit About My “Tone”

Yeah, I get a “tone” now and then: rude, insulting, and even sometimes mean. It doesn’t happen often, and its doesn’t happen randomly: it happens when someone trips one of my “circuit breakers” that keep the bad words in check. They do this by using some of the buzzwords listed above. I consider those fighting words, used to end discussion and marginalize people so they are considered verboten and thus unfit for polite discussion. They are lazy words, but more, they are acts of hate used by people on the internet to shut you down.

I can prattle on about civility and Christian charity all I want, and those are indeed ideals, but when a segment of the population is determined to shout you out of the debate by affixing a label like “bigot,” “homophobe” (a dumb, made-up word), “Islamophobe,” or “hater,” they need to be checked. Some people may be willing to play the “my dear sir” routine with a person calling them names, but I’m not one of them. When they use those words (as, for example, Dan Savage does with gleeful abandon, and as do too many people in the comboxes), they leave the polite place where civil people talk. I don’t serve the volley, but I’m sure not going to be shy about returning it.

Christians need to engage with the world in charity, but also with truth, directness, and force when necessary. Somebody who lies is a liar, and it’s a damn bit easier to call him one rather than chiding him for “not getting his facts straight.” Indeed, some people don’t have their facts straight, and we should correct them with kindness. Then again, some people have just chosen to listen to the Father of Lies as he whispers in their ears, and they need to be reminded that we see their lies for what they really are.

I’m pretty new to this whole Christian writing thing: I’ve only been doing it about 5 years, while I’ve been writing professionally for 25. For most of that 25, I was a critic: first literary, and then someone who wrote primarily opinion pieces about technology and games. I was pretty good at it: if PC Gamer, for example, had a real turd to cover, they passed it over to me, and I’d rip into it with gleeful abandon. The whole point of my column in T3 was to write viciously humorous pieces about stupid tech trends, which was easy to do. I was good at being nasty and funny while also delivering perceptive criticism. It’s a skill, and also kind of a curse.

It’s hard to leave behind the habits of a lifetime, and when those habits are scoring points at the expense others, well … that’s not such a great fit for a Christian writer. Sometimes it serves me well. Dan Savage, for example, has achieved a prominence and influence that deserves to be challenged, and his hate speech requires something more than a placid five-point rebuttal. There’s a place for that, and also a place for rhetorical sock to the jaw. Jesus spoke with kindness and charity. He also called his best friend “Satan” and whipped the hell out of the moneychangers.

The trick is finding the balance: attacking a person’s ideas and statements without denying their fundamental imago dei. Because Jesus died for Dan Savage too. Especially for Dan Savage.

So, that’s a roundabout way of saying this all a work in progress. I sometimes get chided for being such awful person while still claiming to be a Christian.

Just imagine how bad I’d be if I wasn’t a Christian.

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Pope Benedict, Creation, and Biblical Criticism
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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    For the politically obsessed guy daring me to post his off-topic rant about Bush and Cheney: Dude, it’s 2012. Get over it.

    No, I’m not posting it. Here’s an abbreviated version so people get the sense of your comments: Bush and Cheney suck. Duly noted. For a follow-up you can articulate five reasons why Buchanan-Breckinridge should be horsewhipped, and why Harrison-Tyler are the shame of the Whigs.

  • victor

    I don’t think such explanations are really necessary: it’s your blog, it’s your rules, and you don’t need to explain yourself to everyone. That said, the context is definitely apprecited: the Christian blogger, especially the interesting ones, has a hard row to hoe: you have to be a good civil example while still being yourself and fun to read. Of course, I think you get that balance right far more often than not.

    PS. I called my friend Pete a homophone once. I still haven’t forgiven myself.

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    He’s probably still angry you called him a moss.

    (Give it a second.)

  • victor

    Yep, that was it :) Marc didn’t like it either.

  • Laura

    I’m often impressed with your restraint, sir. The raw sewage of hatred on the internet is appalling. It all seems so like . . . arrested adolescence? Your blog, your rules–indeed. And a fine, wicked sense of humor is essential!