In spite of a simple, fair Comments Policy that is available through not one but two links on my blog’s home page, sometimes I receive comments that clearly violate those simple guidelines.

Today, I received one of them in response to my review of The Dark Knight Rises.

Rather than just trash the comment, I think it provides what some would call “a teachable moment.” While I welcome disagreement, and get it frequently from good friends, from coworkers, and from visitors to my my Facebook page, my Twitter account, in email, and elsewhere, I have no patience for disagreement that is delivered with disrespect, hostility, insults, prejudice, or cruel generalizations.

Let’s look at this comment from someone named Aaron:

Oh no! A big-budget movie that asks ethical questions and instead of TELLING YOU WHAT YOU SHOULD THINK it wants you to… GASP… think about these questions YOURSELF!? How dare they!?

A few points to consider:

1. Aaron begins with sarcasm. Immediately. Sarcasm is not evil, but it is generally a bad way to encourage dialogue. Not a good start if you hope to be taken seriously. I’m not quite ready to disregard the comment, but I’m proceeding with caution, and a sense that things might go from bad to worse.

2. He follows that with blasts of all capital letters. Because… well, I’m not sure. Capital letters usually indicate shouting. When someone shouts at me, I back away from them. When someone shouts at me, it usually suggests that their emotions are overpowering their intellect.

3. His characterization of my response shows he didn’t read it closely. His comment suggests that I demand answers from art, not questions. This suggests that he is attacking me without having read much of my work. I celebrate art’s capacity for asking questions frequently, even relentlessly. So the suggestion that I would reject such an idea shows that this fellow is attacking without reading very carefully. I never said that the movie is wrong for asking questions. I indicated that I believe it gets tangled up in its questions, and that it ends up creating confusion instead of exploring it in an enlightening way.

If Aaron thinks that I have not appreciated the film’s questioning nature, I can respect that opinion, even though I disagree. If he had made this argument with the tone of a respectful guest, I would have been happy to allow the comment and to engage him in conversation.

Let’s continue:

Reading this outside of the American brainwashing bubble, these repeated references to religion I’m finding in many US reviews are… a bizarre portrait.

Okay, let’s stop right there. “The American brainwashing bubble”?

4. Aaron is speaking with mean-spirited prejudice, delivering insults to Americans in general… that Americans are brainwashed. This is not progress.

Reading further:

Perhaps that’s the ironic joke? Lots of you are clinging to the idea that the key to unlocking the film is that this is a city with no religion? But then look at some of the hypocrisy in the responses – such as suggesting the Gotham world differs from the religious world because the crusade is carried out with “rage, not love”. Ummmmm, ever properly looked at the history of Christianity? Ever removed the deceptive slogans of contemporary US christianity and looked at what it is motivated by and for?? Mostly, it crusades against social minorities, lobbies for the rich to remain rich, and ultimately justifies killing.

Now Aaron is showing what he really thinks.

5. Aaron is condemning my religious beliefs. Christianity, he believes, is just a sham, a lie used to justify all kinds of violence. Why? Because he can think of examples in which violence was excused in the name of Christianity.

By this logic, the entire world of sports is a sham, because, well, a lot of athletes are guilty of using steroids and a lot of coaches are guilty of sexual abuse. If we can think of examples of bad behavior under the banner of professional sports, is the world of professional sports thus essentially wicked?

If, when you consider Christianity, you can only think of what people have done to misrepresent it, what horrors have been committed in its name, then you are not looking very closely. You are ignoring the centuries of saints, of great leaders and statesmen and artsts and servants, of sacred writing, of loving outreach to the poor and the afflicted, of liturgy, of lives raised from darkness and transformed. Never mind about the Scriptures themselves. Never mind about Jesus or what he taught.

To say nothing of Johnny Cash.

People do horrible things all the time, misrepresenting the causes they claim to represent. This is true of Christianity. It is also true of any religion you could name. It is also true of science. Of atheism. Of athletics. Of business. Of medicine. Of education. If you take the position that Christianity is a disease because some have committed crimes in the name of Christ (just as Christ warned us would happen), even though those behaviors are blatant violations of the Scriptures and Christ’s teaching, you are flaunting your ignorance, you are engaging contentiously instead of respectfully, and you are toeing the line of prejudice and hatred.

When you begin by accusing Christians of violence and hatred, and fill your protest with, well… violence and hatred… we have a problem.

But wait, there’s more:

Of course, you can just soak up the TV over there and feel good about these wars in the name of God, but go see the destruction caused in Iraq, or anywhere American Imperialism has ravaged for economic gain – then sold to the public with a bunch of hollow religious references – and you’ll be hard pressed finding any kind of “love”. You’ll just start to comprehend a society that uses religion as a mask to hide the not-so-loving impulses it happily elicits, when push comes to a rather forceful shove. Perhaps Gotham is not so different, after all.

6. Aaron is creating a cruel caricature of a whole culture. According to him, Christianity is the cause of the destruction in Iraq. Now Christianity and American Imperialism are being held up as the same thing. That’s a problem, whether it’s done by misguided Americans or by those looking at us from afar.

See, this is the problem with judging someone from a distance. You can’t see them clearly. You can’t know them. Many of the voices and forces most active in questioning America’s tendency toward “imperialism”  are the voices of Christians. There are so many books by Christians challenging, questioning, and dismantling the destructive consequences of equating Christianity with patriotism… especially militant patriotism… that I could provide quite a reading list for you.

I could go on, but that’s where Aaron stops, so that’s where I’ll stop.

I’m filing this rant as only the second entry in the Lost Comments file. (The first one contained this lovely sentiment: “since everyone who disagrees with you basically gets lectured to death….” Yeah. Right. There’s a difference between disagreement and hostililty.)

I won’t block Aaron from commenting in the future. Not yet. Maybe he’ll read this and consider a different approach. But in the interest of inviting people to contribute to civil discourse, I’ll consider another blast like this to be disruptive, and a cause for dismissal from “the table.” Aaron is welcome to rant like this elsewhere on the internet, and I’m sure there are plenty of other sites where comments like that are permitted. I’d like this blog to be a different sort of place.

I hope that makes sense to all of you. Comments are welcome. And my email address is always open: joverstreet [at] gmail (dot) com.