When Jesus spoke to the possessed man at Gesthene, he asked for the demon’s name and it replied, “It is Legion, for we are many.” Scary stuff, to be sure. But when you remove the spirit aspect of this story, the “Legion” is really just one guy. He might have been a tough guy who was really crazy, lived in caves, and cut himself with stones, but it was still only one man. He had the spirit of many, but the body of one.
Spirit need not frighten us. We can see a similar force at work in both television and the Internet, most recently demonstrated when the Legion focused its all-seeing eye on Memories Pizza in Indiana. Caught in a culture war much bigger than the walls of its establishment, the owner of Memories Pizza indicated that she would decline to cater a gay wedding. Quite a piece of one-shot, one-kill “journalism,” as the restaurant and its owners were beset with threats and vitriol until deciding to close.
Of course, Memories Pizza and its owner didn’t actually do anything; no one was denied service, no gay wedding went without pizza. Indeed, there’s no evidence that the Indiana law would have protected the establishment had they in fact declined such a catering job. It was a hypothetical situation that had not been manifested in any form of reality other than a journalist trying to play “Christians say the darndest things.” Thus, it was not a matter of reality, but of spirit and mind. For this, Legion turned its ire upon Memories Pizza. Memories Pizza has thus closed. It shouldn’t have.
The Internet Enables and Amplifies Flash Mobs
It is often quite easy to feel that you are greatly outnumbered and that the entire world is against you, particularly if you have the gall to air your beliefs in the public realm (or be caught in it, in this situation). Social media can seemingly explode with anger at your mention of a political or cultural position that goes against whatever the Video Music Awards are advocating this year. You are beset by Legion.
But are you, really? Two thousand people is a drop in the bucket of the overall population, but when they all turn and look at you it can feel overwhelming. While outrage is nothing new in cultural or political fights, the Internet’s ability to allow individuals to reach people they have never met or places they have never been perpetrates an illusion. Memories Pizza was deluged with one-star ratings by people who had never been to the establishment or sampled its pizza.
It was recently revealed that nearly 70 percent of the criticism lobbed at Rush Limbaugh (which is ample) comes from a small group of activists that have devoted their lives to attempting to make his miserable. However, to view coverage of Limbaugh in television and Internet media, you would think that the entire country is listening and vastly offended at everything he says. You would see and hear what appear to be great swaths of civilization amassing against this radio host. But this is an illusion born of spirit, not of substance, and it is meant to influence the spirit of others. It is necessary to separate the corporeal reality from the illusory zeitgeist.
Few people have time to be so incensed, and those that do should not drive culture. Their offense is an illusion. Their feelings may matter to them, but need not drive discussions and certainly shouldn’t attain such grandiose proportions. Ideas can be debated and talked through, and individuals who maintain a decorum of objective detachment can often find common ground. But fight with a spirit, with irrational rage, and there is no way to find commonality.
The anonymity of the Internet allows this illusion to truly reach its greatest power as a single individual can assume any number of Internet personas that can spew any amount of nonsense and vitriol with no accountability or personal reflection whatsoever. The pseudo-anger and the Internet’s ability to instantaneously connect users can often give the impression of widespread outrage, when really hardly anyone has noticed.
What the Internet Lacks Is Humanity
Most of my friends can be described as liberal or politically left, but this doesn’t stop us from having a good time together and making some jokes that, online, would earn us all the fury of Legion. That my daughter believes she’s a princess does not earn me a lecture on the white male power structure at our backyard BBQs. In essence, the Internet and television lack the humanity that comes with social interaction.
I’m often curious how one of Rush’s Legion of detractors would react to meeting him in person at a dinner party, faced with his humanity. Would the detractor immediately grab the nearest butter knife and attempt to skin Limbaugh? Would he rage and yell and walk out of the social gathering? Probably not. To do so would be a mark of insanity.
Rather, if the subject of politics even came up, it would probably be a reasoned back and forth with both sides conceding to let bygones be bygones. Most likely, nothing would be said, cordial nods of greeting would be exchanged, and everyone would go about his or her life.
Social media and television allow for abstraction, a stripping away of the humanity of both the target and the attacker. We are left with a form of spirit. It is why the perpetually offended are always playing to a sense of moral and spiritual guilt rather than actual guilt stemming from a person’s actions.
The reality is that Internet trolls are probably not crying into their lattes and, if they are, no one should listen to them because, by any account, they are irrational and unstable. People who should probably be placed in the psychiatric ward should not drive culture. Rather, these poor, darlings, the psuedo-offended, are plying for power, and often achiev it through mass manipulation with no bearing in reality.
Just Say No
Was Memories Pizza forced to close because it lost business? No. They didn’t even have sufficient time to go out of business. Did they have a sit-down with a gay customer who discussed with them the finer points of gay marriage? Nope, no time for that, either. Were they even subject to a good-ole-fashioned gay kiss-in? No, the doors are now locked to everybody.
Those who often persevere in the face of spirit are those who face it down, who are not overwhelmed by Legion despite its cacophony of phony voices. The population at large often rewards the ones who can truly stand against the tide. Rush continues with his radio show; Chick- Fil-A continues to grow; The Federalist still gains readers.
In the Biblical story, Legion is a spirit that drove a herd of swine to its death. We should not allow this spirit to infect us. It destroys both our common humanity and our personal souls. We should stand against this illusion, and instead focus on the reality of what is around us rather than what is online or riding invisible airwaves.
Recognizing Legion for what it really is—only a spirit—can strip its power and influence. It just takes the ability to calmly stand there and say, “No.” No, we will not close. No, we won’t stop talking. No, we won’t give up our beliefs. Stand calmly against the zeitgeist, and let Legion be destroyed by its own rage.