The Internet is harsh and unforgiving, so beware your tongue.
Anyone remember the good ol’ days where there was more than a nanosecond where our lives weren’t recorded for the world to see? I’m definitely one of those people who obsessively and voluntarily displays my life to the world on the Internet and it’s brought about both pain and healing.
Around three years ago, I became a regular contributor to the Reddit subreddit for Christianity, which is a forum for discussion of all things Christian. I signed up under the moniker partofaplan, which is where this blog’s name comes from. My involvement in the forum was casual at first. I mostly read and did not comment for the first several weeks. (This is called “lurking” in Internet-speak.) As I started to actually comment and post, I found people who shared similar mindsets and beliefs, just like I did. But I also was often blindsided by people who did not share my same set of beliefs. This started to shake my foundation in many ways, but it was the combination of real-life circumstances that started to set me on a rocky path.
In this time, my wife and I had left our home church for various reasons and we were on the search for a new church which would help us grow in God. We had two little kids and we were both unsure of what we wanted in a church community, but we knew what we didn’t want. I started to air out this dirty laundry on the forum, to people who didn’t really know me. Through it, I began to grow a virtual bond to people with similar doubts and objections to the Christianity they have known. My frustration started to turn into anger and it also distanced me from God. I didn’t really show people this side of me, even my wife. It became very secret and only knowable to people on the forum.
That was a huge mistake.
After several months, I was starting to feel this growing sense of distance to faith and Christianity until I was already miles down the road. I let my demons loose on the Internet, talking about everything from how I felt about other Christians to the churches we hopped to and from. I was hoping that things would just work out eventually and life could go back to normal. I quickly realized it wouldn’t and one night in the kitchen of our two-bedroom duplex, I told my wife I was basically agnostic. I have never seen her so distraught and so distant as I did that night and I would do anything to rewind time and handle things differently. I was still very immature and selfish. I killed my Reddit account twice just because of the sheer stress and guilt I felt.
I did not stop though. I continued to bare my life and my soul on the forum and making many Christian and non-Christian friends on the way. Some of the people there, I can still call them dear friends of mine. They helped me work through my assumptions and thoughts to find faith again, but on a new foundation and one that didn’t come from soundbites and Youtube videos but a few millennia of philosophical wisdom. The bad part is that during the doubting and recovery process, my mean streak would often come out through the debates I’d have with people. There are times where it still comes out in me and I know it’s not the person God wants me to be. My nastiest, snarkiest self came out and I’m not proud of it. The bad part is that I’m sure that my prideful demons still lives somewhere in a server somewhere, although I’ve left them behind in my mind.
This ultimately brings me to my main point – the Internet is almost like a sin-recording entity. Sure, all of our data may seem private, and there’s most likely a chance that even if people 30 years from now do recover your rage-filled, sarcastic comments to user SmellyFart57, they probably won’t care. But what’s more important is that it is still hanging out there in the virtual realm over you and with your name attached to it. It’s a part of your history that won’t go away. Also, the scriptures say that our words have power and it can betray our reputation to others.
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. (James 3:8-9, KJV)
The Internet can be a great tool and an excellent place to build community (despite the doomsayers who believe Facebook is the Great Satan, I’ve made many very dear friends on social networking sites). But we have to remember that it’s also the playground of the tongue. I come from a heritage of some short-tempered, argumentative folks on both sides of my parents, so I have this natural tendency to be unkind and absolutely adamant about being right when I’m challenged. I get a cathartic high just from arguing. This is bad news on an Internet forum, where it doesn’t matter if you say “Kittens are cute!”, some jerk will reply back within the span of 5 minutes and say “Kittens suck!”. It’s almost a rule. My flesh can’t leave well-enough alone and almost as powerful and sure as any addictive drug, I get sucked into arguing.
God calls us to avoid arguing. Paul even says that we should try as much as we can to live peacefully with everyone (Romans 12:8). I’ve realized at this point in my life, that before I even get into an argument (specifically an Internet one), it’s best to just leave it be altogether, no matter how wrong I think the person is. The ending to starting an argument is rarely productive anyway. I don’t mind being challenged in my position, but I just think that I’m more likely to go back to my prideful self and my troublesome tongue will be the one driving the bus, instead of the Holy Spirit. The Internet does that to me because there’s this background of anonymity that almost makes us feel like our secret selves are untouchable. Problem is some day, there’s a chance you’ll regret what you’ve written in the heat of the argument.
I prefer real conversations with people because there’s no escape from yourself or the person in front of you. What comes out of your mouth feels much less divorced from your actual self and there’s more of an opportunity to be real, but still guarded.
I now endeavor to have less of my demons roaming around on the Internet and more of my self present for my family. I am hoping that I continue to speak humility rather than arrogance into the virtual, perpetual world of the Internet.