Tuesday, 25 November 2008

On Internet Debating and Good News

Back in the day, there was a time when, if you wanted stuff, you had to pay for it. Newspapers, for instance, survived because people paid money to read them. With the advent of the internet, this has changed - newspapers can now be read online for free, and so they have had to find other ways to make revenue. The prime source, of course, is advertising, but in order to make money from that, you have to prove that your site is popular. Hence, newspapers are trying to produce content which makes people click on their site.

The Guardian appears to have hit upon a system: they have discovered, I think, that a good way to generate page hits is to allow people to comment on articles; furthermore, they have discovered that certain articles attract more comment than others, and that articles about religion attract the most comment of all. Hence, they are littering their site with articles, blogs and other miscellanea on the topic of faith, religion, atheism, and anything else they can find in that sort of vein. It doesn't really matter what the topic is, the ensuing discussion will provide plenty of page hits and will pretty much always delve into a pointless discussion (because let's face it, pretty much all internet discussion is pointless) about who's better: religionists or atheists.

Now of course, there's nothing WhyNotSmile likes better than an inane, aimless and heated internet debate, especially of a slow Wednesday afternoon, and so it was that a few weeks ago I found myself in a frenzied argument with a chap called J, on the topic (and even as I type this I'm thinking, "that was an hour of my life I'll never get back") of whether atheists or Christians are better (I've no recollection of how the debate got to this point, of course; the original article was along the lines of encouraging Christians to have more of a say in public matters, or something - not, incidentally, a widely-supported view on the Guardian site).

J, I assume, is an atheist (although that's the other thing: you can never really be sure that people are what they say they are - for all I know, J could be the Archbishop of Canterbury). But J was trying to argue that if an atheist does something good and a Christian does something good, the atheist is better because he does not get an eternal reward. Now, either this was a fairly shaky argument to start with, or some of its subtleties had passed me by, but such niceties are not what we will discuss today, for I pointed out that even if it's true that actions done for no reward are better than those done for some reward, Christians do not get rewarded for their actions.

Boy, did this start a tangent (the great challenge of internet debating - how far can you stray from the topic in hand before you get flung off by a moderator?). So J basically falls over in a shocked heap, and says that of course Christians are rewarded for their actions: Heaven is the prize at the end, and you get to go there if you've been good. So I point out that this is not, in fact, the case, and that the Christian Gospel is that you go to Heaven because of faith in Christ and that good actions should come from being a Christian, rather than making you a Christian (and that anyway, going to Heaven is not necessarily the main point of the Gospel, but J didn't seem all that interested in that).

So we got onto a discussion about forgiveness, and eventually J said 'So you say, that if Hitler had repented on his deathbed (honestly, sincerely repented), he would be forgiven and go to heaven?'. And I said 'yes'.

And J nearly erupted, claiming that he'd never heard the like of it and that it was completely scandalous.

And this reminded me that the Christian Gospel is completely scandalous, and that's why it's good news for sinners like me.


qmonkey said...

Maybe J would have been better to use the word 'immoral' and 'unjust', rather than 'scandalous'.. in fact the doctrine of inbuilt sin and wrongness is immoral as well. hardly matter though, given that heaven/hell is load of ole nonsense anyway. anyway..(sorry) anyway...

Anyway... you're right.. in some ways its just a bad for online news sites to throw up 'controversial' topics to get hits (perish the thought), as for the Daily Mail/Express to have emotive ott fontpage headlines to get punters to buy it.

Overall though... the more debate the better... most of my positions and opinions on things are worked out in a dialectic ... i argue a point agressively and see what the come-back is... if there is a lack of a good counter argument then that sures up my position... or visa versa.

I have found myself on many an occasion arguing from a point of view, which i don't personally hold... just to gauage the effectiveness of the counter arguments. I guess that this is dishonest debating... and i wouldnt do this in real life... but it somewhow seems ok on t'internet.

good post WNS. insightful. got me thinking. dammit, im struggling for topics, wish i'd thought of this one :)

whynotsmile said...

Thank you for your compliments on my post, QuestionMonkey. I quite enjoyed it myself.

I don't think I can be bothered starting a debate on your first paragraph though. Sorry.

I agree though that the internet is a good place to pretend to be somebody else and see what happens. Nice.

Gilly said...

Another Guardian reader? I did enjoy your blog - only just found it, but will look regularly now!

whynotsmile said...

Gilly, welcome to WhyNotSmile! Thanks for your comments! Yes, a fellow Guardian reader, all the way.

Had a look at your blog too, it's good.