I have a tense relationship with social media and online forums. Both suffer from what I have decided to call “anonymity assholification.” It’s a syndrome exhibiting a number of symptoms including the marked tendency to say things that you wouldn’t dare say in person, excessive use of swear words and increased aggression towards strangers. As a result, I wax in and out of contact with the digital world.
My most recent experience with anonymity assholification was in the comment thread of a Savage Love Letter of the Day. The writer wanted advice on how to interact with a gay and Christian lover who was fighting with religious guilt over his identity. Dan called the Christian narcissistic and advised the writer to keep a reserved distance from his ex lover’s personal turmoil. Over half the comments on the post were vicious, calling the Christian names and advising the writer to avoid him like plague. Many praised Dan for his intolerance of the Christian boy’s problems.
As a former Christian and a present day Yogi, everything I read that day hurt me. I hurt to read of the boys’ lost romance, and of the pain that the gay Christian’s upbringing was causing him. I am all too familiar with what life feels like under the belief that the most supreme being in the whole of existence loves you less for the way you were born and that there is nothing you can do to erase the sin of your existence. I was hurt to read the venom with which these boys’ plight was received. Below is the letter I wrote to Dan knowing that it was unlikely that I would be heard, but desperately needing to speak nonetheless.
For years now my friends have all been encouraging me to read your column or listen to your podcast. I’m a big fan of sexual expression and freedom and in that arena we share similar views.
So I’ve been following your column for about six months now and there are a few philosophical threads that I’ve started to pick up on. One, in particular, is that religion is bad and Christianity is the evil Boss of them all. I agree with you that organized religions have caused a lot of pain and suffering and have often failed in spectacular ways to improve the lot of the human race. But religion has been part of the human condition for longer than history has, and it does wonderful things, too. Religion, at its most basic level, is a moral guide that provides people with comfort and hope in difficult times, though these successes are more privately experienced than its failures.
It’s certainly the case that the monotheistic religions of our country are in desperate need of some accountability. But we have to remember that being members of a persecuted group does not give us the right to respond with hatred and intolerance of those who we see as privileged. Often, and not with religious topics alone, but also with lifestyles that you don’t approve of, I notice your advice and your criticism bordering on the same lines of bigotry that you criticize in the Christian and Conservative Right. I remember the day when you said that “polyamory is not an identity, it’s a choice” and the familiarity of your words struck me with such force it sent chills down my spine.
Because we are embroiled in what may be rightly considered a war of social justice, I appreciate the need to call for change which is above and beyond a reasonable medium. We have to demand extremes in the knowledge that what we may get is at best a compromise. However, if we do not remember that tolerance and compassion apply to every human regardless of his or her (or xir) race, identity, or creed, then we are no better than those whom we seek to overthrow. As a public figure and a role model that people look up to, I hope that you will commit your media presence to freedom and respect for all humans, not just those who are lucky enough to be outside of the mainstream.