5 Reasons Why Christians Can Be So Mean To Each Other

5 Reasons Why Christians Can Be So Mean To Each Other May 21, 2014

Some days, I love what I do. Other days, I could walk away without a single regret in doing so.

On the days that I want to walk away, it’s often because of the realization that well, Christians can be really, really mean to each other.

In fairness, I think people in general have a propensity to be mean to each other. But Christians? We’re the ones who are supposed to be known by our love. Yet, visit the comment section of almost any Christian blog post- mine or otherwise- and it is quick to see that we often become people not known by love, but by our ability to eat our own young.

I think yesterday that struck home for me a bit. On my first real day back at work I was told I should “go boil my head” that I’m “everything that’s wrong with Christianity”, and had several other nasty emails that I stopped reading and deleted the moment I realized where they were headed.

It’s just all so exhausting some days.

Last night as I sat and processed the day (I’m an introvert and an internal processor) I started to ask myself why Christians can be this way so much of the time. From my processing, I’ve come up with a few reasons that I hope can help us develop a little more self-awareness and enable us to begin moving things in a different direction.

Why are we so quick to be mean to each other? Here’s what I think:

1. Many of us grow up in groups where we’re led to believe that “our group” has right what every other group has wrong.

I believe that Jesus is the “truth” as he claimed. The problem is, followers of Jesus have broken off into literally thousands of different sub-tribes and expressions of what it looks like to follow him. For many of us, we grow up in tribes who either directly teach or subtly lead us to believe that  we’re the ones who got it right.  It doesn’t seem that very many of these tribes teach holding theology with humility and an open hand (though some do). As a result, we go into discussions about God– whether on the internet or in an actual, interpersonal relationship– with a conscious or subconscious attitude that assumes we’re right. Whether this belief or attitude is intended or not, it doesn’t actually bode well for discussions with people who are different than ourselves, and often leads to nastiness before an introduction even occurs.

2. We’ve been taught that we need to police the boundaries.

If being taught that “we’ve got it right and everyone else is way off base” isn’t damaging enough, many of us had upbringings that went a step further in teaching us that we need to police the boundaries the tribe has made. Ironically, every tribe tends to have different boundaries, which means we now have thousands of tribes trying to police different standards and different beliefs in other people. But, we don’t call it policing– we dress it up nicely so it feels a bit more noble by calling it things like “defending the faith”, and “rebuking a brother”.

This isn’t to say that there aren’t boundaries in Christianity– Jesus made some pretty exclusive claims that are rather black and white. However, we’ve allowed this tribalism to draw all sorts of lines that even Jesus himself did not draw. This need to police our man-drawn lines often leads us to be people with nasty attitudes policing the boundaries, instead of being a loving people who are busy removing barriers.

3. We’ve been taught that dissenting thinkers in the tribe are putting all of us at risk.

Ever found yourself unsure if you agree with some of the boundaries your tribe has drawn and made the mistake of actually saying that out loud? In many tribes, you’ll be quickly isolated and ushered to the margins of the group– if even allowed to stay in the group at all.

I remember being on a missions trip with Word of Life Bible Institute (a fundamentalist indoctrination center) when I was a teenager. On the trip, the 70 different kids were divided into different groups that had different leaders over each group. Eventually, I realized that my group was treated differently than the rest. When I eventually asked about this, I was told that we were the kids who had been identified as potentially rebellious and that they needed to have us in a special group so that we didn’t spread our rebellion to the others. The funny thing was, I wasn’t rebellious at all and being treated as a threat needing to be isolated, crushed my spirit. Ironically, that was one of the defining moments in my life where I decided to start bucking the fundamentalist system because I hated the way they made me feel by segregating me. They were afraid of me, and I had no idea why. (But now they obviously have good reason)

Those who openly admit they’re not okay with the boundaries the tribe is drawing– or who even dare to innocently question the boundaries the tribe is drawing– create panic within the rest of the group and become a threat that must be quickly neutralized, isolated, or dispatched if necessary.

4. The invention of the internet.

While I love the internet and make a living writing on it, the invention of the internet hasn’t help reduce levels of Christian nastiness. Instead, the “information super highway” has given us access to all kinds of information our tribes often wouldn’t tell us about (like the fact the rapture is completely made up), and places us in situations where we interact with people we might not in our day-to-day lives actually interact with. This, obviously, creates tension that must be released in one way or another.

