07 July 2006

How to deal with posts you don't like—and the flip side

by Dan Phillips

I've noticed a pan-internetal phenomenon you'll all recognize. It's how different people deal differently with posts, articles, essays they don't like. (Now, I suppose I have to add "and pictures.")

You can not like a post for many reasons, reasons which will vary in part due to the post's content, and in part due to where you are, spiritually, intellectually, temperamentally, and time-wise (schedualically?).

Maybe the post in question is really stupid. Maybe it's palpably wrong. Maybe it's wrong and stupid.

Or maybe the content of the post simply makes you uncomfortable. It tweaks a pet notion, one of your me-ology theologies. Someone is advocating tee-totalling, and you disagree. Credo-baptism is the focus, and you like spattering babies instead. The post is aggressively [what-you-aren't]-mil, or enthuses about The You-Think-It's-Fetid Version of the Bible. It affirms the Bible's sufficiency, and the leaky-Canon position is very important to you.

So what do you do? Three main approaches spring to mind.

1. "Nothing to see here, move on!" You could just sigh, shake your head at the writer's dismal ignorance, and drive on. That takes some maturity and self-control, at best. Or it indicates indifference to the profileration of virulent error, at worst.

Nonetheless, not every fire is your fire, and you've not enough water in your tank (nor enough blank spaces on your calendar) to put them all out. Perhaps you recall, "Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears" (Proverbs 26:17). So you move on, saving your ammo for a more strategic battle. To mix metaphors.

2. "Your Honor, I would like to point out...." Alternately, you could step in, make a reasoned case, present counter-evidence, and stand by what you've written, ready to admit error or present further evidence as needed. You're thinking of Proverbs 18:17 here: "The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." You might end up changing minds. You might end up realizing that you have to change your own mind. All of this takes maturity, self-control, intelligence, and a certain amount of free time.

3. (Ahem.) "Wahhh." Then there's always the great Christianoid trump-card. You could stomp in, judge everyone whose view threatens your own as "judgmental," separate yourself from them as being "divisive," hate them for being "unloving," and emote extravagantly about how "unspiritual" they are. You could brush aside the topic and condemn others for being condemning, tell them they're wrong for saying others are wrong, treat them harshly for their harshness.

I admit sincerely, there's a real beauty, of a sort, in this latter approach. Think about it, it really is remarkable.

It's like calling someone "racist." How can the accused possibly respond? How do you prove you're not a racist? Flat denial in the face of accusation is unconvincing. "Some of my best friends are ___" just gets laughs and rolling eyes. Get down in that mud pit, and you'll never get out.

Parenthetically, that happened to me one particular time. I was teaching a class of pastors, and found to my horror that a student had cheated on a take-home test, copying verbatim from the supposed-to-be-closed textbook. I overcame my gut-wrenching reluctance and confronted him with it.

His response? "You know, I suspected from the start that you have something against [insert race-other-than-my-own here]."

How would you have responded to that? Would you have accepted the invitation to leap into the mud pit, and prove that you're not a racist?

Here is my response, such as it was: "Look, don't even try to go there with me. This isn't about my feelings about your race. It's about the fact that you cheated on a pastoral ministry test. If you felt that I harbored hatred towards other races, you failed me as a brother by not rebuking me earlier, so that I could repent of that sin. That isn't our problem here and now. Our problem is your cheating, and what we have to do about that."

As I say, this "you're just not spiritual enough" approach has a beauty all its own.

You could literally take it to any thread, anywhere, and drop it in verbatim. I mean that literally: you could use the exact same words. You don't have to bring anything, contribute anything, prove anything. You don't even have to have read the post, or the comments! It could be your first time to the site, and you could not know the writers from Adam—or Adam West, for that matter. Just make the charges, and watch the fun.

(An aside: someone did just this in the comments section for one of my posts. I was talking with my son Matthew about it, and mentioned I saw the same person in another thread, on another blog. He suggested I do exactly what I just said—copy that person's comments verbatim, and drop them in the other thread under my name. It was beautiful, it would have worked perfectly. After I stopped laughing [which took awhile], I think I said something to the effect of, "Don't tempt me, Frodo!")

