John Piper’s initial post on the tornado that just “happened” to hit the ELCA national conference in Minneapolis right before they were to discuss homosexual clergy has caused a little storm on the internet. He has followed up on it with another, clarifying post. The discussion about it is interesting and fascinating.
A related post that really made me think, though, is from John Dyer at don’t eat the fruit. He addresses more specifically “Internet theological discourse regarding contentious issues.” Dyer explains what is called Godwin’s law and insightfully writes this:
When it comes to Internet theological debate on hot topics, there seems to be a sort of Christian Godwin’s Law at work. If you’re not familiar with it, Godwin’s Law was humorously submitted by Mike Godwin almost 20 years ago in the early days of the Internet. It states:
As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
In other words, debates will inevitably end with one person comparing the other person’s views to Hitler. It turns out that if you replace “Hitler” with “heresy,” you’d describe about 86% of debates on Christian blogs and forums on hot topics. In the case of Piper, he made a similar argument about calamities previously, but no one seemed to notice since it didn’t touch a contentious issue. However, when he made a case that addressed the issue of homosexuality, the “h” word came out within hours.
His post addresses the fact that there are liabilities to internet debate (and I would say things like email as well) because of the very nature of the beast. Speed, hyperbole, and lack of context really work against internet dialogue.
Dyer’s closing comments summarize well his post:
There’s a Time for Everything
This is not to say that no good theological discussion happens on the Internet or that nothing from Tornado-gate was worthwhile or helpful. Instead, I am simply saying that certain theological topics will almost always follow Godwin’s Law when they are discussed on the Internet. Without time, relationships, and context, it’s extremely hard to make sense of these complex issues and online discussion will rarely avoid devolving into accusations of heresy.
So next time a big event comes up, or next time someone make a post on a contentious issue, slow down, grab a friend, stock up on a favorite beverage, and hash it out offline.
Then go comment wild.
Read the post and consider it carefully as you participate in internet theological discourse.