Sunday, March 12, 2006

From Douglas Wilson's blog:

Trial By Internet Topic: A Justice Primer

The Bible tells us that the man who is able to tame the tongue is able to deal with anything. The tongue is a restless evil, he says, full of poison. It sets the world on fire, and is set on fire by hell. As long as sin has been in the world, this has been true, but whenever new means of communication are developed, sin eagerly rushes in often before cultural sanctification and manners catch up with it.

The printing press was invented, and was gloriously used by God to spread the availability of the Scriptures. But the same printing press made scurrilous broadsheets and pamphlets possible, and those applications were not slow in coming. The telephone was invented, and made many wonderful things possible, but gossip and time-wasting chatter were right there as well.

Now we are dealing with the internet and email, and all the warnings that St. James gave us have to be taken to heart in new ways. We are dealing with the electronic tongue, and we have not yet learned how to deal with the electronic tongue. To the extent that pastors talk about the internet in sermons at all, it tends toward concerns about pornography. This is far from being an unreasonable concern, because porn is a big problem. But I think Scripture also encourages us to address the sins that are commonly and routinely committed by people in front of other Christians. Christians who use porn almost always sneak off to do it alone, in secret. But disgraceful web sites are set up for the whole world to see, and it is not recognized for what it is. We are so much in the grip of radical individualism that as long as someone is advancing something that they call their perspective or "point of view," we think in First Amendment terms rather than in Second Greatest Commandment terms. But points of view are not self-authenticating. They are not autonomous. And to apply Dilbert to this, "When did ignorance become a point of view?"

With this in mind, let me just note a few sins of the electronic tongue. They are all particular applications of principles found in Scripture, revealed to us long before the day of ones and zeros. But we have to remember that we are creatures of habit in our virtues and vices, and this means that people will often do in a new setting something they would never dream of doing in an older, more familiar setting. This is because the older, more familiar setting was governed by a set of manners that were seeking (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) to govern that behavior. But when the setting changes, all bets are off. In a previous era, pietistic churches often had rules against going to the movies in a theater, which used to be the only place you could see them. But with the advent of television, the VCR, and then the DVD, members of such churches can watch movies without a twinge in their conscience. Men who would never dream of buying a pornographic magazine will visit pornographic web sites. And bringing us to the point of this post, people will type things at a keyboard that they would never dream of saying.

So here are just a few things to watch for:

Trial by Internet: we have been covering the principles of justice in this series. Those principles are to be applied by individual Christians who are faithful members of churches, sessions of elders, faithful presbyteries, and councils of Christians. They are all to be dealt with in an incarnational way, settled and applied by people who live with one another, and love one another in three-dimensional ways. When someone's reputation is being dragged through the mud, we have to remember to give an attack web site the same authority (i.e. none) that we would give a xeroxed nasty-gram tacked to a telephone pole. Scurrilous sites are easy to identify, and Scripture requires us to ignore them completely. Not only should we ignore them completely, we should ignore those who do not distance themselves from everyone engaged in that kind of thing.

Other sites are not scurrilous, and make a great show of putting on a dignified air, but they are still trying to try the case in the wrong place. Jesus did not say, "And if your brother does not hear you, I hear blogspots are fairly inexpensive."

Speed Is Not Synonymous With Truth: we used to equate a "fast talker" with a greater likelihood of falsehood. This suspicion ought to remain with us. What the Internet does is enable us to circulate our ignorance around the globe at a high rate of speed. The fact that I can click a button, and people in Australia can read what I wrote a few seconds later, does not make it right. Jesus said of the Pharisees that they made a great business of crossing over land and sea to make a convert, and when they made one, he became twice as much a son of hell as themselves. You sell what's on the shelves. You export what you produce. You say what's in your heart. Now if what you have is a pack of lies, or poorly-researched slanders, or plain old-fashioned folly, then that is what goes up when you click the button

The Internet Is Not Private Space: many who sit behind keyboards make the same mistake made by a toddler who hides by covering his eyes. If he can't see others, they must not be able to see him. There is truly a weird phenomenon going on here. A few years ago, a couple who worked for an establishment made some home-made pornographic material and posted on the web. Their employer found out about it and dismissed them. They, in turn, sued the employer for invading their privacy. Now think about this for a minute. Another illustration of this kind of a strange mind-bend is the phenomenon of what should be called the Narcissistic Blog. A private diary is a private diary, and people can have private pity parties in them. But a narcissistic blog is not private, and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be considered private. But on more than one occasion I have known of young people surprised that their elders knew about something. "How did you know that?" "Well, you posted it on the world wide web." I have sometimes thought (not quite in jest) that larger churches ought to bring an elder on staff whose sole job would be to monitor the blogs of the young people in the church. As Yogi Berra once said, "You can observe a lot by just watching."

Courage Is Personal: when you have something against your brother, or your brother has something against you, buy him a beer and talk to him about it. Commit yourself to it over time. Do everything you can to deal with problems the way a courageous man would, if he were here.

1 comment:

Willena said...

A sober reminder of the importance of being careful what we say on the net. I think I need to spend more time reading Doug Wilson's blog. Thanks for posting this, Cheryl.