Every Thursday in LOL Interwebz, Luke T. Harrington explores the quirks and foibles of Internet culture from a Gospel perspective.
Some weeks I wonder if I should even be writing an Internet culture column, since I find things like the blogosphere and Twitter endlessly wearying. It’s the same story over and over again: something (almost always something insignificant) happens; people yell at each other about it for a couple of hours; things go back to the way they were before. I try to make a point of not getting sucked into this kind of thing, because (1) I’m pretty sure being constantly angry isn’t good for your health, and (2) yelling about something no one will even remember in a week is kind of a waste of time.
If you think the Gospel is so great, why are you embarrassed by it?The other day I came across something that fit into most of these categories, and I was like, Ugh, do I have to write about this?, and then I was like, Ugh, yeah, I probably do. One of the few blogs I glance at with much regularity is one over on Patheos’s atheist channel. (I’ve heard many atheists insist that calling atheism a religion is like calling “off” a TV channel; Patheos and their many atheist bloggers must not have gotten the memo about this, or else TV Guide would presumably also have a weekly section about how to unplug your set. I’d also like to add that, in this rather tortured analogy, Scientology is almost definitely MTV.)
The blog in question is called The Friendly Atheist. If you’ve never heard of it before, you might assume, based on the title, that it publishes winsome, thoughtful pieces designed to engage religious people in amicable dialog; in reality, it mainly posts aren’t-religious-people-stupid-and-horrible stories, primarily for use as fodder for the self-congratulation of the atheists in the comment section. Not that I blame them for this. You gotta go with what sells, which is why I write a column about the Internet and its endless potential for butt jokes, instead of a line-by-line explication of Summa Theologica.
I ran into a post there the other day that caught my attention and promptly depressed me (but then, Happy Meals also depress me, so take that with a grain of salt). The post relayed a tweet from a server in Kansas named Garrett Wayman who thought a customer had left him a generous tip, only to find it was actually a Christian tract “cleverly” disguised as a $20 bill. I’m not sure how this got to be national news, since Christians do this all the time, because Christians are basically terrible (the Friendly Atheist and I agree on that point, I suppose)—but there you go.
Let’s take a second to be fair. There’s actually a good chance the people who left the tract wouldn’t even identify as Christians. While it’s possible they were misguided religious folks trying to save his soul, it seems at least as likely that they were just a couple of drunk jerks playing a “hilarious” practical joke. But—if you were the people who left the tract, and you’re reading this, and you’re Christians, let me be the umpteenth to tell you: you’re terrible.
Do I even need to explain why? (I mean, you’re still here, so I guess maybe I do?) The worker is worthy of his wages, and in a tips-based industry, it’s on you as the customer to pay said worker said wages. And no, it doesn’t matter if you dislike the tipping system—protesting the system by stiffing your waiter is like protesting income inequality by burning down the poor section of town.
But I can hear you now, protesting: “But the Gospel is more precious than gold or silver!” And I would shake my head, roll my eyes, and say:
- Yeah, it is, but:
- So what?—and finally:
- Try treating it that way, then.
I guess point #1 is pretty straightforward, but let me unpack #s 2 and 3. In the first place, “more precious” doesn’t mean “interchangeable with.” Your server’s soul could probably use the Gospel, but (as science has recently discovered!), your server also has a body, and said body could use some food, rent, heat, etc. As I recall, St. James had some choice words for people who cared for souls and not bodies. And if you disagree that caring for the body is important, please take a seat over there with the Gnostics, the heretical sect that was condemned by the Christian Church some 1,900 years ago.
Now, as for #3.
Let me put this the bluntest way possible: If you think the Gospel is so great, why are you embarrassed by it? Why, of all the ways you could be sharing the richness and beauty of Christianity with the world, do you choose to use a pithy little tract that irons it out into a couple of trite little platitudes—and not just a pithy little tract, but one that’s deliberately disguised as something else?
We don’t talk about this much in our little evangelical corner, because we don’t understand aesthetics, but the way we present a message directly reflects upon the message itself. When we share the Gospel in a way that is deceptive, we strongly imply that the Gospel itself is deceptive, or at least that it inspires deception. And when we hide the Gospel, we imply it’s something to be hidden.
Think about advertising. When you see a deceptive advertisement, it’s almost always for a product that’s basically worthless: for-profit colleges; insurance scams; BuzzFeed articles. The more honest the ad, the more awesome the product—and if your product is incredible enough, you don’t have to advertise at all. You don’t see Harvard ads on UHF channels at three in the morning, and there’s a reason for that.
If you treat what you have as if it’s something precious, people are going to want it. If you treat it like an excuse not to tip the guy waiting on you hand and foot—well, you can see for yourself the kind of fruit that that sort of behavior bears.
Image by Tim Dorr via Flickr.