It was never easy being a Christian, especially being a Christian who speaks out for their faith. Every morning I wake up to emails that attack me and my Christian faith. Share the tenants of your faith and you are labeled a hateful bigot. This is especially true online — where the majority of today’s cultural conversations are happening.

It might be getting a whole lot worse.

Google recently created a tool that monitors online conversations and identifies what it calls “toxic” comments. The future purpose of the tool is to weed out mean-spirited comments and bullies from the online conversation in order to have a more respectful discussion. Look, if a tool like this works, then I am all for it. Christians, especially, can understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a toxic comment. But even well intentioned tools can be dangerous.

I decided to test out Google’s tool to try and see what the tool considers to be “toxic.” Here are some examples of results that should frighten any Christian.

Phrase: Abortion kills children and harms women — 75% similar to comments people said were “toxic”

Phrase: All children deserve to be born — 44% similar to comments people said were “toxic”

Phrase: Christians are under attack in America — 60% similar to comments people said were “toxic”

Phrase: Christians deserve to live by their faith and conscience — 34% similar to comments people said were “toxic”

Phrase: If Christians do not stand up for their faith they will be silenced — 30% similar to comments people said were “toxic”

Now, I am not sure at what percentage point a comment is removed, but the fact that any of these statements register at any level of toxicity is alarming. These statements are either tenants of our Christian faith or in defense thereof. These statements — all true and all respectfully worded — might one day be removed from the cultural debate online; a place where the future of our culture will be constructed.

Now, to be fair, Google does allow for the user of the test to submit that the rating is in error, but the reality is that Christian speech is already being improperly labeled without the help of an algorithm by an organization that routinely is opposed to the expression of Christian principles.

This is another example of how important it is that Christians speak up and act on their faith, which is the only way we can build a moral world. At Halcyon, we say that we are “connecting truth to action for social good,” and this mission is incredibly important in the context of this post. We cannot be shutout or quieted from speaking the truth, and we can never stop acting on the call of our Christian faith.

I recently came across an article by Milo Yiannopoulos that tries to justify the existence of the alt-right as some sort of new movement that is going to save conservatism. The problem is that Milo and his alt-right movement will not save anything, as they fail to understand that the only social movements worth supporting are those built on hope and love. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”

Milo and the alt-right believe that their aggressive and provocative speech are somehow igniting real change, but the only byproduct of setting a fire is ash. Now, this doesn’t mean that we should not be truth-tellers — which is what the alt-right claims to be — but we must tell the truth in love.

Moreover, according to the article, Milo seems to assert that the alt-right is good simply because he agrees with them. In this manner, Milo and the alt-right are no different than the ideologies on the Left. The Left and alt-right argue that their ideology is “right” simply because they agree with it–not because it is connected to a greater sense of truth and morality. This is textbook polarization, and this idea must ultimately rely on power to win. Unlike other conservatives, the alt-right must have a deep reliance on government authority in order to see their worldview expand. In another article, I wrote that “a society built like this can only accomplish its goals via power, and not constructive debate and compromise, which means America will be shaped by who is in power, and not by a search for what is right and good.” As such, the alt-right is driven by an increasing sense of sameness and homogeneity. Diversity, literally, scares the alt-right and what they claim is the courage to speak out is really just attacking out of the fear that their “tribe” (which is “mostly white, mostly male middle-American radicals”) will lose its strong position. Is this white supremacy? Not according to Milo. His argument is that the alt-right is different than skinheads in that they are smarter. Milo argues that the single greatest difference between skinheads and the alt-right is the level of intelligence.

Maybe this is a foolish perspective, but I suppose if I were associated with the alt-right I would have preferred the single greatest difference between skinheads and the alt-right might be that the alt-right is not racist.

Milo argues that the alt-right must be considered, because it is not going anywhere. This might be true. Milo is a provocateur, and people love entertainment — even when it lacks taste, perhaps especially when it lacks taste. But recently things haven’t worked out so well for Milo, as his provocative style (and allegedly encouraging pedophelia —  a claim he denies) lost him a speaking engagement, then his book deal, then his job — all in less than 100-hours.

Hopefully we are seeing the end of using anger as a catalyst for change, but if not, rest assured that Halcyon will stand firm in our belief that it is better to express the truth in love and to offer real hope for a moral world.

My brother was born with a rare genetic disorder. I can remember learning that something was wrong just after he was born. I was too young to recall all of the details, but it was clear he was different. Daniel, my brother, acts and looks like he has down syndrome, but his condition is actually much worse. He is 24 now, but acts like a very small child.

What does our family think about Daniel? Well, he’s the best!

