The Sin of Reading Rags (Or, Don’t Click That Link!)

vintage-rag-headerTabloid newspapers have been with us for many years now, reporting the latest celebrity gossip, conspiracy theories, and propaganda. It’s certainly trash reporting, which is why they’ve gotten the title of “Rags,” but it’s mostly harmless trash. But with the advent of the internet, there is a new spin on the old game of gossip and conspiracy theory: build a website that is a space for like-minded folks to get together and say nasty things about non-like-minded folks.

Reading rags like this is wildly popular! It appeals to the narcissistic corners of our souls. Just look how ridiculous those conservatives are. How could anyone be so stupid? They’re almost as bad as those progressives. Have they no common sense? These generalizations about others are really easy to make as long as you stay inside the echo-chamber of the rag. Psychology shows us that we humans have a tendency to make generalizations about other groups, and to dislike them. But we have good reason to resist these tendencies.

I’ve been on both ends of the political spectrum. I grew up in a very right-wing family, and have slowly made my way to the left/center as I’ve gone along in life. I’m still essentially the same person as I was on the right. I absolutely think I used to be wrong on quite a few things I’ve since changed my mind on. But I know I was trying just as hard to be a good, thoughtful, decent person then as I am now. I’ve just come to different conclusions with different evidence. It would be ridiculous to hate myself for having been honestly mistaken. If the goal of Christina conduct is to “love your neighbor as yourself,” it would be ridiculous to hate others for also being honestly mistaken.

Sure, there are some genuinely evil people out there. People just too empirically dangerous to have anything to do with. Some have a fierce commitment to being rotten. But let’s be honest: such people are the minority. No broad brush painting a whole group of people with a particular political leaning as evil could possibly miss many good honest people too.

Many writers see no need to pay heed to inconvenient facts like that. Just a few clicks away you can find an article about how happy women would be if washing machines weren’t invented and they had to stay home doing laundry like good right-wingers. Elsewhere you’ll find that all pro-lifers are just plain crazy right wing nuts. Apparently all scientist who believe in evolution just don’t ask questions. Another writer is so steeped in hate that he couldn’t even announce the healthy birth of his child without a disparaging remark thrown towards those darn millenials. As ridiculous as it sounds, these are all real articles. And these sorts of articles are common at their sources.


Is this any kind of Christian attitude? Should our focus ever be, “Look how awful those other people are”?

There is no way to reconcile these rags with the Jesus who said “Love your enemies.” We should be saying, “Look how human those other people are,” or “Look how much like us they are.” If we believe someone to be wrong about something we might ask, “What is this person’s perspective? What are they missing? How can I communicate better with them?” If you agree with a rag, it can only encourage you to hate others more. If you disagree with a rag, it can only make you angry at being misrepresented.

But just reading the rags isn’t the end of the trouble. These websites make money off of you reading the stuff. More if you share it with others. Just by clicking that link, you’re literally paying someone to say nasty things about others. By sharing a link, you’re increasing its search engine traffic. There is currently no way around this side-effect.

These people are not making chump change either. These people are making hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars from people visiting their flaming piles of dog crap. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the content or not; visiting the site makes them get paid more from advertising companies.

Consider that a website that can get 400 K visits per year can reasonably bring home $100 K in revenue to its owner. How many clicks do professional partisans get per year? For some, millions.

That many visits means a ton of cash in advertising revenue. It is true that none of these sources exclusively write irrational hate for the “other”, but let’s be honest, it’s a big part of their business. Trying to help people understand each other and work together in a civil society is not a big part of their business.

Being loving is the business of Christianity. Understanding others, and thus being careful to not bear false witness against them, is the business of Christianity. The cultural environment within the church is yours and mine to build; let’s be sure to take that responsibility and make it a place where hate is absolutely unwelcome. We can’t always stop people from being hateful, but we don’t have to pay them to do it.

So don’t read that rag. Don’t click that link, nor share it. I know how enticing it is to find out the details behind that inflammatory headline, but it is the duty of Christians to be peace-makers, not hater payers.


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