I. "Rules of Engagement for Catholics on the Internet"
from "The Divine Life: Why We Were Created" by Eric Sammons
1) Always remember the superiority of the real world over the virtual world.
If you are spending more time interacting with people over the Internet than you do in the real world, then you need to seriously curtail your online activity. God made us physical beings and we cannot replace physical interaction with virtual interaction. It’s just not the same.
2) Your salvation is more important than your involvement on the Internet.
If frequenting a blog or forum disturbs your peace and makes you anxious, uncharitable and/or unkind to those around you, you should simply stop going to that blog or forum. I have had to abandon certain forums and blogs because I found myself too upset with those I encountered there. It is better to simply walk away.
3) Don’t ever say anything on the Internet that you wouldn’t say in person.
This is a pretty common suggestion, but it is very true. If you wouldn’t call someone a putz to their face, don’t call them that online (and if you would call them that to their face, perhaps you need to see your confessor).
4) Don’t write anything in anger.
If you write a post or comment on a blog or on a forum in anger, be sure to preview it before posting. Then delete it.
5) Don’t stereotype people.
It is very easy to stereotype the people we “meet” over the Internet. If someone says he likes the Traditional Latin Mass, don’t assume that he is an “angry Traditionalist” who rejects Vatican II completely. If someone says something supportive of Rush Limbaugh, don’t assume she supports everything he espouses. The truth is that most people don’t fall into nice and neat categories. I remember encountering a person online who was devoted to the Latin Mass but also supported liberal Democrat politicians. Remember to just debate actual arguments raised, not positions you assume the person also holds. Don’t think you actually know people you only encounter online. You don’t.
6) Take at least one day off a week from the Internet.
Preferably Sunday. Remember that man was not made for the Internet, but the Internet for man. If you feel you need to be on the Internet every day, then you are showing signs of a dangerous addiction. This is unhealthy, even if the sites you go to are not harmful themselves.
7) Always assume the good intentions of others.
If someone writes something that could possibly be interpreted multiple ways, assume the best interpretation. I have seen countless examples of someone making a point, someone else misinterpreting it and attacking it, then a whole discussion ensues before the original poster returns to say that he never meant what he was accused of saying. Writing is a difficult task, and often what we write isn’t exactly what we mean. Give people the same benefit of the doubt that you want to be given.
8) Remember who the real Enemy is.
It’s not some heterodox blogger or pro-abortion advocate. It’s Satan. Those who do things that support his reign are slaves of Satan, and our duty is not to try to defeat them, but emancipate them and help them become sons of the True King. Yes, we must resist evil in all its forms, but those who advocate for evil need to be converted, not conquered.
9) Remember that God resists the proud.
Even when they are right. On the Internet you encounter people at all stage of their spiritual life. Many don’t know the first thing about the Faith yet still expound upon it. It is easy to look upon them like the Pharisee did to the Publican. Instead of quickly jumping in to tell them how they are wrong, first say a prayer for them and then gently lead them to a fuller understanding of the truth. I can guarantee that a prideful retort will do nothing other than turn them more away from an orthodox understanding of the Faith.
10) Don’t just go to Catholic sites.
Part of the history of Catholics in America is that we have often lived in ghettos, completely excluded from those outside the Church. It sometimes feels like we are returning to that on the Internet. We only go to Catholic sites and Catholic blogs and Catholic forums (and usually only those we agree with) and it gives us an unbalanced view of the world. I spent over four years as the only Catholic at a Protestant apologetics forum, and it was a very fruitful experience for me. Not only was I able to defend and explain the Catholic Faith to many who would never hear about it, I also learned a great deal from the Protestants at the site and honed my apologetic abilities. Obviously we shouldn’t visit immoral sites that might lead us into the near occasion of sin, but we should be salt and light on the Internet and bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all corners of the virtual world.
II. Catholic Answers Forum
A. Catholic Answers Forum Rules
"Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like 'a clanging cymbal'" (1Corinthians 13:1)
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Homily
1. General Guidelines
- Civility and a respect for each other should be foremost.
- Posters are expected to treat each other as equals with equal expectations of each other in terms of research, logic, challenges, and portrayal of Catholic teaching.
- Questions are a better approach than assertions, unless the latter are framed in a non-confrontational and non-accusatory manner.
- Don't answer a question with a question. If you don't know the answer, say so.
- Rhetorical questions may be used to introduce a new aspect of inquiry but not to evade challenges or to call into question the intelligence, education, or any other personal qualities of another poster.
- It is never acceptable to question the sincerity of an individual's beliefs.
- It is never acceptable to assume or say you know what another person thinks or needs.
- If you aren't going to go into the discussion with the resolution that you could just possibly have your view broadened, you may as well not go into it.
- Terms of derision, derogatory remarks, baiting, and inflammatory statements are prohibited.
- Avoid categorizing people by a term which could be considered derogatory (e.g., Nazi or neocon) unless they have embraced that title. In which case, you may qualify them with the term as long as you preface it with the word "avowed". Posters are asked to use their best judgement when posting articles using such terms. Do not abbreviate terms.
2. Sarcasm [and] Making Corrections
- On the use of sarcasm: ... End the post on a positive note, devoid of sarcasm. A pleasant ending can act like sugar helping the medicine go down. Think of sarcasm like salt. Just as you wouldn't dump a shakerful on your food, don't dump a load of sarcasm into a post. Use it sparingly.
- It is easy to stray from the rules in the heat of battle. Try to make corrections gently, with the assumption that no offense was meant. It usually is not. Also keep in mind that some people are thick-skinned. What seems a vicious attack to you may seem a light-hearted spar to them.
- When you agree with a part of what someone said, tell them. It doesn't hurt your position to agree with some part of an opposing argument. In fact, it lets others know that you are listening.
4. What to look for in your post before you press submit
- Is the post civil and charitable?
- Does the post challenge those to whom it is directed or does it bash them?
- And remember: always, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
There is an expectation here at CAF that we all should behave with civility. In practice this means striving to deliver our comments here with as much charity as we can muster.
Some Catholics who are going through a renewal of their faith can take on a somewhat strident tone. Having re-discovered the truth of their faith, they then proceed to jump on a soapbox and start proclaiming the truth as they see it. Fellow Catholics, priests, bishops, even the pope, are subject to "correction." Perhaps they do not realize that this behavior often comes across to others as trying to use doctrine as a weapon.
Here are some quotations from Church leaders to consider closely:
"Win an argument and lose a soul."
-- Bishop Fulton Sheen
"Love without truth would be blind; truth without love would be like 'a clanging cymbal.'"
-- Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Homily
"Preach the gospel at all times, and, when necessary, use words."
-- St. Francis (attributed)
"You know well enough that our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them."
-- St. Therese of Lisieux
"Though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could move mountains, but have not charity, I am nothing.... Love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil.... Love bears all things ... endures all things. So faith, hope, charity abide, these three; but the greatest of these is charity."
-- St. Paul (1 Cor. 13:2, 5, 7, 14)
"Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence."
-- St. Peter (1 Pet. 3:15; RSV-CE)
Some members have left the Catholic Answers Forums because CAF management would not allow them to behave rudely. There are many venues on the Internet where one may behave as uncharitably as one desires. This is not one of them.
It should also be noted that Catholics are NOT given preference because of their religious affiliation. In fact, Catholics are often held to a higher standard. As our Lord cautioned, "To whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Luke 12:48). Here at CAF, we believe that the truth will take care of itself. Our job is to reveal it as charitably as we can.