don’t feed the trolls!


The Internet can be a powerful tool for dialogue, a dialogue that could serve the church well. Conversations on ecclesial matters are no longer limited to professional ministers in the church or secret doctrinal offices. Blogs and online discussion boards allow many and varied voices to be heard. But, dialogue is not well served with mud-slinging brawls, mean-spirited comments and hate-filled diatribes.

I spend a lot of time (too much time!) reading Catholic news web sites, blogs and discussion boards. Some are a meeting place of like-minded souls supporting each other in their shared ideologies. These discussion boards can form a valuable community experience and a safe environment. This is a good thing, but it could also prevent a more inclusive dialogue.

The best discussion boards are those that welcome all voices while maintaining civility and respect in the discourse. Good and consistent moderation is the key as is maturity and discretion among the participants. It is sad to see the beginnings of a good dialogue dissolve into childish one-liner attacks that have nothing at all to do with the original topic. Which leads me to the issue of Internet trolls.

What are Internet trolls? Psychology Today, in an article titled Internet Trolls Are Narcissists, Psychopaths, and Sadists provides this definition,

An Internet troll is someone who comes into a discussion and posts comments designed to upset or disrupt the conversation. Often, in fact, it seems like there is no real purpose behind their comments except to upset everyone else involved. Trolls will lie, exaggerate, and offend to get a response.

The same article referenced a Canadian research that studied the personalities of Internet trolls, wondering if there was a link with “the “Dark Tetrad” of personality traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, psychopathy, and sadism”. Not surprisingly, the connection was a strong one. To quote the authors,

 Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground! 

It’s easy to spot the trolls on Catholic sites. They have no compunction in their venomous attacks. You can challenge their lack of basic Christian charity or compassion to no avail. Respond to them, and they will quickly respond back. You can almost picture them salivating with pleasure at the prospect of a long and dirty debate while you get increasingly more angry and frustrated.

The key is not to be taken in by these scurrilous scoundrels. A dear friend (and Archbishop) once told us that being a Christian never means being a doormat. Yes we can, and should, promote dialogue. Catholics include women and men on all points of the Trad-Lib spectrum and we need to talk in order to better know and understand each other. But, we do not have to listen to, or provide a venue for, those who are unwilling to listen and respond respectfully to others.

If an in-person conversation is going sour, it is often difficult or impossible to walk away without seeming rude. In online discussions we can leave the conversation by simply not responding.

Do not take the bait.

Do not succumb to the temptation.

Do not feed the trolls!


helping each other to stay in the church

Writing is a lonely craft. It’s also filled with self-doubt. Whether I am sending an article to an editor or posting words instantly online, when I press the computer key that whisks my words into cyber-space my stomach churns a little. Sometimes it churns a lot.

Writing about faith has, by its nature, a confessional aspect to it. (No pun intended. OK…maybe a little!)Writing about your faith is literally baring your soul for all to see. This is what I believe, and why I believe it. And, this is what I’m supposed to believe but I’m struggling to believe it.

We have not always had the freedom to discuss our faith openly and honestly. In some circles, it was just considered bad manners, too personal for polite conversation. Besides, strict orthodoxy in belief was expected and questioning forbidden. There was nothing really to discuss. Theology and the internal workings of the church was the domain of priests and bishops. Few lay women and men had, or wanted, a say in ecclesial matters.

Today’s blogs, web-sites and discussion boards give us a freedom and a platform that past generations never had. We have a great tool at our disposal. Like all tools, we can use it for good purposes or bad. We can help to build up or to tear down.

I am a firm believer that honest and open sharing is valuable. Putting our own thoughts and feelings on the line has a cathartic effect. Whew! I got that off my chest! It also challenges us to enter into dialogue with others. Sometimes we find support in kindred spirits. Other times we are challenged by alternate views. Either way, we are nudged to further ponder our own beliefs and to perhaps do some tweaking along the way.

Regular readers of this blog know that I often need a good bitch and kvetch session. There are aspects of our church that sadden and madden me. Sadness and anger come from a place of love, when love has been disappointed. But, the love causes you to stay. I don’t plan to leave the church anytime soon.

And, I hope that my words would never be the cause for anyone else to head out the doors. Last week, I received a lovely email of support from a reader. His words are tucked away in my mind, ready to give me a boost when I question the value of this writing gig. He told me that my articles help him to stay in the church.

And this, to me, is the finest compliment I could receive. If he is reading this…thank you! I pray that in the dialogue we will all find the reason to stay, to seek change when necessary, and to ever deepen our faith.

the fine line between religious passion and hate-filled judgments

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Luke 10:3

I don’t want any wolf encounters! I hate confrontation. I lack courage. I have no desire to stand firmly and stare down a vicious, teeth-baring opponent.

It seems that I was being attacked by a pack of wolves on the Catholic blogosphere several months ago. I didn’t know about it then. And I wish I didn’t know about it now.

It all started with a blog post that I wrote for the National Catholic Reporter. A section of that post was taken out of context and viciously attacked by a blogger. Based on the tone of this blog, it seems that the author and the followers are passionate Catholics. They are also passionate in “spotting the heresy”. They don’t like the independent, more liberal NCR so I was an easy prey. I don’t want to share the links (yes, the article was shared among several blogs of this nature), because I don’t want to give them more notoriety than they deserve.

I learned a few things about myself through the eyes of these concerned Catholics. Apparently, I am spreading calumny and false witness. I am claiming that we are all irrational animals. Oh, and I’m a militant atheist. The biggest chuckle was the assumption that I received a raise in salary for this article.

I went back to re-read the offending article that I wrote. Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my message, and left too much room for misinterpretation? No. The point of my article, if you read it in its entirety, was to encourage more compassion, understanding and inclusivity in our church, and less judgment towards those who cannot accept all her teachings. Apparently the message was lost on these good folks, but I still stand by it and will continue to promote it.

Perhaps I should be proud that my writing was considered worthy enough for such detailed analysis and heated discussion. But, I’m not. I’m saddened by the tone of men and women who call themselves Catholic and yet reflect such a lack of Christian charity. There is no desire for dialogue or mutual understanding. There is only the desire to wave high the banner of orthodoxy in order to beat others with it.

There is a lesson to be learned. I may not always agree with something someone has said or written, but I must strive to be fair in my own commentaries. After all, the purpose of a commentary is to ponder and continue the dialogue begun by the other. Whenever we put our words out there, we allow them to be judged. But, we can disagree in a respectful way. Disagreeing with an idea should not morph into vindictive hatred of the person or be used to merely feed the already simmering angers in others – regardless of where you are on the trad-lib scale.

No, I don’t want to be a meek and mild lamb. I will continue writing, with a renewed conviction to keep my writing fair and balanced. But, I won’t be expending my energy fighting wolves.