Sure, there are difficulties, but there are very few people in this world who love as unconditionally as Daniel. In fact, for many families with children that have disabilities, you will hear the same story: a loving, special child who positively impacts the lives of those around him or her. So, hearing that France banned an ad with children and adults that have down syndrome at the off chance it offended someone who aborted their child with a disability was infuriating.

First, ending the life of any child is a horrible social ill that plagues our world; creating the greatest holocaust our world has ever seen (nearly 60 million children have been killed since 1970), but specifically selecting to kill a child with a disability adds a special sense of distortion to the act. The video, which was put out for World Down Syndrome Day, is titled Dear Future Mom, and features children and adults with down syndrome that explain how good their lives are and what amazing things they can do. This positive video deserves to be seen, but France believes that abortion is more important than the truth that these beautiful human beings, who also happen to have a disability, live productive and joyful lives. They are an inspiration, and that is what a pro-abortion France is most afraid of.

To make matters worse, according to the Catholic Herald, “a law has been passed in France banning pro-life websites which attempt to dissuade women from having abortions without making clear they are pro-life.” French law already doesn’t allow individuals who are pro-life to demonstrate outside of abortion clinics, and now they will be fined for advocating for life online.

A society that fails to protect life from conception to natural death can never have a proper understanding of human dignity, and France has proven again and again that it has no respect for the value and dignity of human life — specifically the most vulnerable among us.

The Halcyon Movement is an organization concerned with culture, and January was a very big month with Trump’s inauguration, the women’s march, the march for life, the 44th year of Roe v. Wade’s existence, almost daily protests, the immigration ban . . . I could keep going. Our culture is in a very interesting (and tumultuous) moment where we face crossroads on many issues — and people are worked up about it.  

Interested in what the data could show us about how individuals are interacting, we started to go through all of the engagement to determine what insights we could glean from the interactions. We used four mediums to gather data: surveys, petitions, emails, and engaged in conversations — then we used a mixed method analysis of the data. The subject matter was centered around faith, abortion, morality, and President Trump. In the end, we discovered four insights:

1. Our country is very (like VERY) divided

The polarization was apparent. The rates of division hung around 50%, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the country is split 50/50, but it is a signal that the middle is either becoming a smaller demographic, or is being marginalized (more on that next). There were not a ton of responses where people were asking for more information or clarity, and instead were much more likely to offer their opinion. As such, the concept of “truth-seeker” did not exist on either side of the cultural debates discussed.

Another interesting division was around President Trump. There were people who truly believed that President Trump was not a respectable or worthy president, and as such offered no possibility to be “won over.” In contrast, there were people that argued that the President was an honorable man of his word, and would absolutely fulfill his campaign promises. There was little (read that zero) responses that articulated a position that would effectively give the President a chance at success despite their current perception of Trump.

2. People are not willing to have a constructive debate (read that as people are mean)

This insight was so strong that we have already put out a post talking about it, which can be found here. This insight might extend beyond our data, as Sen. Marco Rubio discussed it on the Senate floor on February 07 (video below). Rubio’s impression that “we are becoming a society incapable of having a debate anymore” is echoed in the responses to our content. Sen. Rubio’s words capture the sentiment:

I don’t know of a civilization in the history of the world that’s been able to solve its problems when half the people in a country absolutely hate the other half of the people in that country.

The one important element missing from the discussions in responses was the active moderate voice. Extremists (based on their responses) were much more likely to comment, whereas moderates were content to just “Like” a message or respond with a “yes” in agreement. Left-leaning users were more likely to engage, and responders on both sides of each issue were aggressive. This may mean that there is very little room for a moderate to debate without getting attacked by both sides. (Oddly enough, Halcyon was called both a “right wing zealot” and “liberal, left-leaning communists” on the same piece of content; a piece urging President Trump to keep his pro-life campaign promises — we had a good laugh, and then a good scare in realizing people aren’t even reading anything anymore and are just shouting opinionated nonsense — our data agreed with our fears.)

3. Issues are no longer separated from ideological positions

There does not seem to be a divide on specific issues, and instead people tend to take on a tribe mentality. One person emailed and said she “would be a pro-life Democrat if there was such a thing anymore,” which illustrates perfectly how the divides are constructed along ideologies and not issues. Anecdotally, this means that there are fewer common ground areas or issues that people can find with one another (at least in regards to the cultural questions we discussed). Respondents were either Right, Left, or silent. As Sen. Rubio states, “What’s at stake here tonight . . . is not simply some rule, but the ability of the most important nation on earth to debate in a productive and respectful way the pressing issues before it.”

