Rob Bell, Rebecca Black and the Internet Hate Machine

We have something in common, you and I. You may not realize it yet, and this may come as a bit of a shock, but we're part of the same hate group. We're large, powerful, angry and effective. We have causes - millions of causes - that we’re passionate about, at least for a moment. My causes aren’t the same as your causes. I may even hate your causes, but in our division there is strength. We all hate something, and we’re all taking out that hate in the same place. We are the Internet, and we are a Hate Machine.

Rob Bell and Rebecca Black are two recent examples of Internet Hate Machine carnage. They have nothing substantial in common, other than shared initials and victimhood. Bell is a pseudo-famous Christian pastor, author and speaker, best known for his mega church and Nooma video series. Black is a 13-year-old girl who wasn’t known for anything before unwittingly becoming a viral video star.

Somehow, both managed to get on the wrong side of our angry Machine. It’s not hard to do, because anything can set us off - and just about everything does. We hate Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Muslims, atheists, homosexuals, homophobes, rich people, poor people, jocks, nerds, celebrities, athletes, musicians, movie directors, journalists, dictators, presidents, Helvetica and Comic Sans.

Rob Bell made the mistake of writing a book with a provocative title: Love Wins. That title, and a short promotional blurb from his publisher, gave some people the impression that Bell might possibly be hinting at the remote chance that he’s considering becoming a Universalist. As a collective, the Internet made up its mind: Rob Bell was no longer a Christian. Another pseudo-famous Christian pastor, John Piper, tweeted our rallying cry: “Farewell, Rob Bell.” We were unified.

Except for those of us who weren’t. Some, myself included, directed our hate towards the haters, judging the judgers. We might be part of the same Machine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t disagree. Which is good, because we always disagree. I fired a sarcastic shot on Twitter:

“Love that Rob Bell is being crucified...over a publisher's synopsis of an unreleased book. Glad Christians never rush to judgment.”

Far be it from me to miss an opportunity to fuel the Hate Machine.

The Rob Bell fervor died down quickly, because that’s how the Machine rolls. Our hate isn’t committed to a cause and it rarely accomplishes anything. It’s about being heard, being first, being important and about being “right." We don't care whether Rob Bell is, in fact, a Universalist. Never mind the facts; only opinions matter - the angrier, the better.

So it was no surprise when, a few weeks later, we turned on Rebecca Black for making the egregious error of recording a silly song with her friends. For a while, we pretended it was the song we hated, sarcastically quoting the lyrics, recording absurd parodies, “ironically” buying it from iTunes. That was just a front. It wasn’t the song that had offended our Machine, it was what the song represented: a rich, spoiled girl whose parents would do anything to make her famous. Aided by our short memories - which conveniently forgot about our own 13-year-old selves, who, like Black, had dreams of fame, who believed we would be rock stars or movie stars, whose parents fed our dreams with karaoke machines and acoustic guitars and home video cameras - we lashed out.

For years, I’ve fumed about the Internet’s celebration of ignorance and unrighteous hate towards anything it disagrees with. Yet I hypocritically engage in it, because I love the attention. My Rob Bell tweet brought me more "publicity" (both positive and negative) than all 900 of my tweets before it. I felt appreciated and clever, and those feelings fueled my addiction to the Hate Machine. I’m not proud of the hypocrisy, but I’m not alone in it.

Christians are as guilty of Internet hate as any other group, and it’s not hard to understand why. It’s an instant way for us to find out who else “gets it” (and, more importantly, who doesn't) and it fosters a powerful bonding experience by creating a common enemy. The immediate validation is an irresistible force.

But it’s time for us to take a new path. Because if we can't engage people with love - even online, even when we're angry and even when we're sure they're wrong - then what are we doing here?

Michael Geertsma is the producer of Walk The Way, a daily radio and video blog challenging Christians to live their faith out loud.

Comments (16)

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Michael, thank you for writing this. You busted lots of us today and we deserve it. Many of us weigh in too quickly and too harshly rather than taking the opportunity to reflect the grace of Christ.
1. Biblically speaking, are there not some things that are worth hating?

2. When you read Galatians or Jesus' condemnation of the Pharisees, wouldn't you see some "hating" going on? How does that relate to your piece?

3. Are there not significant differences between Rebecca Black and Rob Bell? In my mind the motives for the publicity are quite different between those two individuals.

