Information, Research, and Utter Insanity: The Madness of the Internet and How to Avoid it!
At thirty-five, I can recall a time when information was not readily available. Trivial, but unanswered questions posed at the dinner table during my 80's childhood were either responded to by a phone call to the smartest friend or relative, a promise to visit the library soon, or the collective shrugging of my family's shoulders. Once, during my freshman year, after unsuccesfully interrogating my family as to the name of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I began thumbing through the phone book, calling the numbers of various piano teachers and musicians, and humming the song to the confused (and most likely, irritated) person on the other end until I received my answer.
Thankfully, for both parties involved, that approach is no longer necessary. By typing a few letters into a search engine on either my phone, computer, or some odd tablet resembling a clipboard, I can find not only obtain a full version of the song, but the history behind its composition and composer,along with numerous photographs, illustrations, and musings on the man. The internet truly is an amazing thing and trivia has indeed met its match. At the other end of the spectrum, real scholarship can be pursued through electronic journals, speeches, and limitless databases of writing spanning hundreds of years.
There is however, a serious drawback. As with anything popular, quantity seriously diminishes the overall breadth of quality. Whether it be movies, books, or music, once something takes hold in the culture, that garbage aimed at making a quick buck soon outnumbers those things produced by talent, artistry, and integrity, and nowhere is this more true than within the internet. Reasonably minded people double as raving lunatics in anonymous forums. Bad ideas long thought deceased have once again reared their ugly heads. Bizarre theories about aliens, monsters, or military experiments in genetics gone awry have gained serious adherents, and in the midst of it all is an army of self-professed "scholars" who need nothing more than a Google search to digest the information required to engage in debate on topics ranging from science, religion, politics, history, or whether or not Barack Obama is a foreign-born Islamist Antichrist intent on ushering in the dominion of our demon overlords.
What follows then, is my little guide to not only resisting belief in the absurd and the urge to engage in it, but to carrying yourself with maturity and class. While that colorful webpage on the pagan origins of Christianity may look compelling and historical, I can guarantee that 90% is utter hogwash, while 5% is the result of paranoid misinterpretations of the evidence (and 5% is true!) While in the back of your mind the Disney corporation may indeed be run by the Illuminati and be involved in subliminal brain-washing and gross child abduction, the odds are they're a lot more interested in making money. So please, if an atheist says there is no historical evidence for Christ, or if a Christian says that all atheists are evil perverts intent on the destruction of religion, please, I implore you, question everything, but don't be such a jerk about it! Let us begin!
With enough Time, Anyone can Craft a Good-Looking Argument.
As much as you may like to believe in the credibility of others, please remember: That guy with the slick arguments in whatever comment box/forum you may like to visit is probably not a genius. The human inclination to weave tall tales takes on enormous proportions on the internet, meaning a statement like, "I studied science at a prestigious university!" can probably be equated with "I received my associates degree at an above-average community college with an emphasis on the sciences and received a 2.8!" Granted, there are many amazingly smart people traversing the web, but they probably aren't that brilliant if they are arguing for weeks on end on a subject no one even remembers anymore. All I'm saying is, don't believe anyone until you can confirm or deny their "facts" for yourself, and try to resist the urge to authoritatively paraphrase that textbook you merely skimmed ten years ago.
Exhibit A: The Mighty Spoon Bender. Apparently, spoon bending is the hot thing for new-age psychics. With a little concentration, anyone can "channel" their energy into a spoon, and exhibit super-human strength by twisting the poor, innocent utensil into a worthless hunk of metal. The comments accompanying the following video say it all. While the majority are insults (and hence, also bad internet form), the rest seem to be incredulous converts to the cult of spoon-bending, asking for advice on how to maximize the bending, and apparently buying the so-called zen sight process hook line and sinker. When watching this, some things to consider are:
Is the spoon aluminum? Is it possible that hand-warmth can heat the spoon for easier malleability? Are there any signs of editing in the video? (didn't see any, but always check) How is this different from a black-belt punching through bricks? And if not, did every black-belt exhibiting super strength in the past utilize this woman's philosophy? Are there not people in the martial arts who are, indeed, opposed to this philosophy (atheists, Orthodox Jews, Christians, Muslims, many agnostics, etc. etc.) who have kicked through oak boards or torn phone books in half?
The women's overall point, I believe, is that one can heal one's "concerns" (whatever that means), with a little focus. The unfortunate reality, however, is that those who happen to subscribe to this point of view usually appear a little more "off" than the rest of us, and hardly, if ever, display the sense of extreme enlightenment advertised by gimmicks such as these. My point is, the mind is an amazing thing, and telling me that I need to subscribe to your somewhat creepy belief system so I can bend a few spoons is quite honestly a little bit silly.You can bend a spoon? Whoopty-doo, I can do more push-ups. Now go channel a cure for cancer and I'll be impressed.
Oh History, I Weep for Thee!
Maybe it's because I majored in this in college, but in my opinion, no subject is more mistreated, perverted, and downright violated than history. Granted, there are plenty of grey areas in this discipline, but a good portion of what you will find on the internet (and sadly, beyond) is utter hogwash, plain and simple.
