In his book,?What It’s Like To Go To War, Karl Marlantes, who served in the Vietnam War, talks about the danger of the “clean kill”. What does he mean by “clean kill”?
To kill someone with an almost effortless eloquent blow of the first two knuckles of the fist is aesthetically more pleasing than to bludgeon him to death with a rock. How much more pleasing, then, with a fine rifle? A precision-guided bomb? A ray gun that simply makes people disappear? One of the major horrors of war is the blasted bodies, rotting parts, and bloated intestines, and the stench.
A clean kill is when one person kills another person without actually seeing the death and destruction they are causing. Marlantes goes on to say:
This clean-kill fantasy avoids the darkness. It allows the hero trip without any cost, so of course we fantasize about it.
Marlantes is arguing that the notion of a “clean kill” is dangerous, because it allows a person to kill a person abstractly. It allows the solider to kill without also forcing the soldier to come face to face with the darkness of killing. Marlantes is not saying that it is wrong for a soldier to kill. He is saying that it is dangerous to allow a soldier to kill if that soldier can’t see the real effects of his killing.
As I reflected on this passage, I couldn’t help but think of how easy it is for us to “clean kill” someone online.?
Proverbs 18:21 says:
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
The words we speak and type are powerful. Our words can either be weapons of mass destruction, or instruments of God’s grace. We can impart life through our words, or we can impart death and destruction. Do we take our words seriously?
The computer screen gives us an illusion of safety. Someone posts something on Facebook that we don’t like. We post a hastily composed, somewhat harsh reply. Someone Tweets something that isn’t 100% theologically correct. We immediately reply with a snarky correction. Someone writes a blog post that we disagree with. In the heat of the moment, we rip off a mean, derogatory comment. Someone writes a blog post, criticizing another Christian for this or that. We hop on the bandwagon, posting our own angry criticisms of that Christian. We rant angrily about our political leaders.
The Internet makes it possible for us to speak without seeing the consequences of our speech. I can’t see the tears or sadness that my angry Facebook comment causes. I can’t see the turmoil that my hastily composed, overly-critical email causes. I can’t see the destruction caused by my angry blog post. I’m safe behind my computer screen. I can say whatever I want about a person without having to look that person in the eyes. I can spread whatever rumors I want about a person, without seeing the destructive effects of those rumors.
Are we hiding behind the false safety of our computer screens? Are we prepared to give an account on Judgment Day for every careless word we speak and type (Matt. 12:36)?
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and Tweet, and status update, and email, and blog comment. Are we spreading death or life?