October 9, 2009

Letters to the Editor

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As Christians and seekers of truth, Internet can be a double-edged sword

Within the last hour, I received one of those chain e-mails from a relative that we all get. You know, the ones that rant, rave and otherwise tell pejorative stories. It might be about a celebrity or political figure, another race or religion or another country.

Usually, the e-mail instructs us to forward it to as many people as possible, sometimes promising dire consequences if we don’t.

We all know that the Internet is a double-edged sword. It certainly is a tool that we can use to create a lot of good for our world.

And, unfortunately, we also know that it provides a great many “near occasions for sin” we talk about in our act of contrition.

Did you ever stop to think that in the moment in which you are deciding whether to forward that e-mail or not, you are butting right up against one of those near occasions for sin?

Consider the definition of calumny. I would like to suggest that in the moments we are deciding whether to forward that e-mail or not, we are deciding whether or not we will commit the sin of calumny: “A false statement maliciously made to injure another’s reputation; the utterance of maliciously false statements; slander.”

Wasn’t it St. Francis of Assisi who prayed to “seek first to understand?”

As Christians, I believe it is imperative that we seek first to understand, to seek the full truth before passing it on.

We have to go that extra mile, else we become evildoers too, forwarding a twisted grain of truth or an outright lie that preys on people’s ignorance, laziness and biases.

Remember the story about the priest who gives the penance to the gossip monger? “Take a feather pillow to a high rooftop and shake its contents into the wind.” And later, “Go and collect all the feathers back up.”

That is exactly what we do when we forward false e-mails. As Christians and seekers of the truth, we have to be very responsible before we choose to forward e-mails that impugn others, create panic or otherwise seek to cause negative consequences.

Fortunately, the Internet provides us with resources to help us in discerning the truth. Try out Web sites like www.snopes.com, www.factcheck.org, www.politifact.com or many of the other Catholic resources available through www.archindy.org.

- Kristen LaEace, Indianapolis

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