Exhibit A: Case in point, I present the following video. My Christian readers will most likely recognize Rob Bell, the pastor and author who is raising the ire of evangelical theologians everywhere with his questionable leanings toward universalism. But honestly, it's his history I have a much bigger problem with. The arguments for pagan parallelism within Christianity are not new, but neither are they sound. I will grant that yes, some parallels exist due simply to the fact that the replacement of the polytheistic religions of Rome warranted overlap (adopting the date of a pagan holiday for a Christian one, for instance) but the VAST majority of these are unfounded, unhistorical, and have been all but refuted many, many years ago. That is, until the internet.
Thank you Dr. White!
Exhibit B: Oh YouTube, where else could I find such unmitigated ignorance and anger? Are you ready for something fascinating? Though I've poured through numerous videos on atheism, Islam, Christianity, Israel, Palestine, and the like, I've rarely seen such venom as displayed in the comments of the following video. While I'd love to quote these, most are just too rife with expletives for me to bother. Viewers, such as one young man referring to Alexander as Alexander the grate (I think we can assume it is a young man, can we not?), are practically calling for ethnic cleansing over the issue of Alexander's ethnicity. The intellectual hubris is there of course, and to no surprise, so is the abhorrent grammar: " Don't get mad cause your poor. You're living a dream if you think you are a big player or lead the world haha. You make no sense and have the dialect of an angry hillbilly. I'm sure your like a nerd. But actually I'm studying classics at uni so I think I know what in talking about."
Where do we even begin to understand this mess? Anger, hatred, insults, and arrogance, all over a video about a man who lived 2300 years ago! And he didn't even start a religious movement!
Reptilian Shapeshifters, Flat Earth, Swamp Creatures, etc.
Let me begin by saying that I have an extremely vivid imagination, and I would never consider myself to be someone who absolutely needs to find a naturalistic explanation for every mystery, or someone who denies the potential for the miraculous (or the weird!). I've spent an embarrassing amount of time watching YouTube videos of UFO footage, and when that creepy Louisiana swamp creature photo went viral, I spent hours investigating it. But I guess that's what I'm driving at: I spent hours investigating. Meaning, I was 99% convinced it was a hoax, but that 1% bothered me, so instead of living life thinking that maybe an emaciated, flesh-eating monster existed deep in some southern bayou, I tried to debunk it, and lo and behold, I did. All that to say, it's great in my estimation to have a sense of wonder and a gnawing feeling of "what if?", but to go around the internet and blindly swallow the idea that some video caught a female reporter accidentally shifting into a reptilian humanoid is a gullibility that I find more than a little disturbing. Imagination is awesome, yes, but don't let it get blown out of proportion. Entertain the idea, and then try to falsify it. If you can't, well then, prepare to obey your reptilian overlords.
Exhibit A: Here is a picture which evidently points to certain areas of Mr. Clinton's head which are "reptilian" in nature. Evidently slight discolorations appearing on black and white photos are a dead ringer for our slimy puppeteers. If this is the case, don't allow any b/w photos to be taken of you...your exposure will be imminent!
Exhibit B: This poor women now has more than one YouTube video claiming her to be reptilian. Wow, what is wrong with us? What amazes me is that the pixel distortion occurring on her face (which, I guess, is supposed to be evidence of her losing control of her shapeshifting ability and appearing in her true form) is happening on her shirt too! But, as I'm certain they would argue, human clothes are also a part of the illusion. Oi vei.
Pixel Distortion, er, I mean, Reptilian Shapeshifting Caught on Camera! (Skip to about 1:30)
You Believe in God? You're an Idiot! Arrg!
I like many people who just so happen to subscribe to the notion of atheism. Though I find the philosophy utterly reprehensible and hardly worth a moment's consideration, I do have some friends who hold to the "non-belief," and they are usually awesome and intelligent people. But man, if you hold to theism as I do, and make one mention of this anywhere online, look out! The most belittling, insulting, and pedantic comments are generally left by those atheists who look at your belief system as the relic of an evolutionary stage gone the way of the Australopithecus. It seems that to many of these non-theists, belief in God is infantile and absurd, hence, they then proceed to insult the other party with infantile and absurd arguments. Ironically enough, the angry atheist inevitably utters the oft-repeated accusation that only Christians display the trait of self-righteousness, and then proceed to liken the Christian belief system to the childish notions of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Unfortunately, the theist often takes the bait (yes, I'm guilty), and the party goes on and ever on, like two ships passing in the night (except that these ships are lobbing cannonballs at each other and are both on fire).