(Say... where did that boy get his naughty streak? Hm... but I digress, in Jay-Adams-like profusion of parentheticals....)

I'm convinced I've seen some who do this precisely this sort of disruption just for the entertainment it provides them, and the knowledge that it has yanked busy, productive people off-task for awhile and made them play the sniper's game.

What you are doing in this is giving an implicit invitation to the writer and all the participants to leave off that topic that made you uncomfortable, and to defend themselves personally. They have to prove the state of their hearts, to your satisfaction. (And be honest: short of total capitulation, will they ever do that?) Or for a bonus, they'd have to renounce the point you didn't like—because they're such bad people! Sort of a intellectual "suicide by ad hominem."

If things go your way, it's implicit that the others have to treat you nicely by your standards, and not really attack any of your points. Get this going, and you've got them. They're off-topic, focused on you, and on the defensive. They now are obliged make you feel good. And only you can rule on whether they've succeeded. It's now all about you, and your feelings.

If they don't play your game your way, you get to redouble the accusations, seal their condemnation, proclaim yourself a martyr, and—go, stay, whatever. You win! The topic loses.

Now, what the other participants—the writer, those who agree with him or her—should do is perhaps the topic of another post. The mud-pit is unappealing to me, and impractical for my calendar. I've seen folks I regard as vastly my betters go down that path, patiently responding and responding and responding and responding.

Almost invariably, they end up with nervous tics, talking to themselves, wondering whether they should just hang it up and take on something easier and more pleasant. Like sewer work.

Is there any other way to respond? One proverb does suggest itself: "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes" (Proverbs 26:5).

That approach is risky. It doesn't look very nice. It may instantly trigger the martyr-option, and that's never pretty. Sadly amusing sometimes. Pretty? Never.

But still, it is possible that God will use it to open eyes (Titus 1:13). This, of course, must be your hope and prayer, or you really are unloving, and you should repent. But if you have already seen others patiently and painstakingly respond to the very same issues over and over again with this person, without effect or progress, you may consider it.

After all, Jesus' idea of love is radically different than our age's notions. Hear Him: "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19). Jesus' love isn't very loving, judged by our sentimentality. But it does explain why He moves the apostle to tell pastors to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). How does the apostle define "complete patience"? It may vary situationally, but he tells Titus to reject a false teacher after two (2) warnings (Titus 3:10-11). In fact, in some cases the pastor must "rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith" (Titus 1:13).

Of course, in a perfect world, we'd never have to read posts that upset us. Or, from the other side, we'd never have drive-by's try to hijack threads.

But in the meanwhile, over here on this side of the Lord's return... I offer these thoughts for your consideration.

PS—how many words did I make up? How many hyphens did I use? If I had to pay $1 per hyphen, how broke would I be? Kids can play this game on long trips. Think of this as a Pyro summer bonus. We pack in the value for your buck's worth.

Dan Phillips's signature


Mike Y said...

Not much going on with this post. Time to move on...

Wait, I would like to point out that there is another alternative. One can take a position, here, and deposit on another site know for being not so sympathetic to brew controversy there.

Oh, and while I'm at it, I've got a real bone to pick with you Dan! I don't like the way you roll your eyes every time you come across one of my comments. You... you... That's what you are!

And I can't count that many hyphens. Just because I have a degree in math doesn't mean I can count that high!

Mike Y said...

Dan, I forgot to mention I'm really offended by the pic of Batman. First of all there are too numerous conotations there to begin listing. And then the pose he has, and with his tights, it's a little too vulgar.

Anyway, had to get that off my chest.

Neil said...

I am a forever fan of any writer who uses the word "emote". I just love that word.

Kim said...

I'm convinced I've seen some who do this precisely this sort of disruption just for the entertainment it provides them, and the knowledge that it has yanked busy, productive people off-task for awhile and made them play the sniper's game.

