It’s a problem that bloggers know only too well: Comment boxes filled with flaming insults, name-calling, and personal attacks. If you write about controversial topics, you’re going to hear from people who disagree; and too often, it’s not pretty.
On Friday, the same day Pope Francis met with Apple CEO Tim Cook and a week after his meeting with the CEO of tech giant Google Inc., Eric Schmidt, the pontiff spoke out against the aggressive political discourse and the use of social media as a forum for personal abuse.
In his message for the World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis said what we all know to be true: that digital technology and the Internet can help bring people together, but also have the potential to create deep wounds. The Pope said:
What we say and how we say it, our every word and gesture, ought to express God’s compassion, tenderness and forgiveness for all. Love, by its nature, is communication; it leads to openness and sharing. If our hearts and actions are inspired by charity, by divine love, then our communication will be touched by God’s own power.
“Our words and actions should be such as to help us all escape the vicious circles of condemnation and vengeance which continue to ensnare individuals and nations, encouraging expressions of hatred.”
In a message which could have been crafted specifically for U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump, Pope Francis reminded politicians and others in positions of power
“…to remain especially attentive to the way they speak of those who think or act differently or those who may have made mistakes.”
And he called on everyone to apply that same principle when talking with others in cyberspace: to show respect “for the neighbor whom we do not see.”
It’s been an interesting week on the Interwebs. We read of the March for Life, then of the blizzard, then of busloads of students stranded on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
One of the truly heartwarming reports emanating from the stranded motorists and pro-life groups was the story of the Mass in the snow beside the Turnpike, where some 500 or 600 students gathered for prayer and song, the priest celebrating the Mass on an altar made of snow. That story brought tears to my eyes, and I–like many of you, I’m sure–just can’t get enough of it.
But some in that group of crabby traditionalists who claim to be holier than the Pope did not like the fact that Mass was celebrated outdoors, not in a consecrated building. Some claimed that this constituted a “desecration of the Blessed Sacrament.” Bloggers like Deacon Greg Kandra and Elizabeth Scalia, who were heartened by the piety of the students and told their story, heard from critics who denigrated their faith, questioned their morals, and–in Deacon Greg’s case–complained to the local bishop.
For those unhappy, accusatory Christians, I offer you the rest of Pope Francis’ message. He warned:
“It is not technology which determines whether or not communication is authentic, but rather the human heart and our capacity to use wisely the means at our disposal.
“Social networks can facilitate relationships and promote the good of society, but they can also lead to further polarization and division between individuals and groups.
“The digital world is a public square, a meeting-place where we can either encourage or demean one another, engage in a meaningful discussion or unfair attacks.”
My sincere plea to those who comment on-line: Stop. Think. Before you hit “Enter”, consider whether what you have to say contributes to the discussion in a positive way. If not, Delete. Delete. Delete. Go and pray for the person you were about to attack, that God will grant him wisdom. Pray for yourself, that God will teach you charity. Love your neighbor as yourself.