Following on Pope Francis’s somewhat Springsteen-ish call for Catholics to take the church’s message out “into digital highways,” Archbishop Eamon Martin, a senior Catholic cleric in the British Isles, offered guidance to the faithful on how best to engage online, some of it in the form of 10 sensible “Commandments for the Internet Age.”
So laudable are these commandments that I shall reprint them here – with annotation where I feel it’s required.
1: Be positive and joyful. Offer “digital smiles” and have a sense of humour.
Yes, have a sense of humour but under no circumstances offer “digital smiles.”
As a form of self-expression, emoticons are the devil’s punctuation. It’s said that when Satan tempted Jesus in the desert, he did it by text, saying, “If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread ;).”
And I mean, sure, be “positive and joyful” if, for example, your team’s winning or there’s an ottercam a mere link away, but respect that the Internet offers a perfect venue and has evolved near-perfect formats for debate.
Asking people not to argue on the Internet is like going to an amazing golf course and confiscating all the clubs.
2. Strictly avoid aggression and “preachiness” online; try not to be judgmental or polemical.
This is the “Love thy neighbour” of the list. It’s absolutely right, not open for debate, not even on Reddit – but, Archbishop, the only thing worse than people who never stop arguing on the Internet is people who hang out on the Internet complaining about people arguing all the time. If the arguing bothers you, just turn the other cheek.
But not before you hit unfollow. If you do that after you turn the other cheek, you run the risk “favouriting” someone by accident and that only encourages them.
3. Never bear false witness on the Internet.
Do you really think someone would do that, just go on the Internet and bear false witness? I’m shocked the Archbishop would even consider this. It’s almost a wasted commandment. I’d have gone with “Thou shalt not retweet praise” instead. Or maybe if someone really amazing praises you, you can retweet it, but only once.
Like if Pope Francis praises you, you can retweet it. But if later the same day God retweets you in a pillar of flame or rearranges the stars to spell out your tweet with a big “THIS” in front of it, you’re not even allowed to comment.
4. Fill the Internet with charity and love, always giving rather than taking.
Sure, but don’t give out your credit-card number.
5. Have a broad back when criticisms and insults are made – when possible, gently correct.
This is Archbishop-speak for “Don’t feed the trolls” and I think he has put it rather well. When gently correcting, I’d add, “Use punctuation sparingly.” I’m pretty sure if Jesus had said, “Go and sin no more!!!!!!!!!” the religion would never have taken off.
6. Pray in the digital world. Establish sacred spaces, opportunities for stillness, reflection and meditation.
I like to think this is the church making autoplay music on your website a cardinal sin. Animated page transitions should be a venial sin and, Web designers, when you break the “back” button, it doesn’t make me meditative.
7. Establish connections, relationships and build communion.
But never invite them to join LinkedIn.
8. Educate our young to keep themselves safe and to use the Internet responsibly.
Do this. Sincerely, use the Internet as a bridge, not a bribe – as the opening sentence to millions of conversations you can have with your children.
9. Be a witness to human dignity at all times online. We are well aware of the pervasive prevalence of pornography on the Internet which can “pollute the spirit.”
This sounds like the kind of Catholic advice that threw me as a child. I get the sense the Archbishop feels that pornography is wrong – but that maybe he wants me to witness it. It may be one of those naked angels – I like to think they were naked – dancing on a pin things that is beyond my theological understanding.
I can’t tell you for sure that God sees all, but, if it helps, I can also tell you that Ctrl+Shift+N will open an incognito window in Chrome and Ctrl+Shift+P will open private browsing in Firefox.
10. Be missionary, be aware that with the help of the Internet, a message has the potential to reach the ends of the earth in seconds.
Do not tweet pictures of your penis.