This is a very wiley (sp?)tactic. It takes the attention of the issue at hand and makes it about the individual in question. It's also fostering conflict, which to this overly-sensitive home school mom's sensibilities is simply destructive.

I often wonder if people don't generate conflict simply because they don't know how to do anything else constructive. It's easier to generate conflict than be reasoned.

Hey Buggy: "emote, emote, emote."

Daniel said...

I may be wrong, but I imagine that silently entrusting my reputation to God when I am accused (as opposed to defending myself) would give God the most glory.

Not that my ego suffers such an approach well - but I do think it is the ideal.

Dan from Can(ada).

4given said...

Okay... great.

Batman: "Madam, I'm Adam and I am offended at this picture"...


Larry said...

So you didn't finish the story about the cheating pastoral ministry student. What did he say?

And I too have to question the use of the guy in the spandex Batman suit. That seems a little over the top to me. :D

4given said...

You wrote: "if you have already seen others patiently and painstakingly respond to the very same issues over and over again with this person, without effect or progress, you may consider it."

Wow... I can think of someone... but then, oh great, he's going to e-mail me again and point fingers at me pointing fingers even though I can't remember his name... or something like that.

Call to Die said...

Man, this post was horrible. You racist.

Call to Die said...

Actually, this post was very helpful. (That last comment probably came from spending too much time at Purgatorio.) I'm planning on posting on a similar topic either tonight or tomorrow and will now link the blogpost here. (Which will get you maybe 1 additional hit on this website.)

In Christ,

CuriousSaint said...

The following refers to the entire episode that has been occurring over the past couple posts...starting with chiquita. Do you think that (insert name of disciple) would have spoken with such jest toward fellow believers whom were expressing honest concern? I can't help but feel uneasy about how those speaking in jest are representing our Father and our Savior. And the worst part...it hasn't ended...we are still indirectly poking fun. All I'm trying to say is, aren't we supposed to be looking out for one another instead of getting our feelings hurt so easily? Fine...so a pic might not be obscene to your eyes...but you shouldn't force that upon others...and neither should they upon you. Rather, it should be a game of who can please the other first...where the scenario is always 'how can i help my fellow Christian brother'. Am I just way off here?

4given said...

Curioussaint... just please, don't wear a kilt. Your knees will show and I will stumble. Well, It might be that I'm falling over from laughing... not sure.

Phil Johnson said...

I've taken the liberty of pasting some slightly more modest Batman 'jammies over Adam West so as to remove the offense.

Also, for those curious about the ongoing saga of Chiquita, she's now got a skirt on over those racy coulottes, but she is still reading the NKJV, so we're counting her as backslidden, and forming a team to try to deprogram her.

Mike Y said...

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! ROFL!

Phil, it takes a humble man to recognize the effort you've made. Thank you for covering Batman, as well as Chiquita.

Oh, gotta go. The wife's Victoria's Secret catalog just came in.

p.s. 4ever, you can't go recycling kilt comments.

4given said...

NOT acceptable Mr. Phil.... her neck and top of her shoulders are still showing.

4given said...

You started it, Mike Y. Not my fault. I never take responsibity, do I? Blamshifting again... aaaahh.

CuriousSaint said...

I'm not sure what to say...

4given said...

"Blamshifting"... I am on a spelling impaired roll today.

Someone get me off of this blogosphere!!!

Mike Y said...

4given, great catch about the shoulders. Some of our Mennonite brethren may prefer that the rest of her arms are covered too. But a huge improvement for her.

Now, if only Chiquita could get some of that "book". She'd make some preacherboy a fine wife.

And I didn't start it. It was your bad joke :)

Wait! You blamed me and now I'm blaming it... Oh no! I've become Eve!

Solameanie said...

All I have to add to this is a solemn warning.

