A frequent commenter on Church of the Churchless posts asked me to delete his comments, which I’ve done. So the thread of a series of comments now may be a bit difficult to make sense of, since sometimes other people commented on a deleted comment.
I’ve taken the liberty of editing comments that started off with a mention of the commenter’s name, as in “Dear _____” or “______, you said.” I figured that it would be less confusing to leave out the name since the comment being referred to no longer can be read. However, occasionally this left the impression of a comment on a comment floating in commentless air. Oh, well. No big deal.
While on the subject of comments, I love it when someone shares an opinion on this Church of the Churchless blog. I avidly read every comment and email sent to me regardless of whether I agree with what was said. Feedback, whether positive or negative, connects us with others.
I frequently think of a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis in the movie “Shadowlands.” We read to know that we are not alone. Yes, but now the Internet allows us to read—and then write to the person who wrote what we just read. Who then may choose to write to us about our reading of his or her writing. And so on, lessening aloneness.
However, the Internet also can foster separation. People can communicate anonymously, sharing their thoughts with other nameless and faceless recipients. It is easy to forget that a real live person is using a keyboard to type in those ideas, and a real live person is reading them on a computer screen. This can lead to things being said remotely in cyberspace that wouldn’t be said face-to-face in a physical space.
On my other weblog, last month I wrote about the National Spelling Bee, free-associating into an anecdote about seeing William Simon on C-Span. Simon is a conservative who ran for governor of California in 2002. I said:
“Simon was giving some sort of Heritage Foundation talk, judging by the banner hanging behind his podium. He was blathering on, as is his wont, about how the United States is a Christian nation, with 90% of our citizens believing in Jesus. Simon said that religion (Christianity, obviously) should be taught in schools because it is so obviously part of our culture.
A Pakistani audience member rose and told Simon that he couldn’t believe in Christ, but that the Koran contained many references to Jesus and Mary. He wondered what sort of place he had in America, given Simon’s remarks.
It was interesting to see how William Simon changed his tune when faced with a real live non-Christian standing before him, rather than with merely his own abstract political/theological notions. Here he was, having to answer an obviously intelligent, concerned, caring person who didn’t believe how he did.
Simon said that everybody had a right to their own faith or lack of faith, but that 90% of Americans believed in a higher power. A few minutes before it was ‘in Jesus;’ now it was ‘in a higher power.’”
What I could see happening, as Simon had to look into the eyes of the Pakistani and speak to him directly, was a softening of his previous harshness toward non-Christians. I’m not saying that Simon had changed his opinions at all, but the manner in which he expressed them became more respectful. Speaking person to person is different than speaking to a featureless crowd.
When I write something that is going to appear on the Internet, I try to visualize my intended readership sitting right in front of me, whether this be a single person or—in my grandiosity—all of humanity.
If I feel strongly about a subject it’s all too easy to forget that other people hold a differing opinion that seems equally valid to them. Visualizing an audience comprised of both agreers and disagreers helps to remind me that whatever I wouldn’t say to someone face to face, I shouldn’t broadcast in cyberspace (even though I surely do this at times).
“Speak unto others as you would have others speak unto you.” That sums it up pretty well for me. Almost always Church of the Churchless commenters are in tune with this adage. Passion doesn’t preclude courtesy. Speaking strongly isn’t at odds with speaking respectfully.
If you want to see an example of truly unbridled, no holds barred, hit-em-where-it-hurts cyberdebating, take a look at the many comments on my HinesSight post about the most beautiful woman in the world. That’s a subject that stirs real passion.