Though this horse is not dead yet, it still needs a good flogging. Not long after I first started blogging, I wrote a post, “Difference, Disagreement, and Contention” in which I lamented the tone of bitterness and anger that seemed to characterize the bloggernacle at that time. Here I am again, doing much the same thing. But I think we need to talk about that subject again, and I think it follows well on Kaimi’s post on forgiveness.
Reading a few blogs here and there and doing my best just to keep up with the posts and responses at Times and Seasons, it seems to me that the Banner of Heaven incident has fed our already ample appetite for meanness, an appetite that is increased rather than satiated by being fed. When human beings in their natural state are mean, they cannot get enough of it. We need to outdo what we did before or what another has done to us. The internet in general is a place where people feel free to treat each other with contempt and to pile contempt on contempt, and–obviously–the bloggernacle isn’t immune to that. Indeed, it isn’t even that different in the bloggernacle than everywhere else. Meanness in all of its senses–common, unpleasant, inferior, lacking moral dignity, ignoble, vicious, cruel, hard to control, shameful–is often the norm in the responses to posts at Times and Seasons and all of the other Mormon blogs, especially in response to a few particular persons and to some ideas. Unfortunately, meanness begets more meanness.
Consider an example, the pictures posted recently at Nine Moons (and now taken down) comparing David King Landrith (DKL) to Hitler under the title “Monsters.” I think the original post was not the result of meanness on gst’s part; I take his word when he says that it wasn’t. It was a matter of bad judgment or bad taste when trying to be funny, but no more. But many of the responses have not only been in bad taste, they have been mean, and many of them amount to “Who is DKL to complain? He got what he gave.”
I have to agree that I have often found David’s blogging style irritating. When Times and Seasons decided to ban him from our site, though I did not want to, I agreed to go along. I feel strongly about banning only as a last resort, but it seemed we had reached that point. I know David somewhat from BYU. He took a Hegel class from me and, though it was apparent that he was no fan of Hegel, he wrote an excellent paper for the class. He was happy to challenge me, but he did so with good arguments, so it was fun to have him in class (when he showed up). I’ve heard from those who know him personally that he is a pleasant, self-effacing person, and I believe them. DKL is pleasant, a faithful Mormon, and very smart. I’ll grant all of that quite happily. I’ll also grant that his blogging persona has been something else. But whether we like DKL or not is irrelevant. He is not the question.
The question is “How should I behave toward others?” and Christ has answered that:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
I have no right to “give DKL–or any other person–what he gave” or to take pleasure in others doing so. I have no right to demean another. I have no right to make jokes at someone’s expense or to vent my spleen when someone disagrees with me or to use disparaging language to refer to others. I have no right to be mean. Indeed, I have an obligation not to be so.
This obligation not to be mean is not something peripheral to being a Christian. With the commandment to love God, it is at its very center: I am obliged by covenant to act in a Christ-like way, to imitate him who suffered without deserving it and was unjustly executed for us. I cannot do that if I am mean to others. I have no right to be mean to the person for whom Christ died. But if I cannot be mean and keep my covenant, than many of us in the bloggernacle break it fairly regularly.
The anonymity of the bloggernacle makes it easy to be mean. Our passions for our politics and for our understanding of doctrine makes it easy to do so. Anger at injustice makes it easy to do so. There are many things that make it easier to be mean and to feel justified in that meanness, but we have covenanted not to take that easy way. Those of us who remain upset by Banner of Heaven and angry with its participants, or angry only with David King Landrith, those of us who dislike Adam Greenwood’s take on things, those of us who are angered by Kristine Haglund Harris’s liberalism, or Kaimi’s flippancies, or Nate Oman’s inability to write about anything but the law, or Matt Evans’s obsession with abortion, or Jim Faulconer’s constant, motherly harangue to be nice–we need to stop and take account. We need to repent in the most important sense of that word, “to change our way of being.”
Though my Times and Seasons colleagues have advised me to turn off the comments on this thread, I’m not going to do so unless I have to. But if this becomes an instance of the very thing I am asking us to stop doing, I will turn off comments immediately and I will delete those I consider to be offensive. This thread is about neither accusation nor justification. It is certainly not about any particular person or persons. It is about repentance and forgiveness. It is about being nice.