4. Is it possible to "hate" the theology or ideology of a person without hating the person? It seems that that notion is becoming more and more scare in our cultural "free" market of ideas. It is not possible to write a piece condemning Rob's theology and not loathe him as a person? Seems to me that we need to work hard at promoting that ideal to a much greater measure in our culture. Without it we anesthetize the any real conversation away from having real substance.
You're right, Zach--there's an important difference here. I'm not suggesting in this post that there's no room for disagreement, or that there are no instances where "hate" (towards a theology, idea, event, etc.) is justified.

This post is directed towards the instantaneous, thoughtless reactions we all-too-often spew online, devoid of any grace. I have read many blog posts that have thoughtfully deconstructed Rob Bell's new book, strongly disagreeing with it, that don't provide fuel for the Hate Machine.

All this to say, I agree. We must maintain our ability to dialogue substantially, while simultaneously being graceful and loving.
Guilty! Amen!
I think you're really stretching the definition of "hate" here. None of the internet posts I've seen about Bell or Black approach hatred, but rather critiques of dogma and talent. Bell has rightfully been criticized for his inability to answer any interview question in a straightforward manner. Pointing that out is not a matter of hate, but a justifiable defense of Biblical truth and religious solidity. Ms. Black's talents are questionable on just about every level, and criticizing the lack of meaning and quality in her video performance is not an act of hate. It's an analysis of how instant fame and DIY "art" have corrupted the quality of entertainment. If saying anything negative about anyone in any situation automatically qualifies as "hate", then everyone both inside and outside the church should apparently be silenced. I question your judgment, but not hatefully.
congratulations on successfully avoiding the worst parts of the internet.
Rebecca Black has received death threats and all kinds of bullying language. Many people approach Rob Bell with dismissive name-calling and snap judgments. Appropriate critiques also exist, but there is a lot of outright bile out there, some from self-identified Christians.
Heaven forbid we should come close to the comments found on news sites, FB pages of news media or magazines, blogs, etc. I fear for our nation and western culture, Christendom included, when I read the barbaric-spirited comments. I hope that what I just wrote wasn't the comment of a self-important Pharisee . . . .
(gotta watch our tongues: does it need to be said? am I truthful in my comment? am I the best person to say it? am I saying it in love, respectfully? was the zinger appropriate, or to score snarky points? would I say what I said in person? etc.)
Thanks, Mike---
Michael, your comments are particularly relevant given the recent discussions of "civil discourse" in the political arena. Given the realative anonymity of the Internet or at minimum, the perceived distance between myself and the person or cause with which I am in disagreement, it is easy to become vitriolic and unnecessarily harsh in our language. It is also far too easy, given the immediacy of the Internet culture, to "shoot from the hip" and allow our words to spew out without due consideration and restraint. As Christians, we must remember the frequent admonitions regarding our speech (as an example, take James' comments on the tongue) and your reminder of our responsibility is well received.

However, I fear that in many cases, disagreement with an idea or philosophy is equated with disrespect for the individual. There are many examples of such sentiment, much of it aimed at Christians who disagree with someone's or some group's point of view. If we allow such sentiments to muzzle our responses then we trap ourselves in the web of the so-called politically correct nonsense. There are simply some things that we NEED to disagree with, and sometimes do so with forcefullness and even strong sentiment. I believe that we cross the line when we begin to personally attack the individual rather than the idea, philosophy or perceived error. I know that this is sometimes a fine line to walk, and the one whose ideas are questioned is very likely to perceive the words as an attack. But I don't think that the mere possibility of misunderstanding, whether unintentional or cortrived, means that we should never express our disagreement. I believe that a Christian's role of being salt and light sometimes sting and expose, both of which can be uncomfortable to some.
Well said. I wrestled with including this distinction in the post itself, but opted not to in hopes that it might come up in the comments--which it now has, several times.

I agree entirely that there are many times when disagreement, even forceful disagreement, is necessary. I read many blogs--Christian and otherwise--that are frequently critical. When criticism is done with grace, truth, forethought and love, it can be a wonderful catalyst for change. However, such inspirational criticism seems the exception, not the rule, even in Christian circles. And constructive intent does not absolve responsibility for the hateful sting of poorly chosen words.
Oh no. I'm not allowed to hate Rebecca Black? Gee! This Christianity thing is tough!

 

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