We’ve got a new round of Catholic internet drama going, and it hardly matters what the excitement is this time. I’m keeping my nose out of it, because otherwise my post will lose its perennial freshness. Ever ancient, ever new — that’s Catholic craziness for you.
Meanwhile, for those who haven’t sworn off iGossip and taken up gardening or macrame, here’s my three top tips for keeping your head on straight and your friendships in order, even when someone’s wrong on the internet.
1. Remember Who’s Talking
The Catholic internet is composed of two groups of people:
A. Calm people. To wit: Jimmy Akin, and then this one really sweet mom lady who posts pictures of her kids eating solemnity-themed cupcakes. There might be a third.
B. Hotheads. That’s the rest of us.
Oh, I know, even now you’re rushing to either dissect a Church Father or quick find an obscure Catholic holiday your children can celebrate with costumes made out of paper plates, so that you can squeeze into Category A. But admit it: If you take a strong interest in controversial topics like politics, liturgy, or catechesis, you probably have just a touch of opinionated fireball inside that cool, calm exterior. Maybe more than a touch.
And here’s the clincher: Those other hotheads you’re reading right now? They are living in a completely differently world than you.
You’ve been given a view down the shirt of every staff member of your parish; she’s been informed one time too many that her ankles are a near occasion of sin. He attends St. Simon & Garfunkel’s, and has been twitching every since they went to an all-harmonica Mass three years ago; your parish bulletin is now published almost entirely in Latin. Because people complained Greek was too hard. Your religious ed program consists of, “Pick a color you really love. Share with your friends how it makes your feel.” Their religious ed program consists of, “You may get up off your knees as soon as you have the Vulgate memorized. Then you may work on your diorama of the fires of Hell.”
I’m joking, kids, I’m joking. But seriously: Very many times, the source of the argument among faithful Catholics is not a radically different understanding of the faith; it’s a dramatically different experience of how the faith is lived in their corner of the universe.
Even if you and the other keyboard-jockey both attend the same parish and the same Mass, the two of you have different backgrounds. Different playground traumas. Different incidents that color your view of the Church. Consider the possibility that your worthy opponent has good reasons for being so wrong-headed.
2. Try to Talk Your Friend Off that Ledge
One of the highlights of my internet life is seeing how many people who think I’m absolutely, horribly, wrong about something are perfectly ready to engage in productive dialog, if I take a genuine interest in what they have to say and why they say it.
(I know, some of you shuddered when you heard the word “dialog”. Listen: It can be good. It’s not always a code word for “namby pamby faithy-ism.” Respectful conversation can be a fruitful means of getting closer to the truth – iron sharpens iron and all that.)
The mark of a crazy person isn’t the odd temper tantrum or hot-button topic. Everyone has their bad day, bad week, bad decade. It happens. Have you tried gently asking a few questions, or did you go on the counter-attack? I know the counter-attack urge, I understand it, trust me. (See: Hothead.) But don’t be shocked that someone gets defensive when you go on the offense. It is the mark of Christian maturity to resist when the hotheads try to work you into a lather.
And if you did go on the offensive (see: Hothead, Takes One to Know One), from that moment on you’ve got to consider every harsh word in your little brawl to be just a bad night at the pub. You engaged. You were part of the problem. Brush yourself off, go home, sleep off the hangover, and try to be friendly next time. Give your sparring partner the same charitable benefit of the doubt you’d like extended towards yourself.
3. Let Go of the Envy
Blogging, Facebook, Twitter . . . these media all require us to put ourselves out there. There’s nothing inherently sinful about being a person who has a knack for marketing. Don’t begrudge someone their one big talent. Don’t assume that, “I have to make my writing pay because I’d fail out of engineering school in half an hour,” is the same thing as, “I possess an enormous ego.”
Do people who depend on writing to earn a living have to be utterly focused on bringing the paycheck in? Yes they do. Just like people who depend on plumbing or electrical work or writing software have to be focused on keeping their profession profitable. Everyone has to eat. But just because the construction company has to watch its bottom line doesn’t mean that every foreman is a self-centered money-grubber who’d happily see your children crushed to death during breakfast, just so long as your account is paid in full and your check has been cashed.
A concern about page views or advertising revenue or book sales can be a professional hazard. But a professional hazard does not make every professional hazardous.
Take pleasure in the work that you do, and take pleasure in the success of others who do similar work. There is a massive need for evangelization. Our mission at St. Blogs is to colonize cybersapce. Scratch the internet, find a faithful Catholic. That’s the goal. Get out there, be that Catholic.
Have a great weekend.
Artwork by Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Update: Someone inquired where the term “St. Blog’s” came from. Great place to find piles of good reading.