Each week in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.

A few weeks ago, Detroit Free Press reported that a truck driver who accidentally struck a child was brutally beaten by a local crowd when he got out to help:

The 54-year-old Roseville man got out to check on the boy after the accident at about 4:10 p.m. near a gas station at Morang and Balfour streets. Then a large group of men assaulted the man, according to Detroit police Sgt. Michael Woody.

“My understanding is that it was a low-speed accident. It was exactly that — just an accident,” Woody said, adding that the boy stepped off a curb in front of the truck. “The man did try to stop and render aid. He did everything he could exactly right.”

It’s awful to think about, but everyone involved most likely thought they were doing the right thing. Obviously, if you hit someone you should stop to help them. But at the same time, seeing someone injure a child will no doubt inspire some righteous anger. The security camera footage clearly shows the collision was an accident, but not everyone would have seen it as clearly as the camera did.

Several suspects are now slated to stand trial, but even if you assume the best of intentions in the assailants, you back up just a few dozen yards, to the perspective of the all-seeing eye, and the whole thing begins to look like a painful tragedy at best. People see something that looks evil, they’re enraged, and soon instead of one innocent person gravely injured, there are two.

(As of this writing, the child will be fine, but the driver is still in critical condition.)

It reminds me of what we all do on the internet, nearly every day, and to our great shame. We see a problem, we’re filled with righteous anger (or anger, at least), and we tear into each other until a bad problem is made worse and the body count has been doubled.

It’s pretty much all we’ve been doing lately, especially among Evangelical blogs. It started a few weeks ago, when prominent Christian charity World Vision U.S. announced it would no longer bar individuals in gay marriages from working for them. World Vision’s official word was that it was deferring to the various Christian denominations to teach their own consciences on homosexuality, but cries of outrage rang from the more conservative evangelical blogs while the liberal-ish blogs jumped to their defense. Both parties accused one another of putting their own moral agendas ahead of the lives and well-being of third-world children.

These conversations need to happen, but right now all I can see are bruised egos, a lot of bitterness, and a lot of people who are more entrenched in their views than they were before. World Vision reversed its decision, but only over the corpse of honest debate. Meanwhile, the whole world was witness to an embarrassing public fistfight.

The controversy over Noah served as an unfortunate echo of this, with half of the Web’s Christians screaming that it was evil and heretical while the other half sang its praises. Never mind the rather mundane alternative perspective, that it was a hodgepodge of ideas that might confuse some theologically, but was basically harmless aside from some pacing issues; for those debating, there was no middle ground. Those who liked it were self-loathing closet liberals who were no doubt paid off by Paramount. Those who didn’t were a bunch of uptight fundies who just didn’t understand art.

I was at a point where I couldn’t look at the Internet without getting depressed. And then when things finally seemed to be settling down, the secular left started some drama of its own. Someone at OkCupid (an online dating site) discovered that Brandon Eich, the CEO of the Firefox maker Mozilla Corporation, had donated $1,000 to the cause of Proposition 8, a California gay marriage ban so controversial that a majority of voters had voted for it.

Many on Twitter erupted with rage that someone in a managerial capacity for a business might have different opinions from them, demanding his head. In less than 24 hours, they got what they wanted: Eich was gone, and Mozilla was apologizing to tweeters everywhere for not ensuring that all its executives had the correct and acceptable political views.

And I sighed again.

Because it’s not enough to disagree with people anymore, and it’s not enough to explain that disagreement clearly and sincerely. It’s not enough to encourage people to change their minds and give them good reason to do so. In the era of instantaneous responses, we are all the mob, all of the time.

We have to assume the worst of each other. We have to demand blood.

World Vision wasn’t just trying to stay out of a debate that it felt wasn’t directly related to its mission as a parachurch organization; it was deliberately abandoning the Gospel. Darren Aronofsky isn’t just a talented filmmaker with some confused theological ideas; he’s a closet Gnostic trying to subliminally convert us all. Brandon Eich isn’t just a guy who holds a political view that until a couple years ago was thoroughly mainstream; he’s a bigot who doesn’t even deserve to hold a job.

This, friends, is our brave new world of mob justice.

While the eyes with true perspective look on, the rest of us take to the online world of an instant, global megaphone with the intent to destroy instead of to create. We rush onto the battlefield without even bothering to consider what we’re really going to war over, or what collateral damage may occur, or whether the potential gain is even worth the cost.

Instead of healing the child, we maim the driver.

Kyrie eleison.

1 Comment

  1. I had a very similar experience with “Noah” . . . I saw a couple weeks ago with a friend from church who actually liked it a lot. I, on the other hand, didn’t like it very much, but my problems with the movie weren’t theological . . . I just didn’t agree with the storytelling decisions the filmmakers made. But when i went to church the next day, several people were hostile about the movie, including a little girl in my Sunday School class who called the filmmakers “liars”.

    Not surprisingly, none of them had actually seen the movie.

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