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The New York Times published a piece last week called “The Data of Hate.” Much of the data came from Stormfront.org, which Times contributor Seth Stephens-Davidowitz called “America’s most popular online hate site.” It was founded in 1995 by former Ku Klux Klan leader Don Black.
The frightening thing is that 76 percent of Americans on the site are under 30. According to the Times story, Stormfront’s targets break down like this: 39 percent Jews, 33 percent blacks, 13 percent Hispanics, 11 percent Muslims and 3 percent other.
This led me to surmise that many of the haters are white Christians.
I founded OnFaith eight years ago this summer. I was new to the religion world when I started and had no idea what to expect. The fact is that I was too green to anticipate the potential complications that might arise from a pluralistic religion site. I had long heard the old adage that one never discussed religion or politics at dinner, but I was not intimidated. One of my friends asked me if I was afraid of running a religion website because it might be too controversial. I replied that I had covered Washington social life for many years, and nothing was more dangerous than that.
But I hadn’t counted on one thing: the Christians. Yes, the Christians.
Anyone in the public eye — whether writing for newspapers, being in politics, or on television — gets hate mail. There are a lot of kooks out there. Back when people wrote letters, you could spot a kook from the handwriting: thin pen, slanted, and squiggly. On the outside of the envelope were often little notes like “I have electrodes in my teeth.” Inside, everything was underlined in red with lots of exclamation points. I used to wonder if there was a special school for crazy people to learn how to write these letters.
When I started OnFaith, the mail became comments on the Internet — and they were worse than the letters.
I can’t tell you how many people wrote in to say that I was a whore and a slut and so much worse that I can’t even write it here. And these all came from Christians.
The first hate emails I received were horrible. They did not just attack what I wrote — which was usually about spirituality more than religion — but were also vicious ad hominem attacks. I can’t tell you how many people wrote in to say that I was a whore and a slut and so much worse that I can’t even write it here. And these all came from Christians. I was going to hell. I had made a pact with the devil. Jesus and God hated me. One man wrote that he hoped I would get in a car accident, that the gas tank would explode and I would be burned alive. He was a God-fearing Christian, and he ascertained that I obviously was not one.
I got a lot of hate mail from the Rapture crowd. When the Rapture came, all of those who had accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior were going to be taken up to heaven and I would be left behind in a sea of blood.
I decided the only way to escape this vitriol was not to read the comments, and I don’t anymore. But many in the distinguished panel of authors, theologians, religion scholars, and thinkers who were writing for the site couldn’t stay away from the comments. They would spend days obsessing over them. One friend, a well-known Catholic, wrote a lovely spiritual piece about his faith, and he was excoriated for it. (Some Protestant Christians don’t cotton to Catholics, either.) Another guy wrote to a colleague that he hoped she would be raped by a donkey with AIDS. I thought that was pretty original.
I talked to Christian theologians, pastors, and scholars because I truly didn’t understand where all this Christian hatred was coming from. Nobody had a good answer. The Internet is clearly a place for a lot of hateful people, including hateful Christians, to sound off. If they are anonymous, they can be the worst versions of themselves. Perhaps they have bought into the popular notion that Christians are the new religious victims in this country. Maybe they feel guilty about their own sins. Maybe they are afraid of going to hell. Maybe they are frustrated because they have to actually act like Christians in real life and need a place to unleash their dark sides. Who knows?
I began to see that there is a big difference between being Christian and following the teachings of Jesus.
In the face of these Christian commenters, I didn’t know what “Christian” meant any more. I began to see that there is a big difference between being Christian and following the teachings of Jesus. In fact, sometimes those two things can be polar opposites. Our Christian haters clearly paid little attention to Jesus.
Interestingly, the only other people I have gotten hate mail from are atheists. Atheist hate mail is usually of a more intellectual persuasion, and they have never been violent, but they are extremely contemptuous, insulting, and condescending.
I once wrote about a barrage of hate mail I got from atheists and received dozens of apologies from other atheists. I have never gotten any personal hate mail from a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a pagan, an agnostic, or a humanist.
Seth Stevens-Davidowitz concludes “The Data of Hate” by saying, “Why do some people feel this way? And what is to be done about it? I have poured over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer. I have no idea.”
Neither have I.
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