Exhibit A: A perfect example? Go to YouTube and type "atheist" in the search box. Among the videos presented are the brilliantly tolerant "Atheist Michael Newdow Intellectually Demolishes Arrogant Moron on Fox News," "Richard Dawkins: Atheist Call to Arms," (Holy War anyone?) and "Fox News Dumbest Anti-Atheist Question of the Month?" Scroll through the comments and you can find such gems as, "ok so you beleive the arrogent beleif the that whole s***loads of universes where made for us and that the person who created it was almost the same as us and not a dog god or something and you beleive in a book written by people in the middle east thousand of years ago who were goat sacrificers seriously if you believe in that you are one of the biggest f***heads in the world do you realise how much of an idiot you are seriously do yourself a favor and die your not helping anyone," and this lovely zinger, "You've been slandering us for hundreds of years in your f***ing Bible. Guess what, the Bible's been wrong just as long. Your god doesn't exist. Sorry."
Exhibit B: Right here on HubPages! Please, take some time to peruse the religious forums. While the vast majority of these are quite obviously directed towards those with similar points of view, it never fails: within minutes of starting a forum concerning the Bible or Jesus (or the Qu'ran and Mohammed for that matter), the atheist suddenly appears, and begins to "enlighten" everyone as to just how stupid they are. In an irony evidently lost on them, they will usually, within five to ten comments, complain about how persecuted and judged they are, and claim that if only the theists would leave them alone, they wouldn't be forced to invade the religious forums! They then proceed to spend their Saturday evening searching for more forums in which to tell the self-righteous and judgmental Christians how superior atheism is to their "idiotic fairy tales." Trust me folks, the ratio of atheists bothering Christians to Christians bothering atheists is about 10 to 1, and I'm being generous.
My suggestion to "angry atheists" everywhere is this: As ineffective as self-righteous condemnations are to you, so too are demeaning insults ineffective to the theist. No one likes a know-it-all, especially on the internet, so take a few deep breaths, count to fifty, and try a little tolerance.
Sorry theists, you're next! The misuse of religion can lead the human race to commit horrible travesties, many of which can be found on the internet. While I absolutely cannot stand someone telling me what a complete idiot I am for believing in God, it is equally distressing when someone who professes the same faith as I tells me I am going to hell because of a minor theological disagreement. There are few things more tragic to me than seeing someone who professes to have God in their hearts proceeding to use that god to declare judgment, or to damn to hell, or to throw out the vast array of insults in the arsenal of the holy rolling zealot: Hypocrite! Sinner! Fool! (never understood that one, given Matthew 5:22)
For whatever reason, there seems to be a pattern among these sorts of individuals. They accept the Christian faith, yes, but then they proceed to latch on to some minor component of that faith and allow it to define their entire livelihood. For example, the individual who reads a book on the book of Revelation and then proceeds to pin the label "Antichrist" on whichever political figure's stances they most disagree with at that time; Or the passionate young man who decides that the most effective and appropriate way to share God's love is to buy a megaphone, strap a huge sign listing the various ways you can go to hell on himself, and then deliver a sermon guaranteed to make all listening hate themselves and whatever religion the street preacher belongs to; And lastly, that person who just cannot divorce their economic/political beliefs from their faith, equating socialism and the democratic party with outright atheism. Rest assured, they are all here on the internet, and they are looking for you!
Exhibit A: An extreme example, but one of my faves. Portland's very own self-proclaimed apostle and prophet, Daniel Lee, not only makes prophecies of earthquakes and heart attacks, but adds to scripture and lets you know how you too can be one of the 144,000! Yay!
Exhibit B: Some of the strangest stuff comes from young Muslims on youtube who seem to be, shall I say, over-enthusiastic? I honestly don't know what to say about this next video, expect that we're all insane. I should point out though, that the lion actually appears to be saying "Ra" over and over again, which, by their logic, indicates a return to ancient Egyptian sun worship. I mean, how can we argue with the guttural throat clearing of an old lion?
Lastly, just to make sure I don't leave out those of my own faith, I will simply recall the time when I was ripping on this extremely cheezy video called "Christmas Shoes" by an extremely cheezy Christian rock band called "New Song." Long story short, my opinion was evidence of my false belief and my eventual departure to hell. How's that for defending one's personal taste in music?
To conclude, may I merely suggest we stop swallowing whole any theory we find slightly compelling on the internet? Can we perhaps suspend our own belief system just long enough to not relegate our "opponent" to the trash heap of stupidity? And finally, I implore you (and I speak more to myself than anyone), don't respond to forum comments instantly! I can't say how many times I've read a post and, in anger, have typed out something that merely heightens the conflict, ensuring we both get nowhere in our attempt at communication. The response you type in anger is usually quite different from the one typed an hour later.
For whatever reason, anonymity brings out the worst in us. If we related to each other in public the way we relate on the internet, I can guarantee we'd see a lot of fist fights throughout our day. Perhaps it's best to remember that that person whose philosophy you find so utterly abhorrent on the internet could easily be that sweet and endearing woman you say hi to everyday at your local coffee shop. I can't imagine how many of the friends I respect and cherish that could have been practical enemies had we first met on the internet. It is slightly scary I suppose, realizing that while the world gets smaller, it may be getting a little angrier at the same time. The humble suggestion I leave you with (which is more for myself than anyone) is this: Think critically, allow for other points of view, stay calm, be understanding, and don't use capitals! Here's to your your web experience being a stress-free and positive one!