I recently had an experience that is common to all. After rushing to meet a self-imposed deadline, I hit publish on one of my articles, and I awoke the following day to an unpublished comment by someone who was literally shocked at the ambiguity of the article, its lack of biblical truth, and my dangerous practice. They then let me know that it may be time to unsubscribe.
I occasionally experience this kind of response from people who disdain Christianity, so I usually let the comments roll off my back, but this was different. Though I do not know the commenter, there was no indication that they held strange or heretical views. They seemed to be a fellow believer who valued the same things I value. On top of that, they made two critiques of my post, and both were valid.
The first critique was that I had made a controversial statement without backing it up with scripture. The second involved a misleading lack of clarity on my part, which I failed to see before I published the article. Using the commenter’s critiques, I made a couple of minor edits to my post to remove the sticking points.
Why do I bring this up? Because the internet, especially social media, has trained us to respond to things with moral outrage even before we know if moral outrage is warranted. Here is the truth about posting or commenting online that most people have figured out intuitively. In an attention economy, language expressing moral outrage is guaranteed to earn more readers than language that does not. The algorithms of social media feeds have this calculated, and they will feed you more of that kind of post when they are available.
In the book, The Chaos Machine, the author points out that the more moral and emotionally charged words you use, the more likely your readership will grow. If you want more people to read your posts, use words and phrases like “appalled,” “disgusted,” “shocked,” or “literally shaking” to express your response.
We have been swimming in this water for so long that even Christians have absorbed this practice, which is not always godly. There are certainly times when the language of moral outrage is appropriate, but in the online world, we are often only feeding the monster. This monster has so corrupted our moral outrage that legitimate moral outrage is drowned out in the noise.
I do not write this as someone who has transcended this problem. I have written words like that in the past. If you search through the years of posts on this blog, you will likely find some uncharitable language I have long forgotten exists. We are all susceptible.
My encouragement is this, especially when interacting with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we should not always be quick to dismiss each other. Instead, our comments should point out our concerns without jumping to the conclusion that the person on the other end of the keyboard needs to be abandoned because they are not infallible. Even if they remain stubborn in their error, we can agree to disagree if the difference is on secondary doctrinal issues. By responding more graciously, we might not catch as many people’s attention, but we may find a friend reading the other screen.