Monthly Archives: March 2015

Curt Schilling Pitches High and Inside

Curt Schilling / By Google Man at the English Language Wikipedia

Curt Schilling / By Google Man at the English Language Wikipedia

I have many character defects, but tweeting is not one of them. Still, news stories that involve Twitter and other social media catch my attention. Perhaps you heard the recent news about former Major League Baseball player Curt Schilling’s response to internet trolls who verbally, and anonymously, attacked his 17-year-old daughter with sexually explicit tweets after Schilling posted some congratulatory remarks about his daughter’s accomplishments. Schilling investigated and exposed the true identities of some of the trolls who attacked his daughter. His actions resulted in rather unpleasant personal consequences for the trolls, consequences that may follow them in cyber space for the rest of their lives. The story sparked a debate about whether people need to accept the ugliness and ill-manners found in social media as “just the way it is”, or whether people need to be held accountable for the things they say, even when said anonymously in virtual reality. Schilling points out the importance of this topic because virtual reality has become reality for today’s young people.

So, does the Bible have any instructions about proper behavior in virtual reality? Yes, one such instruction is found in Matthew 5:21-22 where it says:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Various Bible translations interpret these two verses a bit differently. We won’t dive into the weeds of translation here. It is enough to know that these verses warn us against insulting language that spews from a heart filled with anger. From God’s perspective, anger and insults can progress to the same level as murder. In these verses, Christ himself condemns the use of insulting epithets as an offense against humanity, the same humanity created in God’s image. Words matter in God’s world. “In the beginning was the Word” gives us a glimpse of the importance of words. Think of it like this: according to the Bible, calling someone a fool is akin to calling them the N-word.

We can’t expect unbelievers to fully grasp the spiritual implications of anger-driven insults (I myself do not fully comprehend it), but we can trust the teaching of Jesus on this issue and we can set an example by the way we treat people, including when we are online at 2 AM in the dark of our basement while tapping away at the keyboard under cover of a silly pseudonym.

Who among us can see into the heart of an internet troll, or anyone’s heart for that matter? Is a troll’s heart filled with jealousy, misplaced anger, the hurts of life, revenge? Did the trolls who attacked Schilling’s daughter hope to hurt him because they disliked him or his team when he played professional baseball? These are disturbing questions. And I find it especially disconcerting that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of people online who are filled with such bitterness and rage. The internet and social media have been wonderful at giving more people a voice, but technology also gives a voice to the ugliness in the human heart.

So, should people be held accountable for the things they say on social media? Sure, but even more important than what people say online is what people have in their hearts. And only God can heal the human heart.

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George Orwell Owns ISIS

Islamic State Militants
So how is it that those ISIS dudes manage to recruit thousands of willful followers into their depraved lifestyle? ISIS has a reputation for being astute at wielding technology effectively in the recruitment of their minions (no offense meant to those loveable minions in Despicable Me). But technology and slick marketing doesn’t completely explain why young adults rush to enlist in a crusade of killing and being killed on the basis of religious belief. How do we understand the motives of people who sign up for membership in such a vile gang of terrorists as ISIS? Some of our leaders in government would have us believe that ISIS followers are mostly disenfranchised young men who don’t have jobs and whose prospects in the world are bleak. There might be a shred of truth in the disenfranchisement argument, but I suspect something more is going on inside the noggins of ISIS recruits. I stumbled upon it in a paragraph written by George Orwell during a time when America found itself locked in bitter war with Nazi Germany. Orwell proposed some uncomfortable motives for why the Nazis embraced struggle, extreme hardship, and death. One could draw parallels with ISIS today. Here is what Orwell said:

“Also he (Adolf Hitler) has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all ‘progressive’ thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flags and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarized version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people ‘I offer you struggle, danger and death,’ and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet. Perhaps later on they will get sick of it and change their minds, as at the end of the last war. After a few years of slaughter and starvation ‘Greatest happiness of the greatest number’ is a good slogan, but at this moment ‘Better an end with horror than a horror without end’ is a winner. Now that we are fighting against the man who coined it, we ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.”

George Orwell, 1940

Orwell grasped that not all human beings just want a comfortable life in perpetuity. People will periodically embrace struggle, pain, and death if they have been convinced it will accomplish some greater cause or purpose. But here’s the thing: It has to be the RIGHT cause or it has no virtue. In fact, if not the right cause it is likely an evil cause that envelops all who go down its path so that they experience ever more spiritual darkness. Jesus alluded to this darkness in Matthew 6:22-23 where he said “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

In other words, if your eye (your mind) confuses darkness as light, you will be in extreme darkness indeed. ISIS followers have come to believe that darkness is light. Many of them, I’m sure, believe what they are doing is the will of God and therefore it is what’s best for humanity. Their darkness is deep.

Some of the ISIS leaders, no doubt, are in it for the power; they want to be the ones wielding great dominion when their caliphate is established. But power is a dangerous desire. Ragnar Lodbrok (the main character in the History Channel’s TV series Vikings) recently said “Power attracts the worst and corrupts the best.” Many who gather under the ISIS banner do so with aspirations of gaining power over others. Some think they will use that power to help people live better lives. Others plan to use that power to enrich their own lives at the expense of others. Either way, power will ruin them because their cause it evil. Even when the cause is just, power is a dangerous tool. Remember that Jesus was also tempted by the allure of power when he was in the wilderness with Satan. Jesus did not permit Satan to distract him with the seduction of power. Jesus stuck to the right cause and finished his ministry well. Human beings often do not do well with unbridled power. We abuse it.

So, should we pray for the deliverance of ISIS followers into the light and truth of Christ, or should we pray for their physical destruction so that they do no more harm to innocent people? Pray that they embrace Christ and the Golden Rule and that God gets the credit for their life-affirming conversion. Pray that ISIS comes to the realization that they are fighting on the wrong side in the great struggle of good against evil. On the other hand, I see nothing wrong with praying that ISIS is stopped in their tracks, even if it is accomplished by military force.

If followers of ISIS can’t be prayed out of darkness, the Middle East will likely be in for a bitter and protracted conflict. I’m no prophet, so I do not know if the evil embraced by ISIS will blossom into the Armageddon mentioned in the Bible or whether it will affect us in a substantial way here at home … but I suppose it could happen in our lifetime. Yes, pray for ISIS to be stopped in their tracks AND for their hearts to turn to the light and truth of Christ. But it is even more important that we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the front line in the fight against ISIS. When I say “pray” I don’t mean it in an abstract sense. I mean intentionally pray in church, in Bible studies, in home groups, and in private. Don’t forget our relatives in Christ who are under the shadow of ISIS.