The keywords here are productive and respectful. This type of debate is not happening (see insight #2).

4. Tolerance was never really a thing

So, we didn’t conduct a question or put out content on tolerance specifically, but I think it is important to discuss in the context of the responses. The idea of tolerance — at least in my lifetime — came to the forefront of the cultural debate on marriage. The problem is, as we now have hindsight, no ever really intended to be tolerant — on either side . . . on any issue. The hypocrisy on both sides of the divide is thick. It is basically a matter of “so long as I agree it is fine,” and that sort of action will always polarize, as it fails to allow for larger concepts of governance and morality to hang above and guide our personal opinions and positions. A society built like this can only accomplish its goals via power, and not constructive debate and compromise, which means America will be shaped by who is in power, and not by a search for what is right and good.

So, what is Halcyon doing about it?

OK, so you got this far, which probably means you’re pretty discouraged by the state of our culture. We get it, which is exactly why The Halcyon Movement exists. Our mission is to connect truth to action for social good. We believe that morality should guide us — not political tribes. There are wide, diverse issues that our culture faces. Instead of seeking answers through power and a relativistic personal truth, we believe in external truth that can be found in natural law and faith. But how we share our belief is important as well (I mean, just look at the insights to see that sharing is now really just a shouting match). We are called to tell the truth, and live it out in love. We have specific positions at Halcyon, but our positions, like valuing all life at all stages, exist because we believe in faith, hope, and love. These elements — faith, hope, and love — must also be evident in how we communicate and interact.

The Halcyon Movement is building a better, more moral world by engaging with hundreds of thousands of people and creating campaigns that deliver practical cultural change. The division must stop, and we must replace it with hope and a search for truth — a hope in something greater than ourselves, and a truth rooted in the foundational values set forth by God to guide mankind towards love and community.

Louis CK

A few days ago I went to the store with my wife, kids, and mother-in-law. We walked through the sliding glass doors, grabbed a cart, and started to look through the produce. My son made a joke, and we laughed — we were having a really good time together.

Then my phone let out a familiar ring letting me know I had received an email.

Out of habit (a nasty habit) I grabbed my phone and read the two messages in my inbox. The first was an email condemning Halcyon’s work, and letting me know that what we’re doing is horrible; it was signed “pro-choice.” The second email let me know that I was not, in fact, the owner of that person’s uterus or that person’s “choice.”

My initial reaction was to be discouraged. I thought to myself “these women don’t know me, and if they did they probably wouldn’t attack me personally.” This is the internet, I thought, where fake courage determines our actions.

Let me take a second to explain fake courage.

I was listening to a comedy station on the radio, and they played a Louis CK skit on road rage. Here is an excerpt (altered to remove the bad language):

I wasted a lot of time just being angry people I don't know. You know, it's amazing how nasty we can get as people depending on the situation. Most people are okay, but if you put people in certain contexts they just change, like when I'm in my car I have a different set of values.  I am the worst person I can be. When I'm behind the wheel, which is when I'm at my most dangerous that's when you need to be the most compassionate and responsible of any other time in your life because you are . . . driving a weapon amongst weapons, and yet it's the worst people get, and I'm, I'm the worst. 
One time I was driving, and there was a guy ahead of me . . . [and] he sort of drifted into my lane for a second and this came out of my mouth, I said, “worthless piece of crap!” What an indictment! What kind of way is that to feel about another human being? That's somebody's son! 
I was once driving a pickup truck and yelled out my window, “Hey, screw you!” Where outside of a car is that even nearly OK? If you are in an elevator and you're like right next to a person, and he leaned in to you a little bit would you ever turn right to their face and say, “Screw you! Worthless piece of crap!” Literally zero people would ever do that, but put a couple of pieces of glass and some road between and there's nothing you would not say to them.
“I hope you die,” I said that to a person! “I hope you die,” why because you made me [move my steering wheel] for half a second of my life; testing my reflexes and it worked out fine, so now I hope your kids grew up motherless.
I mean what am I capable of? I'd like to think that I'm a nice person, but I don't know, man.

This scenario, which we’ve all probably experienced or committed, is a perfect illustration of how some of us act on the internet. We don’t consider the fact that there is, to use Louis CK’s words, “another human being . . . somebody’s son [or daughter]” receiving your angry message. But our “fake courage,” a bravery that comes out when you don’t have to actually consider the humanity of the person you’re speaking to, dominates our social media conversations.

I think real courage is treating people on the internet like, well, real people. That doesn’t mean you can’t tell the truth or share your opinion — just do so in a way that considers the dignity of the other person.