Godwin’s Law states:
As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.
Mike Godwin has written about the law that “its purpose has always been rhetorical and pedagogical: I wanted folks who glibly compared someone else to Hitler or to Nazis to think a bit harder about the Holocaust.”
And this is the spirit in which I’ve always understood it. There are, indeed, thought processes and rationalizations that are eerily similar to “Hitlerian rhetoric” (if I may paraphrase Stephen Fry). And so, there are times when such a comparison may be valid. But more times than not, the comparison is inaccurate and made out of sheer laziness, as though ole Adolf was a trump card.
But Godwin’s Law is mostly only applicable to political discussions. Yes, sometimes the issues are moral or spirtual, but they still have a distinct political bent to them (e.g. issues surrounding abortion). Yet the same laziness that made Godwin’s Law necessary is prevalent in many online theological discussions.
My first thought was how Matthew 7:16 gets twisted to mean that if you do one thing that I don’t like, then I am capable of reading all of your innermost thoughts and commenting on them definitively and publicly.
Or how “another gospel” (Galatians 1:9) has been twisted to mean “anything with which I disagree”.
And let’s not forget the all-purpose barn-burner: emergent (which apparently encompasses everything I don’t believe in — even when two thoughts are contradictory).
But we really need a person, not a concept.
Brian McLaren? Nah. He’s so last decade.
Rob Bell? Nah. He’s so earlier this year. Even the recent announcement of his departure from the pulpit only produced a brief ripple in all but the craziest corners of the blogosphere.
Besides which, there are plenty of people who haven’t heard of either of these guys.
Rick Warren? Now we’re getting somewhere with the recognizability factor. But more and more of the criticisms of him are either over old stuff, misinterpretation of stuff, or can’t withstand any real logic (or some combination of the three). So he’s not really a legitimate whipping boy anymore.
So who then? And then it hit me.
As an online theological discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Oprah Winfrey approaches 1.
As with Godwin’s Law, there are cases where the comparison rings true. But let’s be honest. For quite a while and probably for many years to come, Winfrey has become the poster child for “any spiritual belief that is less rigorous than my own”.
So in the words of Phil Esterhaus, let’s be careful out there — let’s not play the O-card too quickly.
Waters’ Corollary to Godwin’s Law. I’ll be over here holding my breath, waiting for the Wikipedia update.