The trigger was unbelievably innocent. A cute video, showing a mother putting clean laundry into a drawer while her toddler, standing on the other side of the drawer, took clean laundry out and dumped it on the floor. As someone who has a toddler myself, I had the normal human reaction to this: I laughed and thought it was cute. Yes, I thought, That is what having a toddler is like.
Then I made a mistake. I broke the first rule of the internet: I read the comments.
I mean, I realize that if wading into the Crisis combox is about as wise as planning a summer getaway in R’lyeh, and that reading comments on a Mark Shea FaceBook post is always a game of masochist roulette. If my own combox goes over 100 comments, a red alert goes off in my head and unless for some reason I’ve got frosty-points to burn I just click on by. The Culture Wars are brutal. Everyone knows that.
But this was a cute post about a cute kid doing one of those cute but annoying things that kids do. It was all in shades of bright white and rainbow. It was borderline Precious Moments. How can you write a nasty comment about that?
Well, apparently you can. According to the commentariat, the mother in the video was “stupid” “incompetent” and an “idiot.” She was denounced in terms of shocking viciousness. There was disagreement over the precise nature of her complete parental ineptitude: some averred that any woman with half a functional brain-cell would put her child in a playpen before doing housework, others boasted that their babies had been proficient in the art of folding laundry by the time they were zygotes. Weirdly, the mothers in the combox seemed to agree that this mother was basically sub-human slime. (The grandmothers, on the other hand, were choked up and teary-eyed and they exhorted all mothers to treasure these moments because they wouldn’t last long.)
So I did what any sane person would do. I quickly closed the window and fled back to my own feed, and to the comfortable arguments over whether Doug Grane deserves to be spit-roasted at a GOT themed barbecue for his hit piece against Rebecca Bratten Weiss, or whether simply boycotting LifeSite is a sufficient response.
What struck me, though, is the degree to which I was utterly shocked and scandalized by the behaviour of the moms. I mean, I’ve always just completely avoided any venue where the mommy wars might potentially be taking place: I almost never read mommy blogs, I’ve made the mistake of trying to attend homeschool groups exactly twice in my life, and based on what I hear from other mothers, joining a mom’s group sounds like about as fun as jumping buck naked into a bucket full of hungry piranhas. I’ve never been able to understand why any woman trying to deal with the emotional ups and downs of parenting small children would expose herself to the sanctimonious toxicity of mommy culture. I mean, who needs that?
And yet, I find it quite normal and routine to be involved in on-line spitting matches where people accuse each other of being heretics, liars, pharisees, feminazis or actual Nazis at the slightest provocation. Where it’s normal to make assumptions about a person’s likelihood of salvation based on, you know, their taste in television, their linguistic preferences, their ability to understand complex economic issues, or their choice of tattoos.
There are, I think, two possible take-aways from this. The first is that almost certainly there are a large number of people who avoid church for exactly the same reason that I avoid mommy groups. They have a comfortable relationship with God. They pray. Maybe they read the Bible, maybe they do meditation, maybe they focus on performing works of mercy. Just as I parent and love my children while studiously avoiding all of the arenas where I might get into a fire-fight over whether playpens are child abuse or whether you’re killing your child with sunblock, they love God while staying away from people who get whipped up into a violent frenzy over the position in which to hold one’s hands during the Our Father, or the precise meaning of arsenokoitai.
Given that we generally would like the Church to be an attractive place, this is something that we all might maybe want to consider before the next time we rail in public about how completely morally and spiritually bankrupt all the people who disagree with us are.
But the other take-home is that this is all part of the human condition, and it’s kind of not avoidable. Every so often I start really despairing about the Culture Wars. The pettiness. The rancour. The fact that I end up being sucked in by the pettiness and the rancour. I beat my brow and lament the state of the discourse and decide that I want nothing to do with humans – including myself. And then I start to think that maybe I should just disengage. Get out of the Culture Wars and go to some other more pacific social scene where people don’t bite and tear at each other over completely trivial stupidities.
You know, somewhere maybe where people are just having a friendly discussion about a cute video of a toddler and a mamma doing laundry…
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