Civility in the Age of Reason

If there’s an unwritten rule of the Internet, it’s simply this: “Never read the comments section.”

Whether it’s a post on Facebook, a news article, or essentially anything else, the comments left there will invariably prove a quagmire of vitriol and hatred leavened with conjecture and accusations. Nothing good can ever come of wading through this morass.

So I was reading the comments section of a news article today, and it was . . . as terrible as one might expect. The article in question featured the mother of a gay son who was offering to be the fill-in mother of anyone whose biological parents refused to come to their same-sex wedding. Whether you agree with her views or not, you must at least appreciate her desire to love and support those who are abandoned by their loved ones. Or so I thought before I got to the comments. Below are the highlights of the first seventy-four.

“It would be a good thing if this woman died today.”
“I give 10 to 1 odds she goes by her own sick little hands.”
“there is the ‘stand your ground’ law. how about a hunting season for these?”
“She’s just doing it for the easy hookups.”
“people like this should not be allowed to live.”
“What a vile creature.”
“Just what does that Arabic tattoo on her wrist say?” (The first reply: “Broken, even they realize it…”)

All of these are both horrible and horrifying. (And her tattoo says “Israel” in Hebrew, actually — she is a pastor, after all.) The human race protected by relative anonymity is capable of atrocious, heinous things. A person attempts to show compassion, and what is the response? Vilification. Libel. Death threats. Not because she killed children (or, worse to the contemporary reader, puppies). Because she wanted to show love.

We live in the Age of Reason, the Information Age. We have access to more knowledge than ever before. We pride ourselves on our rationality, our cognitive abilities, and our devotion to logic and reason. Somewhere along the way, though, we’ve lost the ability to be civil, particularly in our disagreements. The new definition of tolerance is excessively intolerant to anyone who fails to align with a particular view. (It’s a very IngSoc sort of thing: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. Bigotry is Tolerance.”) And this goes for both sides, too. Conservatives label dissenters as snowflakes just as quickly as they themselves are branded homophobes by liberals. No one is allowed to calmly and politely state disagreement on a rational basis without provoking a disproportionate, irrational ad hominem response.

This is what kills brands, careers, and individuals: the repercussions of honesty in an uncivilized society.

We are right to condemn hatred and evil where they arise. Racism, for example, should never be tolerated. But our response to such things shouldn’t seek the obliteration of the transgressor; rather, rehabilitation is needed. Love. Truth. Knowledge. Jesus. We cannot combat hate with more hate. We cannot deny people the right to say and do as conscience dictates within the limits of moral law. The same moral law binds us as well, and our responses are to be tempered with the civility which springs from morality. Logic is also nice; if you can’t dismantle the argument/action, don’t move on to trying to dismantle the person.

“Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag.”

Love. They will know us by our love (John 13:35).

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