Yet sometimes wholly entertaining.
And on even rarer occasions, educational.
Reader feedback to Internet articles can run the gamut, from weird and farcical to worthless and vehement. Depending on the website, some of the feedback, such as the jaded retorts posted by stressed-out New York Post readers, can make me laugh out loud.
And other times, on sites owned by organizations as varied as the Bangor Daily News and the Wall Street Journal, reader feedback can actually make me think.
For example, in responding to a New York Times story that Wall Street darling Rajat Gupta will be formally charged with insider trading, one reader claiming to live on Manhattan's conservative Upper East Side appears to rise to Gupta's defense. Of course, there's no way of knowing whether this reader lives in New York, or if they're even related to Gupta, but it doesn't really matter. The way they marginalize the charges against Gupta and champion his good deeds echos the manner in which many of us leaven the bad we do with the good.
See for yourself, in what this reader has to say on Gupta's behalf:
"Rajat was an inspiration to his colleagues at McKinsey and to many other immigrants. A brilliant career in shambles because of ambition, not greed. It is however important to remember the many acts of kindness and philanthropy of the Gupta family so that the good does not get interred with the ashes and the bad remembered.
Rajat was not a regular Wall Streeter, and nor was he a greedy, conniving get ahead-at-all-costs type of person. He did succumb to temptation, and did break the rules. He did no harm to the elderly and infirm, and did not bilk anyone out of their savings. So despite everything, he will be remembered as a gracious and generous person who fell to Earth.
I do hope that he escapes the harsh punishment meted out to Rajaratnam [a recently convicted Wall Street guru], cruel and unusual in that at their ages, these are life sentences. They were not evil people, and in the balance, did a lot more good and saved a lot more lives than most of us ever will."
- New York Times reader feedback from someone identifying themself as "comorin," 10/25/11
Of course, like anybody else accused of a crime, Gupta should be considered innocent until proven guilty. Which makes it ironic that even in their defense, this writer assumes Gupta probably is guilty of the charges being made against him.
Yet away they go, rationalizing the behavior for which Gupta is being accused against all of the good he's done as an employer and philanthropist.
The methodology that got him into trouble is characterized as ambition, rather than greed, since it's greed that makes people bad. Whereas without ambition, society wouldn't go anyplace.
But it's not that Gupta isn't a bad person. We're all bad people, aren't we? Some of us may be more law-abiding than others, our ethics may be more inscrutable than those of others, and our motivations more socially-acceptable than those of others. But none of us are good.
At least, not according to the Bible.
There is no one who is righteous, remember? Christ died for all, because all have sinned. I once had a pastor who was fond of saying, "it's not why bad things happen to good people, but why do good things happen to bad people."
Whether the writer of this online response supporting Gupta's generosity knows it or not, they're describing a works-based salvation. Which might have some leverage in a court of law, although considering the level of financial crimes for which he's being accused, probably not in this case. Personally, I suspect that he's being made a scapegoat for far grander frauds that have been perpetrated by people far more powerful than he is. Or was.
But assuming, for the sake of argument, that Gupta is guilty as charged: can a moral scale balance out between the crimes we intentionally commit, and the beneficence we show others? In my quick research of Gupta, I've learned that he indeed was a hard-working and bright man, highly respected in America's Indian community, as well as his native country. He's served on boards as prestigious as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as Indian-centric and poverty-centric organizations.
You might fault him for his politics, which tend to lean towards the liberal side, but certainly not his humanity. Or at least, that's what this one defender of his in the Times assumes.
But who can purchase moral innocence? Granted, the wealthier and better-connected a person is in our society, the greater the chances of getting a reduced sentence or even being found not guilty as charged. But at the end of the day, the court of public opinion only holds so much clout.
And in the eyes of our holy Creator, none at all.
Just as this is true for Gupta and anybody who gets accused of trading insider information, no matter the extent of their philanthropy, it's true for the rest of us who dabble in sins just as heinous in God's eyes, but less newsworthy in the media's.
The fact that we can't buy God's grace makes it that much more valuable. He doesn't do deals of any kind.
A truth I pray that Gupta, and his defender in the Times, soon learn for themselves.
Again, by God's grace.