Home Forums Noticings… 190814 – Uncivil Discourse

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    August 14, 2019

    I’ve decided to stop reading the news. It’s hurting my soul too much. And that’s a sad thing to say because I’ve always loved reading the news. Oh, I’ll still probably glance at the headlines and read some stories, but I’m going to be much more careful about what kind of stories I read. Specifically, I’m going to stop reading about our southern neighbours. I know they’re the most powerful country on the planet, and I know our Canadian economy is inextricably enmeshed with theirs, and I know that what happens there directly affects us – but I just can’t take it anymore. The bitter partisanship, the hateful rhetoric, the inflammatory language, the gun violence, the environmental shrug, the racism, the immigration debacle, the utter disrespect for basic humanity, it’s just too much. (Yes, I know it’s not just them, but they’re the loudest.)

    And it’s more than just the news. In social media the same hostility and degradation is prevalent. Social media and news comment boards have been taken over by anonymous people known as ‘trolls’. A troll is someone who intentionally makes incendiary and provocative comments for the single purpose of angering people and discouraging civil discourse. Political operatives, both domestic and foreign, actually pay these trolls to subvert the other’s ideas. In today’s world the other side of an issue apparently can’t just be ‘wrong’ it must be labelled as ‘evil’.

    Technology allows instant communication and interaction which should enable us to avoid misunderstandings by providing space for direct dialogue, but because the technology allows for anonymity it seems to bring out the worst in people. I’d wager that it would be significantly harder to be a troll if you had to sign your name and reputation to every comment. At church we won’t even read a letter or hear that “someone said” something unless that person puts their name on it.

    And here’s the theological tie in. As Christians, we claim a worldview that is rooted in love – love of God, love of neighbour, love of one another. There is no definition of love that includes spewing invective as an anonymous troll. If I am interacting with you in any way, shape, or form we are in a relationship. For followers of Jesus every relationship must be rooted in love. Of course, it’s impossible to love a troll if they won’t agree to be part of a relationship. But what if they would?
    Imagine how social media might be transformed if every interaction had that basic sense of honouring the other as its grounding, and every commenter had to own their comments.
    Imagine how uncivil political discourse might be elevated if every policy debate required opponents to look one another directly in the eyes and acknowledge that the other is not the devil, and that they’re actually in a relationship, supposedly marked by love.

    I would never venture to make a judgement as to whether someone qualified as a Christian or not, but I am shocked daily at the unloving things that seem to tumble so effortlessly from so many speakers’ mouths and posters’ keyboards. Sadly, I don’t see this sad state of affairs changing anytime soon, so for now I guess I’ll just stop reading the news.

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