Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made public many conversations that were once private. In the early days of the internet we went to forums to dialogue with people who think the same way to enjoy in-group discussions. Now these conversations are open, to be witnessed by everyone. Comments that we sometimes make privately, sometimes for fun, sometimes to reinforce our sense of belonging to a group, can be seen as rude and arrogant when read by non-group members.

One of my gripes is when Christians reinforce their status as group member by denigrating the lives of others. This usually appears in comments claiming that those without Jesus / God lead lives that are empty, meaningless, pathetic, pitiful, [insert other negative adjectives]. I used to get these comments from street evangelists in London who would suddenly approach me telling me my life was empty!

These statements often come from people who do not know their recipients. They are just generalised, rather arrogant comments that suggest only they have the answers and truth about life.

Perhaps the comments are the result of observing people who have no focal point to their lives?  But somehow I doubt it. In my experience, those who have labelled themselves atheists, agnostics, non-theists, etc., do so because they have thought through the issues and have arrived at a world view and way of living that is meaningful. I suspect these Christians have never seriously dialogued with non-believers to understand their viewpoint.

Conversely, we also see non-believers making insulting, generalised comments about religious believers based on observations and assumptions of the most ignorant expressions of religious belief.

One of the most common comments is that Christians are stupid because they resort to faith and dogma as opposed to reason. There are certainly people in all walks of life who simply accept what they are told without questioning or thinking but that is not my experience of the Christians I know. Many Catholics do not blindly follow the Pope’s teaching on issues such as birth control and homosexuality – they have thought about it and arrived at their own conclusions. For others, faith does not interfere with reason or the rational decisions they take in their lives. There is a temptation to tar all Christians with the same brush that we use to critique fundamentalism. Many Christians do grapple with the contradictions and difficulties of belief and real life. They do not just accept uncritically what the bible or church leaders say.

The stereotyping of Christians often comes from too many encounters with biblical literalists and fundamentalists – easy targets to spoof. I read writings by theologians and progressive Christians. I’ve stopped reading most atheist materials and following these types of people on twitter because, after the initial euphoria of feeling good about yourself, there’s no one where to take this.

We all like to amuse ourselves which can involve secretly poking fun at the beliefs of others. I also hold my hand up as guilty. It’s just we shouldn’t forget the medium we are using and that others will be listening in and gathering impressions about who we are. Social media is useful for that sudden encouter with views we may never have considered before. We just have to fight our urges, holdback and take the time to understand.