When I published my books, I established Facebook pages for them and cultivated a presence in a group that advertised tolerance. I’m pretty open about my spirituality, and had several deep and rewarding interactions with members seeking fellowship as they navigated life’s many crises. I also express a great deal of confidence in my interpretation of scripture, defining clear and consistent boundaries between Hebrew and Christian teaching.
I obviously became a thorn in the side of the moderator. The moderator frequently directed people to a sister web site containing an exhaustive collection of religious dogma and creed. The material was frequently drawn upon by atheists in the group to deconstruct arguments for faith. As I methodically asserted the message of love offered by Christ, they became more and more antagonistic. Ultimately, the moderator revealed herself as a troll. Facebook is a conversational experience, and as a working professional, I often came late to discussions, and had trouble maintaining the focus of the threads I established. She took advantage of that, posting warped “explanations” of my positions, and then referencing them elsewhere to create the impression that I was trolling the group. When it became clear what was going on, I responded to the last of her posts with notice that I was leaving the group, and told her not to expect that I would lose any sleep over it.
Since establishing myself here in Word Press, I have noticed a lot of similar back-and-forth in the comment threads. I don’t tolerate it here on Ever Deepening. This is a place for ideas. I am happy to discuss them with anyone. I do take on sacred cows, and occasionally lampoon boorishness in our public figures. But I don’t allow anyone to tell me who I am, and do the best that I can to avoid labeling the individuals that visit here.
I do allow leeway. While the situation on Facebook was clearly sociopathic, I recognize that the issues I discuss are often sources of deep sorrow. In “The Sociopath Next Door,” Martha Stout identifies five sources of trauma, and one of them is spiritual abuse. Stout characterizes this as arising when an authority figure places themselves between their victim and an authentic personal experience of God. When I was a member of the local Unitarian Universalist Church – a community dominated by pagans and humanists – I encountered many people recovering from Christian spiritual abuse. This is often sourced in the threats of the Pentateuch which New Testament scripture deprecates. I recognize the problem, and often hear pain behind the angry statements made by those the disagree with me.
Recognizing these realities, I tend to be pretty tolerant of suggestions that a specific idea is wrong or that I am misrepresenting the ideas of others. But broad generalizations were the technique applied by the troll that managed the group on Facebook. Attempting to maintain the focus of the threads I was managing, I would respond to specific claims, and then discover that the broad generalizations were reasserted as characterizations of me as a thinker.
I have seen two strategies in response to this kind of dialog. One is to ask the poster to reference specific statements to back up their claim. This degenerates into a he-said-she-said pissing match that detracts focus from the subject of the original post. Another is to edit or delete posts that offend the sensibilities of the blogger. This is not consistent with my purpose here – I want to have dialog built upon disagreement. The ideas I offer are often abstract, and require elaboration through discussion to support concrete realization.
So what I do here on Word Press follows two steps: I’ll take the dialog to one side, and identify the specific statements that violate my sensibilities, and ask the poster to restructure their points as affirmations of their personal experience and perspective. If they continue with personal denigration, I delete the offending material and add their names to my comment filter so that I can review anything they post.