Combine this with the anonymity of the internet, and we see a new level of Christian nastiness. It’s much easier to tell someone you don’t know in real life to “go boil their head” over the internet than it is to say so while sharing a meal together. I am convinced that the internet has created an explosion of Christian nastiness, because I simply cannot believe that people would say some of these things to each other if we were all sitting at a table together. Maybe I’m wrong, but I sure hope not.

5. Diversity of Christian belief often scares us, even if we can’t admit it.

I think many of us on this journey have move passed this one, but the root of most Christian nastiness is still something fear based. When you grow up in a tribe who thinks they have a monopoly on rightness but encounter people outside the tribe who see things differently and can express them in a reasonable and articulate way, it can create fear. Encountering such diversity causes one to ask questions such as: “What if they’re right? What else might I potentially be wrong about?

When these questions come up, it is much easier to attack the other person than it is to sit with the tension of wrestling with matters of faith. Living in tension isn’t fun, it isn’t easy, and learning to be okay with it takes a lot of work Yet, I believe Jesus calls us to exactly this. When we encounter people who intentionally or unintentionally invite us into the tension, it’s simply easier to attack and dismiss them than it is to actually engage with them on a healthy, reasonable level.

//

I lament the level of Christian nastiness in the world today– something that I think we all get sucked into, myself included. My prayer is that perhaps we might humbly consider some of the reasons why we tend to behave so hateful towards one another and that this self awareness, combined with the love of Jesus, will help guide us to a path of peace– even when we disagree.

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • David

    Some of us just think we’re special and that everyone should listen to us and find us to be authoritative. Telling someone else that they are wrong just makes us feel more righter (bad grammar intended for effect!). Some people just want to pick a fight because it makes them feel good about themselves. Social media just makes it easier for a person to hear their own voice. They don’t really want to change anything or anybody, they just want to hear how smart and special they are. Some do it with instagram. Some do it with humblebrags. Some people do it with blogs. Some people do it with trolling blogs. At the same time, I do believe that there is a time and place, not to be mean, but to be firm, angry, and outspoken about truth vs falsehood. Jesus did this quite a bit. So did Paul. But we do need to bring it back to “Why am I flipping over these tables? Because I have an axe to grind? Because I am full of myself? Because I hate these people? Because I’m so special that I get to flip tables and belittle other people?” If these are our reasons, perhaps we should just flip the screen down on our laptop instead and reevaluate what we are doing with our lives. Some things are important to address, however this does not have to be done in meanness or patronizing sarcasm. On a side note, sarcasm is probably one of the most used and most demoralizing epidimics that has spread throughout “online Christianity.” It’s kind of like frozen pizza. Comes with dairy, wheat, meat, and vegetables, but all the other crap that comes along with it nullifies the value of the otherwise useful elements.

  • bobbyscott

    Amen brotha…PREACH!

  • Ruaidrí Ó Domhnaill

    Well thought-out and well written, Ben. Excellent insight, but I fear you may be preaching to the choir.

  • Similarly, I put this piece out yesterday:
    http://omg-occasionalmuffledgrunts.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/the-most-important-question-in-theology.html

    What is the most important question in Theology?

    I was hungry,
    and you pointed out my misuse of Theological terminology;
    Thirsty,
    and you corrected my exegesis;
    In prison,
    and you trashed my atonement theory and perfected my Christology,
    using language that could have given my grandmother a cardiac arrest.

  • Great post, as usual.

    I think *safety* is a key concept here. Some view opposing concepts as a threat to their own safety, created by their dogmatism; so they end up defending their perceived-orthodox view(s) to the death, even at the expense of the one with whom they are engaging or berating — all toward feeling secure in their particular view, which they perceive to be that of God Himself.

  • Matthew Bade

    I have kind of a dumb question regarding tribal boundaries. I’m not talking about the sectarianism rampant within traditional, orthodox Christianity, but rather the outer boundaries. Are Jehovah’s Witnesses Christians? Some cults clearly are not, but I’m not certain they are a cult. So, then, are the Witnesses inside or outside of the box?

  • Kyle Matthew

    The ironic part is that those who arguably need to hear this the most probably won’t given that it comes from “outsiders” to their inclusive groups.

  • Ruaidrí Ó Domhnaill

    Gee, I wish I’d said that.

  • Yes, I disagree with some of their beliefs but they are most definitely Christians.

  • I think you are mostly right about the internet making it easier for Christians or any other group to be nastier than they would if they were sitting face to face. People are far more likely to say nasty thing when they don’t have to look someone in the eye. The are occasions when people are just as nasty in person but they are rare. It’s the anonymity that allows some people to say the things they do.

