I have a couple of confessions to make:
1. While I have a number of prejudices remaining, the prejudice that I most dearly hold in my heart is a prejudice against the evangelical counter-cult ministry, also known as Anti-Mormons (or the Fluffy Bunny Nice Nice Club, if you insist)
2. I am simultaneously proud and ashamed of my behavior toward such on the internet. Toward them, I have made the decision to just be mean. There is not very much of Christ in my online behavior as regards my interactions with them (I would likely overturn the little bird cages in my wrath). There is a lot of pride and self-justification.
Let me explain:
A couple of years ago, a friend asked me to participate on a blog run by an Evangelical Anti-Mormon group. I wrote several comments over several weeks. I found it remarkably easy to overturn the apple carts there. Any assumption that they made about Mormonism appeared to be based on some lame overgeneralization or it appeared to apply equally well to their own traditions, therefore everything they said was either incredibly fallacious or incredibly hypocritical. There I was, debating with people who had made the hostile study of Mormonism their life’s work, people who knew more about church history than I did, and I was not only holding my own but I was asking exactly the sorts of questions that they couldn’t handle; I was holding my own and winning. It was a heady experience, especially because it was so easy. Anyone with a little experience of bloggernacle (or internet) debate could have done the same. It got to be a little too much fun, a little too gratifying for my ego.
I don’t really understand this, except to say that it always feels good to be right. I was so happy to be right, to demonstrate it easily on a daily basis, that I just wanted to keep doing it. I was making their own website a place that was hostile to the kind of leading, well-poisoning questions that they liked to ask. So, they moderated me, they limited the amount of times I (or anyone) could post daily, and they did what they could to make me feel unwelcome. I was, it turns out, a troll. They wanted a nice, little community where they could bask in the glow of their clever dismissals of Mormonism without the interference of someone asking uncomfortable questions.
So, after a time, I stopped commenting (I left in a huff and everything; very dramatic). From time to time afterwards, when I was in a black mood, I would go back to trolling their blog. I would let the stupidity of what I saw there, the ungenerosity of spirit and the mindless hate disguised as sincere good will, outrage me again. I would start a comment and then stop, realizing that it was pointless or that I didn’t really want to get sucked in again. I should note that on days like this, I also tend to troll ex-mo forums and to listen to AM talk radio looking for fights to pick. I don’t usually pick them; I just yell at screens/radios.
So, obviously, that ain’t healthy.
Anyhoo I was recently looking at the website of an Evangelical whom I actually respect (and who actually treats LDS belief with respect (Hi, Jack!)) and, following a link, I found myself on another blog with an Evangelical who treats us with respect (Hi, Tim!). On that blog I found one of the denizens from the old blog, the one that moderated comments and drove me and my questions away. I found, within me, a long untapped well of disdain, sarcasm, and dismissal, ready to overflowing regarding this blogger. Other denizens of the nacle know this guy (>Hi, Aaron!) and there was a recent blog post devoted to picking apart his stated reasons for his ministry to Mormons. On a thread there, I was particularly mean to Aaron (calling him “a big, fat jerk” and accusing him of all sorts of treachery (possibly of assassinating Kennedy and what not)). Being called out by another member of the community, I started to articulate why I was being so mean. This is what I wrote (please note also that the comment was never posted; I read it and realized that I needed more work):
I admit that I am being mean to Aaron. Possibly too mean. Certainly, I am assuming things about him that are unfair and against which he can’t possibly defend himself. I wonder, for instance, if he has stopped beating his wife yet. In any case, I don’t trust anything that comes out of his mouth and I believe that he would sincerely say that it is midnight on a bright, sunny noon if it suited his exegetical purposes. In other words, I tend to treat him the way he treats us. If that makes him uncomfortable, good. I want him to go away. I don’t want him in our community, dropping by and leaving stupid trollish comments whenever it suits his fancy. I don’t want him linking to our posts in order to prove anti-Mormon talking points on his blog. I want him to realize that he isn’t making anything but his denial stronger or better by his participation in this forum. I want him to feel my disdain for him and his activity, to take a look in a mirror, to realize that he is wasting his life on a campaign of hate, and then to go to Africa and dig a well or something.
Probably it is wrong to descend to his level
So, frankly, I don’t know what to do. I mean, I am responding to his campaign of
love hate with my own campaign of just plain ol’ hate. I realize that none of this will likely work; he revels in playing the martyr. I also realize that if he cared about being disgusting to people, he wouldn’t do what he does. I feel a bit like I need to be like Captain Moroni, engaging in stratagems to make the bad guys go away. And Aaron, for all the sincerity of his belief, really does wish and pray for the eradication of Mormon belief. And I see/feel that as actual harm.
What’s worse is that engaging with Aaron (and others like him) brings out the worst in me. I don’t think he really cares what I think, but I have spent time, actual time, thinking of the right way to insult him or belittle his opinion. I am callous to his calls for civility; I am deaf to his pleas for discourse. He exists, for me, to be a whipping boy. That can’t be the right approach. What it does is waste my time and inflate my pride; I get a real Nietzschean uplift from pointing out how stupid the things he says are. However, not even Friedrich would be proud of my behavior (what is the challenge of picking on the “intellectual short bus“?). What in my behavior, being mean to some random internet anti-Mormon, should I be proud of exactly?
It’s the question of our times: what is the best approach in dealing with those who have zeal, but no knowledge? Whether it be al-Qaeda, a filibuster-proof senate, or anti-Mormons, there are people who, if left unchecked, can and will do harm. Is the appropriate response hostile or is it to try to understand and convert? Should I drive them from the temple or should I turn the other cheek? Bury my weapons or raise the title of liberty?
Sometimes, I think that the hostility is the right approach, but that God keeps me guilty to remember that one can go too far. Unfortunately, in the heat of the battle, the lines that indicate restraint blur.
Lord, help thou mine unbelief.