Yesterday, Twitter quite literally reached new heights after Pope Benedict VXI opened a Twitter account, collecting nearly half a million followers in less than 24 hours. The @pontifex account won’t even begin posting until next week, yet already has 491,186 followers (as of press time).

If you know anything about the Internet, you’ll feel no surprise upon learning that the majority of those followers (at least, the most vocal ones) are not devout Catholics eagerly awaiting word from their earthly spiritual leader but people with an extremely dim view of either the Pope and Roman Catholic Church in particular, or religion and its adherents in general.

I confess: me too. As an agnostic and a feminist, I have a low opinion of any religious organization whose behavior asserts that having a vagina precludes one from holding leadership positions, but being a kid-rapist can be overlooked. (I’m none too fond of the church’s insistence that “religious freedom” means my insurance company should exclude gender-specific body parts from my medical coverage, either, but that’s a different issue.)

Still, I facepalmed my way through the tweets aimed at the Pope, despite my admitted agreement with many of the sentiments expressed. I share the scathing contempt that inspires people to, for example, make explicit, unflattering comparisons of church policies regarding vaginas versus rapists, and obviously I’m not averse to making such comparisons myself … at least on my own blog, or for a secular and oft-snarky website.

But I don’t troll Catholic web forums to say this. I haven’t tweeted anything to the Pope, either. And even if I did …I don’t know. Maybe I’d still tweet vagina/rapist comparisons, or be one of the thousands who re-tweeted Frankie Boyle’s theological question:

He’s as rude as I am, pontificating about the pontiff here in my op-ed, but at least we both make valid points even if we’re vulgar about expressing them. The church really does grant men and women different rights, and truly has a proven record of enabling and covering up for priests who molest their underage parishioners. You needn’t be an anti-Catholic bigot to find fault with this.

Jokes about actual church behavior are one thing. But many of the tweets aimed at the Pope or his followers are something else entirely.

Which make me cringe. Not because I respect the Pope; ironically, it’s because I mostly don’t. I wish his church would end its appalling policies and practices regarding child abuse and gay-bashing, women’s issues, non-procreative sexuality and myriad other matters. I don’t know what will eventually inspire rank and file Catholics to demand such changes, but it definitely won’t be some unimaginative jackass braying “fuck you, Pope” to his followers on Twitter.  

It reminds me of the idiots whose behavior implies that they truly, honestly believe the best way to win friends, influence people and persuade their fellow voters to withdraw support from any of Obama’s policies is with childish or racist sneers about “President Burka Obummer” or “the Kenyan” or “his veggie-eating wife has beefy arms, ha ha.”

Side note: I voted for Obama in 2008, because I thought he’d be better on civil liberties than Bush. And I was wrong. I don’t remember specifically what changed my mind—it was well before November 2010, when I quit flying and wrote a column calling the Transportation Security Administration’s then-new groping policy “state-sponsored sexual harassment”—but I can tell you this: for all of us former Obama supporters who now view the president’s civil liberty record with dismay, none of us changed our minds because we thought: "Yeah, I'm totally copacetic with what he’s doing about drone warfare, the NDAA suspension of habeas corpus, the TSA’s insistence that the constitution does not apply to American transportation infrastructure.... wait a minute! Is that a frothy, spittle-drenched 140-character rant about Bathhouse Barry, the gay-loving Sharia-law Kenyan in the White House? Whoa! Consider my mind CHANGED, honey. This former Obama voter now says: impeach him!”

Trust me: that never happens. And doubting Catholics don’t leave the church because someone sneers about Pope Poophead, and (I know, this hardly matters anymore), those former Bush supporters who changed their minds sometime between 2000 and 2008 didn’t change because they were persuaded by eloquent diatribes against Bushitler, either.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying such things to vent, blow off steam or amuse like-minded friends. Just understand that preaching to the choir doesn’t win new converts … and if you’re too crass, there’s a good chance you’re making your own side look pretty bad.

Some people understand this better than others. Remember the 2004 presidential election? It was like a mirror image of 2012: an unpopular incumbent president still won re-election after the opposing party nominated an even more unpopular candidate from Massachusetts.

Throughout that election season, the LA Times printed many political-themed emails, including one presumably written by a Democratic fan of vice-presidential candidate John Edwards:

“The debates were great and Edward clearly got the best of ol' Halliburton Dickie. I know the GOP will start to spin this as soon as they can to make it look like Cheney was [word missing].”

The Times later determined that email was actually sent by a registered Republican writing under a fake name. A sleazy political stunt to be sure, but the man understood that talking about “ol’ Halliburton Dickie” does indeed make somebody look bad, and that somebody is not Dick Cheney.

I wish the alleged civil liberties fans and child-rape opponents who rant about Obummer the Kenyan Usurper or self-fucking pontiffs understood that, too.

Photo via orsorama/Flickr