Acts 17:22-31 CEB
Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’
“Therefore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought. God overlooks ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives. This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
I'm not going to pretend the internet is the bastion of sanity. We're a little off here, and if you are reading this, so are you.
Some of us are here to waste time; get a laugh or two in.
Some of us are here to learn; end a debate with a spouse or friend.
Some are here to connect; find new people to converse with in this caucus race we call life.
The rest of us, well we don't talk about that here, but they know who they are.
No matter what the reason, it's necessary to be a little unhinged.
Our shared insanity comes from the inexplicable truths of the internet. Somehow we all have our own limelight; our own space to shine. We can say anything. We can post almost as much. At the same time, no one seems to be looking. No seems to hear. Maybe we get the page views, but what does that mean?
Yes, I'm going to explain how we are all a little 'mad'. More importantly, I am going to use the scripture above to prove it. But first, some more Alice:
“Take some more tea," the March Hare said to Alice, very earnestly.
"I've had nothing yet," Alice replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."
"You mean you can't take less," said the Hatter: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."
"Nobody asked your opinion," said Alice.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
An important piece to the puzzle to remember is, no one is wrong here on the internet. If you admit to someone they made a mistake, the target, or purpose of the initial argument, magically changes. This happens in very much the same way the Hatter changed the focus with Alice at the tea party. Alice was trying to tell the March Hare she hadn't received any tea yet. The Hatter moves the target to suggest the real issue was about the grammar of 'more' verses 'less'. Alice, and ourselves could try to keep the focus on the initial target but, attempting to realign back becomes a fruitless endeavor. It's crazy to pretend the focus is really on the target. It's also crazy to try to hit the moving target people create in internet discussions.
Paul didn't chase the moving target, or point out the crazy nature of those silly people of Athens. Paul accepted the insanity in order to remove the target completely.
I can't even imagine how ludicrous Paul probably thought it was seeing an alter to an 'Unknown God.' He was there to convince the people to accept Christianity into their pantheon. He was bringing something real, and the competition was, well, nothing. Literally, nothing. How was he going to deal with it?
Paul deals with it by accepting their insanity and adding the truth to it. "Oh how pious you are," adding a modern flair to his words. "God's so much more than us, there's nothing we can get. I see what you did there, with that unknown God alter." <wink wink> Now, what if I were to tell you there is something you can know, and this knowledge takes the form of Jesus Christ."
Simply put, this is how we have a civil discussion. Maybe Paul learned something from watching Stephen being stoned to death. (Remember he was there. Paul, or at the time Saul, had front row tickets.) Stephen demeaned the crowd. I'm not saying it would have completely altered the hearts and minds of the crowd, but I am saying Stephen watching his temper could have had the possibility of a different outcome. I am also suggesting Paul keeps moments, like the stoning of Stephen, in his heart when he needs to face a less than cordial audience.
The point? Oh, the point! I suppose I should be making one of those. You are here, after all. Paul has two choices in Athens. He could have engaged in the maddening process of a pointless argument. (Many of us do that here. Sometimes winning an argument is still losing. Just saying.) Ultimately, he played into the madness by accepting it, and leading them to the ultimate truth.
“Alice came to a fork in the road. 'Which road do I take?' she asked.
'Where do you want to go?' responded the Cheshire Cat.
'I don't know,' Alice answered.
'Then,' said the Cat, 'it doesn't matter.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
If are hoping to engage with others on the internet in a sane way, then it really doesn't matter which direction you go. You won't get far. Remember? We are all mad here! My understanding is, you have two choices:
Go left, and try to win the internet by attempting to show the masses how your opinion is the right one. To that I say you're crazy. You will end up more alone than when you started.
Go right, and try to understand your virtual neighbor and learn from one another. You have to let go of a little bit of your sanity to do it.
My suggestion? Take the right path, the one Paul took, and the one Jesus asks us to take.
Good luck! If you find the Queen of Hearts out there somewhere, don't engage her in croquet. I heard she cheats.