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Recreational Discussion Among Catholics?

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Sep 02, 2005

I’ve been wondering lately whether there is any interest in recreational discussion among the supporters of CatholicCulture.org. Several years ago, when we went by the name of PetersNet, we sponsored discussion forums for members on a variety of Catholic topics, and a number of other Catholic web sites continue to provide this same service. But what about recreational forums where our good Catholic supporters can meet to discuss interests like cooking, gardening and sports?

When we did host discussion groups, we found that at best 25% of members participated and the discussion groups were quickly dominated by a few super-interested people. Sometimes the dominant personalities could be rather heavy-handed with those who were less knowledgeable or less well-formed in their Faith. I’m referring here to ‘Catholic’ topics such as doctrine, Scripture, spirituality, Canon Law, evangelization, religious education, and so on. As time went on, the discussions seemed to take more and more work to keep balanced, while fewer and fewer people benefited. Eventually we dropped them.

But perhaps Catholics would really enjoy being able to get to know other Catholics who share the same hobby and recreational interests. Perhaps such discussion groups would provide a relaxing way to enjoy each other’s company without becoming polemical. Perhaps a large percentage of supporters would participate, and perhaps more people would become supporters so that they could participate as well.

Practical Considerations

A word is in order on why participation would be restricted to supporters. Free forums are a recipe for disaster, because they inevitably attract various annoying and hostile types who ruin the experience for everyone else. To do free forums right, they must be carefully monitored, and comments need to be screened by a moderator. That’s a great deal of work, and it severely limits the spontaneity and flexibility of the discussion. Experience shows that when you restrict online forums to people who have paid even a very small amount, you eliminate 95% of the work and 99% of the problems.

As for topics, we would have to choose carefully. Given the size of our user base, we are more likely to have a successful general Sports forum than a successful Golf forum. Similarly, a general Cooking forum would probably work better than a forum devoted to Appetizers. The same would be true of Gardening and, say, Roses. Personally, I’d love to have a Sailing forum, but Boating or even Travel would probably work better unless we attract huge numbers to the discussions. Other broad topics might include Arts and Crafts, Music, and even Family Fun.

Now, the downside of recreational forums on a Catholic web site is that such forums exist in other venues where religion doesn’t matter, and most often the discussions are perfectly enjoyable. Feeling a little more comfortable with committed Catholics, and wanting to get to know more of them better, may not justify reinventing the recreational discussion wheel here on CatholicCulture.org. On the other hand, for example, there are ethical issues in sports, feast days for cooking, and spiritual traditions in gardening (including Mary gardens) where a common point of view would be very refreshing.

So I’ve been wondering whether this is a good idea. Please help me out by letting me know what you think.

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

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