Continuing my look at how a christian might respond to trolling. In part 1, I looked at a few general aspects of trolls and at Peter’s encouragement for people to be willing to share the reasons for their faith.
What Jesus taught
I do not pretend that Jesus gave specific teaching on dealing with internet trolls. I strongly doubt he ever even considered them while he was an itinerant preacher in 1st century Israel/Palestine. For that reason, this section is quite short. Do let me know if you think I’ve omitted any pertinent passages.
One possible passage to consider would be a part of the sermon on the mount, where Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you.” (Matthew 7:6) I’ve often heard this snippet used with the interpretation that the “[holy pearls]” is a reference to the word of God. Its aim is therefore to dissuade christians from wasting their energies in evangelism on ‘lost causes.’ I used to be quite resistant to this idea, as there seems to be some ambiguity over what Jesus really meant by “holy”. Though I am coming round to this view, in particular in light of the “what Jesus did” section in part 3.
Further light may be shed on Jesus’ mindset when he sent out his disciples en masse to, “proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matthew 10:7) Initially the message was exclusively for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and to exclude specifically the Gentiles and the Samaritans. Within Jesus’ instructions, he says, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” The phrase, ‘to shake the dust off’ has translated from its middle eastern origins into our western vernacular with much the same meaning; that is, to show contemptuous rejection for a location, refusing to have any further business there.
What Paul did
This idea has later echoes with Paul in the book of Acts. “But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of the region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium.” (Acts 13:50,51) The region in question is Pisidia, the area in which the city of Antioch was located, where Paul and Barnabas spoke after an invitation to do so from the local officials. We find Paul shaking the dust again in chapter 18, though before coming to that, it’s worth pointing out that later in that chapter, he returns to Antioch and “spending some time there.” So I wonder how seriously he took his promise.
Back to Acts 18. “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’” Even after this, though, Paul goes off in a huff to the house next door to the synagogue. It’s not as if he’s left town, he’s just gone next door, not unlike a child with a temper tantrum. How long did he then stay there? 18 months.
A phrase that sometimes comes up in christian circles is “hard-hearted” – it usually denotes someone who is stubborn or refuses to change their mind. More common these days is the phrase “close-minded” which I use to be an equivalent phrase, though some conservative friends of mine have a very different take on it with which I disagree profoundly. To them, the opposite, “open-minded” means to accept anything and everything you are told. My personal view is that it means you are open to accepting you may be wrong and are willing to listen to someone else’s point of view.
With that in mind, I think these passages are practical guidance not to waste time with time-wasters. Both Mark’s gospel and John’s Revelation include a phrase along the lines of “[he who has ears, let him hear]” – I think the world is populated both by people who are willing to listen and those who aren’t. Some may fix themselves in a particular mindset about something and will not be budged to reconsider the basis of what they think. Such people are often known as fundamentalists. Of course, I don’t deny that there are christians who fall into such a category; though I am yet to be persuaded that such a mindset is unique to those of a “religious” persuasion. I have also encountered this view in those of no religion, those involved in politics and those who debate the merits of Apple v Android.
In the last part of this mini-series, I’ll look at the example Jesus set and conclude with what I set out to write initially, a possible christian response to trolling.