Jason Poling: A message for Pat Robertson
It’s been said that if you give an infinite number of monkeys with typewriters an infinite amount of time they will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare. Then again, this scenario may explain the genesis of the blogosphere.
There’s a basic principle to keeping blogs healthy: Don’t feed the trolls. Every blog has them, the people who delight in vituperative attacks on others (known as “flaming”), obnoxiously long screeds, and monopolizing the virtual conversation. But if you engage the actual content of his remarks, you will find yourself sucked into a black hole of back-and-forth posts involving bad logic, worse grammar and endless frustration. It’s a lot like arguing with a four-year-old: the minute you start, you’ve lost, because in doing so you have effectively declared that a rational adult ought to seriously debate the merits of sleeping under all of the blankets in the closet sorted first by color then by texture.
But there is a remedy: the universal shorthand “Dude, STFU” which translates to “Kindly be quiet.” This treatment, which only works if applied sparingly, essentially declares: “What you are saying makes absolutely no sense. Nothing good will come of discussing it with you. You’re annoying everyone on this blog. So cut it out.” Such an approach steadfastly and resolutely refuses to reason with the unreasonable, to join a battle of wits with the unarmed, to punch the tar baby.
Much the same principle applies to the outlying voices in our media landscape. There may have been some gaps in my seminary education, for I cannot begin to fathom how I might evaluate Pat Robertson’s claim that the entire nation of Haiti in the course of its battle for independence made a pact with the devil. What would be the text of such a pact? Would everyone in the nation need to agree to it? Every adult? A majority, or perhaps a super-majority? Would it need to be signed in blood? The mind boggles.
In much the same way, I have difficulty finding handles with which I might begin to grapple with other ideas promoted by Robertson: that Hurricane Katrina constituted an exercise of God’s wrath against New Orleans for its wickedness, or that 9/11 happened when God withdrew his protection from America when some obscure ACLU lawsuit was filed somewhere that morning and he decided he had simply had enough.
But I think maybe I’m not supposed to. That would be a relief, because I have absolutely no interest in feeding this troll. I don’t want to begin to engage his statements because I do not want to effectively declare that a rational adult ought to seriously debate whether a particular nation’s misfortunes derive from a binding contract with the Prince of Darkness executed over 200 years ago. I certainly do not want to engage these ideas when that nation’s capital lies in ruins with tens of thousands of its citizens, if not more, lying dead in the wake of a massive earthquake.
No, all I really want to say to Pat Robertson is, “Dude, STFU.”