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Forcibly Baptizing the Internet

Marc Barnes blogs at Bad Catholic and currently attends Franciscan University. He'll be guest blogging here once a week for the next month. Here's his first post:

Once upon a time in a galaxy obnoxiously close to home, there was a boy and a girl. Their names were Jack and Jill, respectively. One day, Jack approached Jill, desiring fervently to have an intellectual discussion over Some Very Important Issues . He began speaking, and oh dearest reader you won’t believe what he did: He projected his voice loudly so all his friends and neighbors would hear. His friends and neighbors weighed in on what he was saying, so he took their words into account and included them - just as loudly - in his conversation with Jill. He quoted her responses exactly and analyzed each one of them, taking the time to correct basic grammatical mistakes she had made. He didn’t make eye contact with her. He felt very happy that his neighbors and friends were listening. When he had finished, Jill calmly shot Jack in the chest and he died.

If Jack’s behavior seems strange, realize that only really made one mistake; he thought he was still online. And thus he paid the ultimate price. (As a side note, it took Jill twenty years to feel even a slight twinge of regret.)

As Catholics we have a unique duty to baptize the Internet. To inject within its dehumanized, impersonal nature the strain of a soul, some semblance of person-hood. That might seem like over-dramatization, but is this not the message the Church has been screaming for the past hundred years? That absolute Capitalism is evil because it regards man as a mere economic tool, that Communism and Socialism are evil because they regard man as no more than a part in the State’s whole, that pornography is evil because it devalues real men and women - children of God - into impersonal objects of Lust? The list could go on, but the theme remains the same: This modern age is in the habit of depersonalizing Just About Everything, and the Catholic Church says, “Stop.”

Now, the Internet is currently the King of Depersonalization, and I hold that it is just as important to resist its reduction of men and women into a name and profile picture as it is to resist any of the other attacks on the human person we mentioned. But it’s a truth that the Catholic who might adequately resist the evils of objectification in every other aspect of life - he might even be a die-hard Distributist - will still blithely resort to Jackism as the proper method of online communication. A cloud of ignorance fogs the mind logging onto Facebook, a cloud that blurs the reality that individuals are present behind each Liberal Nutcase Note, Desperately Atheistic Status Update, and every article, blog post, and video that we disagree with. And thus messages, rebuttals, witnesses and Truth itself becomes distorted under the murky layers of Pride, annoyance, sarcasm and depersonalization.

I believe I have pinpointed the element of the Almighty Internet that invites this kind of behavior: it is The Stage. When we comment, when we reply, we are never really speaking to the author and source of our disagreement. We are speaking to him and to to a few hundred others who we hope will think we’re wise. Our motives in Internet communication are inherently split; the desire to get across a point meets the desire to be appreciated/not seen as stupid and perhaps to garner a few ‘likes’ in the process. It’s not something we’d ever do in real life, for fear of the wrathful retribution of Jill, but online we are yelling our conversations, whether we use ALL CAPS or otherwise.

So what’s a Catholic to do? A couple things jump immediately to mind, and I will list them here. First and foremost, pray. There’s nothing like praying for someone to realize their incredible, infinite and awesome value. So pray a Hail Mary before and after every rebutting/argumentative comment. Before, because even the briefest reflection on Our Blessed Mother will reveal to us any arrogance, Pride, selfishness or vanity in our written language. After, because any revelation of the Truth - especially if the conversation focuses around the person of Christ - ultimately comes from God. Pray therefore, that your defense of Him and His Church will fall on hearts receptive to the Gospel.

Secondly, work within your power to make an online conversation personal. This can be achieved in the language you use, but even more obviously: Ask if the individual would like discuss the matter privately, over email or chat. If the situation allows it - i.e you’re not in conversation with a potential stalker - offer to talk about it over Skype or a phone call. It’s bold, I know, but personalize the impersonal. Even if the Person Who Is Wrong On The Internet doesn’t take you up on your offer, you’ve made an extremely important statement: This is not about me, this is not about how I hold up in a debate, this is not about the appreciation of my peers or the angering of your own, this about the Truth.

