Thou shalt not troll

Compasses to help hesitant Christians find their way on what Pope Benedict called “the sixth continent” of the internet aren’t in short supply, but among the more concise recent ones has been a piece entitled ‘10 commandments for social media’ posted by one Jonty Langley on

Opening with the caveat that his commandments “are not canonical, not inspired and not particularly qualified in any way”, he points out that “neither is 98% of the other advice online” before plunging in, admitting that he’s as guilty as anyone as having broken his own rules. 

Some of his commandments seem whimsical, and others are a guide to general good practice online, but for Christians in particular the first three – aptly enough, given the conceit of ’10 commandments’ – are of particular relevance.

1. Thou shalt not fight for Jesus

“Aggressive argument bent on winning and humiliating the opponent rather than bringing them over to your side – is so unappealing. Studies show that 92% of aggressive religious arguments online result in neither side’s view changing at all.

Argue about politics. Argue about sports. Argue about whether Jeremy Corbyn is to blame for the One Direction split. Argue about almost anything else that doesn’t matter as much as the person you’re arguing with’s eternal salvation. Talk instead. Talk in private. Talk in love.”

While admitting that his 92% ‘fact’ is entirely made up, Langley makes a good point. You’d have to look far and wide to finding many people who became convinced of the truth of Christianity by a online row. Twitter can be a great tool for encouragement and debate between people who basically agree on things, but is all too rarely the right tool for disagreement.

2. Thou shalt not bear false witness

“We all think the person in the pew next to us has the Christian life more sussed than we do. So we pretend we are not sad, not sinful, not who we really are, only ever talking about the broken places in our lives in the past tense as part of an up-front testimony.

There’s immense pressure to give the impression that your life is more exciting, glamorous and perfect than it really is. Try not to use social media to give people a false impression of how amazing your life is or how holy you are. It doesn’t make you any happier and it might make someone else hate their life unnecessarily.”

It’s too easy to present a falsely sanitised image of ourselves online. Aside from the risk of convincing ourselves of our own propaganda, we never know how our masks and charades may be affecting those around us.

3. Thou shalt not share garbage

“This goes for unsupported claims of miracles or persecution, naïve, unhelpful and unbiblical quotes about how God makes everything in life pleasant for his followers and, of course, invitations to Candy Crush Saga. Which may or may not be the abomination which causes desolation.

You are not being a good Christian by sharing things that turn out to be nonsense. You are making us all look stupid. “

St Augustine, of course, said something very similar 1,600 years ago when he observed “It is a disgraceful and a dangerous thing for an unbeliever to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of scripture, talking nonsense on these topics.”

Some things, it seems, never go out of fashion.