If I see any pictures of Julie Newmar and her Catwoman suit, I am going to report this site to the powers that be at the late Jack Hyles' church. They shall know how to deal with such prurience. :<

The sentence for such an offense is severe. You will be strapped into Monty Python's Comfy Chair (borrowed from the Spanish Inquisition), and then forced to gaze for hours at a poster of Billie Burke in her Good Witch of the North dress (complete with wand and big Lawrence Welk-style bubble). You will then write out 500 times in your best Palmer Method handwriting:

"There's no place like Rome. There's no place like Rome."

Rhology said...

Great response to the audacious claim that only a racist would call out cheating on an exam. I don't know if I would have, at the spur of the moment, been able to come up w/ such a response. I might have ended up over-emoting.

(Word Verification: eeeepgh)

Berean said...

The unloving, unspiritual, tone of
the discourse here really hurts.
Can't we all just get along?

candy said...

If things go your way, it's implicit that the others have to treat you nicely by your standards, and not really attack any of your points. Get this going, and you've got them. They're off-topic, focused on you, and on the defensive. They now are obliged make you feel good. And only you can rule on whether they've succeeded. It's now all about you, and your feelings.

Actually I have seen this happen with both writers and commentors.

4given said...

all just get along?... that would be unity at the expense of the Gospel.

Mike Y... you are so cracking me up. :-)

Giraffe Pen said...

Sometimes people ignore you without even discussing what you've said (to seek clarification or anything else). That's not fair, and leaves the person writing the comment feeling left hung out to dry. There has to be a more loving way than just ignoring people.

DaCatster said...

I actually read this quote online before. I really like it and think it applies

"Nobody cares about threats over the internet.Don't try to act hardcore with the keyboard.Fighting online is like racing in the special olympics;even if you win, you're still retarded."

reglerjoe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
reglerjoe said...

The whole Chiquita saga is the funniest thing I've read/seen in a long time!

Mike Y said...

Who says Christians don't know how to have a good time?

Lisa: Ditto!

Reglerjoe: I completely agree

Even So... said...

Sometimes, though not seen often, a way to deal with a post you "don't like" is to give the balance. It has the effect of getting a reasonable, thought out, (usually that is) response. And if it is not responded to in kind or at all, well, then you can see, without having to say, who is the "lesser" in this particular exchange. And then don't spoil that by saying so...

IOW, begin with the idea that you understand where they are coming from, if you do, give what you agree with, and THEN, talk of what you felt was where they went off track, or what you don't understand. Then give what you believe would be the conclusion of the matter if corrected, and say that otherwsie you aren't on the same page but perhaps could be if convinced otherwise by Scripture and conscience.

Yes, this will take more time, but it will set a higher standard, if I can say that word. It is worth it.

I am not one of those who feels that blogging is unproductive or a waste of time...many have not thought through their theological, doxological, or dare I say, exegetical or lexical ideas. As simple as some of the ideas presented on this and other (ahem) blogs may seem, the tangential repercussions of such discourse can have a profound effect. This is what we want, no?

I'm more than all for fun, I love it dearly...but if you are seriously needing clarification, go for that, go the head, or the heart, not the throat...

Take the time to learn to get to the core of the issues, and you will learn a valuable and vital tool in helping you witness to others (oooh that was a nice trump card)...where to place the humor, that is the question, IMHO.

ibcarlos said...

Dan ~ I really appreciate your acuity of perspicuity.

Can't wait to meet you!


Nephos said...

One "blessing" from this whole saga:
I no longer ignore the pics and logos on pyro. Now I scan each one carefully for any inuendo or hidden message.

Had no idea I was missing such fun!

philness said...

Since everyone is in the convivial spirit (love that word, having learned it first here) I thought I might impose and ask if there might be someone(s) gracious enough to send me some apologetic info. on ultradispensationalism namely this group called the "Rightly dividing the word of truth". Sorry if I'm out of place here. I did consider I might get a verbal slapping from Dan or Phil so go ahead commence slapping, for I am guilting. But I'll be real good from now on.


C. T. Lillies said...

I'm adding this to my list of posts everyone should read.

Thanks a bunch


RodeoClown said...

Phil, can we get a pic of Chiquita wearing an Adam West-style Batman costume?