  • Tough question. It really all depends on how you answer “What are the basic boundaries of Christianity?” They do affirm the fundamentals (ironically, where we get the term fundamentalist) but they do not affirm the content of the creeds of the church (especially the doctrine of the trinity, the divinity of Christ, etc.) which in my theological opinion, would place them outside of “orthodox” Christianity. Christian? Yes. Orthodox? No.

  • Matthew Bade

    I’ve come to really respect your opinions, Benjamin, so I appreciate you offering your viewpoint. Thank you.

  • gimpi1

    I think especially your last point is extremely valid, but for a slightly different reason. Among the more fundamentalist folks I have met, a belief in a literal hell is very strong. Talk about fear-based! Some people regard even looking at anything outside their current beliefs as damning. Anyone who does not march behind them in lock-step is a threat, someone who might lead them off “the narrow path” that will keep them out of hell. When that’s how you look at the world, everything that isn’t in line with your beliefs is terrifying.

    I have spoken to people who seem to believe in a sort of trickster-god who created a world that looks billions of years old and will damn people to hell if they fall for the illusion he created. I have known people who believe in a god who created the vast majority of the people because he was specifically planning to torment them for eternity. I know a fellow who believes the vast immensity of the universe exists only for a church of about 85 people worshiping in a small town in eastern Washington state. The rest of us are all “chaff” fit only for burning. I’m sorry, but that kind of thinking can’t help but mess you up. It also makes you fear and attack anyone who isn’t among the “elect.”

    However, I have also known wonderful people of all faiths and none that can reach across boundaries to learn, understand and embrace while keeping their own beliefs intact. Those are the folks that keep us outsiders looking in. Those are the people I ask about their beliefs, because their lives are good advertisements for those beliefs.

  • CroneEver

    There is a terrible tendency these days to believe that learning ABOUT something means believing IN it, whether it’s global warming, differing political views, differing religious views, etc. And God forbid we should ever change our minds about anything at all, because how could what we learned as a child be wrong?

  • Eddie

    “Live with a man for 40 years. Share his house, his meals, speak on every
    subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge, and on THAT day, you will finally meet that man.” (A quote from one of the Firefly episodes). The older I get the more content I am to sit back and watch people. I used to waste hours listening to them rant, and I used to spend time trying to talk with them. Now I just watch. More than a few so-called Christians – and especially the fundamentalist bunch – are hostile because they are feeling some heat. What they won’t realize or accept is that they volunteered to tie themselves up and jump over. A few manage to crawl back. The ones who went over the edge of the volcano and made it back are the ones that are most willing to listen and talk. With those few, I think we are ready for the next 40 years and that we will be better for it. Keep up the good work, man. You are right on track.

  • UWIR

    The creeds of “the” church? There is only one? What you mean is that they are not Nicene Christians. Besides doctrine, there are practices such as shunning that show they fall short of Christian love.

  • prolejarian

    Why do we feel threatened with other beliefs? I don’t know what makes us all judges. I hate that about myself

  • You’ve missed the most obvious reason: not everyone who calls himself a Christian is one. There’s no “wheat or tares” test we can administer to those who call themselves followers of Jesus. So the next time some “Christian” does something horrible in Jesus’ name, keep in mind he may not be one.

  • Livin

    I would say Christ as son of God/God, Resurrection, Hell of some sort to be basic beliefs every Christian should hold to. If you do not then you are a humanist or a MTD(Moral Therapeutic Deist). Nothing bad about that just for definition sake.
    I do love Formerly Fundies posts he is like Matthew Vines and is loving toward Christians unlike many in the Progressive Christian Channel.(yes I realize the irony in my post)

  • Brian Westley

    Emo Philips figured it out over 25 years ago:

    http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2005/sep/29/comedy.religion

  • Stacey (the kids’ Aunt Tasty)

    I’m just going to try to be better by laying down my word-swords. I love those damn things. But I love people more, and I’m going to make a prayerful and intentional effort to act like it.

  • syknyt08

    Thank you! I pray that God continues to bless and lead you! I think mean Christians are insecure in their salvation or in themselves, generally. Looking at it that way helps me to love them more and judge them less. After all, then wouldn’t we be guilty of doing the same thing? I feel like the only reason to clearly identify a fault in someone else (like being mean) is so that we might know better how to reach their deepest need better so that we can genuinely help them in their walk with God by better understanding God’s love for them and his grace. When we see a Christian being mean, and we don’t reach out in love, we just might be just as guilty as them when they see a fault in us (real or imaginary) and they criticize. We all fall short and need so much grace!!