Then read Matthew Warner. Follow this religiously.

And lastly - though it certainly only chases down a small shot of delicious What Can Be Done - be willing to lose. Be willing to realize when some one is venting and is closed to Reason. Be willing to laugh at mistakes in your own argument, admit them, and correct them brilliantly. Be willing to lose a battle to win the war.

My name is Marc Barnes, I’m an 18 year old student at Franciscan University, and I ask you to consider: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Catholics were known as the first human beings to be human beings online?

Note: Please be sure to check out Marc at Bad Catholic.

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Nicholas Jagneaux said...


Excellent post. If you'd be gracious enough to allow me to offer another suggestion (that I don't follow nearly enough myself):

Go ahead and type out the comment you're dying to make. Get it out of your head and onto "paper".

Then, before hitting "Post", re-read it -- not looking for grammatical and spelling errors -- but asking yourself, "Will this advance the conversation in a meaningful way?"

Take your time doing this. I know we all want to receive and give immediate feedback, but let it sit a few minutes.

Come back to it. If it still resonates, then hit "Post". I've found that most of the time, I just delete the comment. (Obviously, not this time.) It's okay not to comment on every thing.

Anonymous said...

Oh, brilliant! God bless you & don't stop writing!


Thomas Beyer said...

Well said. PopSophia's Inaugural Post hits at this very issue.

Sue said...

Marc, I pray for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. It seems the Spirit has breathed wisdom into the heart of an 18 year old young man. Thanks for sharing it with the rest of us. Your blog is wonderful. God Bless.

Blackrep said...

The corollary problem with the internet is that it is taken too seriously by people with thin skins. Jill should just walk away and accomplish some meaningful work in the world. No personalization can be accomplished by theocratic scolding, because the internet is what it is, and you will never change its true nature while operating within its set parameters. If you want real life, real personal, authentic life, put down your mouse and step away from the screen.

I am always amused by bloggers who (present company excluded, of course) who think that their work has such lasting import and significance when there medium is supremely ephemeral.

Will you remember what I said past the two minutes I took to write it? No. The internet is a very complicated Etch-A-Sketch and always will be.

Shake! Gone.

Matthew A. Siekierski said...

Nicholas, that's good advice. I can't tell you the number of times I've written a response only to delete it before posting.

I am not Spartacus said...

Dear Mr Barnes. There was some good advice in your piece but it is always an error (except when I do it) to write as though you know the motives of everybody else: When we comment, when we reply, we are never really speaking to the author and source of our disagreement. We are speaking to him and to to a few hundred others who we hope will think we’re wise..

Anonymous said...

One Hail Mary is the finest wisdom I have heard. Your post IS excellent. Suggestion: My posts are saved on word so that I may correct them or change them of post them, but sometimes deleting them and rewriting them makes them more precise. That you are eighteen years old gives me hope. We need priests. One Hail Mary.
Mary De Voe
Thanks Matt and Pat

Anonymous said...

I would add, no anonymous posts or noms de plume. Unless you have a really cool nom de plume (nom de screen?) like Marmota Monax!

Anonymous said...

Yeppers, lads, let's all use our real names, so all the real trolls can really call us up and harass us (sexually or otherwise) at our real phone numbers and real jobs.

When I first got on the Internet proper in 1994, it took about ten minutes for guys online to notice I had a female username and start hitting on me. From then on, I never used my real name online except in passing, or on groups I was sure of. (Especially since a friend joined AOL, started instant messaging, and got explicit sexual propositions quicker than she could start typing her first message.)

On the other hand, the ancient custom of the BBS's was for users to have fanciful handles, yea, even like unto CB users but more nerdy. And BBSes were generally quite a polite society. So I am happy to continue using a civilized nom de plume, and to stay away from dens of iniquity and child persecution like Facebook.

Prayer is of course a good plan, however.

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