The mbox file that piqued my interest was alt.fan.jesus-christ.mbox. I’m not a particularly religious person, but I grew up in a Catholic family and attended both Catholic grade school and high school. I was interested in the rules and regulations on a religious forum on Usenet to see if it would be any different than typical Usenet groups where explicit discourse is tolerated. Surprisingly, the people in the group kept the conversations pleasant for the most part.
There is an informal FAQ that was published on January 1st, 2005, the day this Usenet group was created. Dr. Andrew Chung, the creator of the jesus-christ group, as well as sci.med.cardiology used this FAQ for both of his communities. Dr. Chung provides a summary about himself and what his two pages are about if the prospective community member does not want to read the FAQs.
The summary goes as follows:
Dr. Chung is a well-respected licensed cardiologist, who is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiology (cardiovascular medicine). In this capacity, he responds truthfully to medical questions. He does this out of sincere altruism when he has spare time outside his private cardiology practice, where he sees patients as a board-certified cardiologist. If that was all he were, there would probably be no controversy.
The controversy arises from Dr. Chung being unashamedly Christian, in particular:
- He continues to publicly profess that Christ is his personal Lord and Savior
- He freely helps people to lose weight in an altruistic Christian fashion
- When attacked on the above issues, he turns the other cheek in a Christian manner
- When challenged about his faith in Christ, he witnesses steadfastly without hatred
- When insulted for his faith in Christ, he openly calls it a blessing
- He remains truthful, as a servant of Christ, despite being maliciously libeled and defamed
- Other Christians have affirmed Dr. Chung’s strong faith in Christ
The FAQ does not lay out strict restrictions/guidelines for how the group should proceed. Instead, it is perfectly fitting that this Christian-oriented group expects the members to act in a mild, respectful manner. That’s not to say this discussion forum is a bunch of priests responding to each other. Some of the questions and threads that are had in this group are on topics that would never be discussed in a religious setting. The Usenet forum allows people to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask while remaining anonymous over the computer instead of in person. Especially in the jesus-christ forum, people are able to step a little outside the box and have conversations and even debates about Christianity’s role in unconventional topics/ways. The threads that were of particular interest were the ones that you wouldn’t hear in a typical Bible study discussion. They pushed the envelope with threads like “God is Dead” and “A Christian View on the War on Drugs.”
I took a deeper look into “A Christian View on the War on Drugs Part 2,” where there was a debate over whether marijuana is the “devil’s work” and if it is a temptation that should be resisted at all costs.
The thread starts off with email@example.com providing extensive evidence as to why marijuana should be legalized and how awful the misinformation on marijuana has been over the years. In between each piece of evidence, he provides Bible verses from Proverbs 6:16-19 and John 8:44.
The first reply was met with resounding agreement:
“AMEN, brother. I know very few Christians who have opened their eyes to this stupid prohibition. I am glad you are one of them.
Imprisoning a pot smoker is stupid, he has hurt no one. And if we Christians do not stand up against the injustice of the war on drugs, more and more pot smokers will close their minds and hate Christians, and ignore the Gospel.”
Another user calls the overall Christian community “incredibly hypocritical” to look down upon marijuana smokers while they “sit back and drink their Coors.” The first three users on this thread see no reason as to why people caught with marijuana should be incarcerated and placed in the same building as murderers and molesters.
The following reply took a polar opposite approach from the first two. The user leads off with,
“Drugs are just one of many devices Satan uses to get a foothold in our lives.” He immediately associates Satan with marijuana and continues to apply pressure by saying, “How do you feel after getting high? Do you feel that getting high pleases the Lord? Would you get high if Jesus were standing there, watching you? He is.”
The back-and-forth continues throughout the thread, although the majority of responses take the stance of anti-incarceration for marijuana smokers. The overarching theme of this thread, as well as the overall forum, is that it is a place for Usenet frequents to debate over the age-old question of “What would Jesus do?” One user even brought up how Jesus was often criticized by religious leaders for his propensity to consume wine while on his tour of lectures and lessons.
Most of the thread agrees with the original post by firstname.lastname@example.org until someone by the name of Jenn steps in and puts an abrupt end to the conversation. She says, “Actually, shouldn’t this say “One Christian’s View of the War on Drugs”? I guess I don’t think this person could speak for me.”
Alt.fan.jesus-christ does not have formal rules and regulations, but instead relies on informal moderation and social norms to foster civil discourse. As a Christian-based discourse should be run, there are no restrictions on who can access/join the group. Dr. Chung promotes an inclusive environment to discuss Jesus and Christianity from any perspective. The expectation that members can debate respectfully is appreciated by those in the forum. There are no restrictions on the topics that should/shouldn’t be discussed, which promotes a culture where unconventional topics are discussed. As highlighted by “A Christian View on the War on Drugs Part 2,” non-mainstream Christian perspectives are encouraged and welcomed in this community. A minority view of the Christian community on marijuana was presented in the forum, and many people agreed with the comments made by the user.
The regulations on this forum align with Dr. Chung’s vision. Discussing Jesus Christ should be inclusive in nature, and he does a great job of promoting a Christian safe space for obscure questions regarding faith.