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the open mike

By Diogenes (bio - articles ) | Nov 27, 2007

An article in USA Today touches on blogging among believing Christians, and remarks on the frequently combative nature of the posts:

"For Christ's sake, stop!" declared the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the Rev. Frank Page, pleading for civility in the Baptist blogosphere.

Episcopalians and Anglicans duel incessantly over their faith and future in the Anglican Communion. Catholics focus on every topic from liturgy to law to spirituality.

These are faith bloggers -- uncountable voices who contest, confess and consider religious beliefs, doctrines and denominational politics in their posts. Although every faith has its bloggers, U.S. Christians may be among the most vociferous of the watchdogs, philosophers and ecclesiastical groupies.

Others have noted, correctly I think, that Catholic blogging was given its prime impetus by the clergy sex scandals in 2002, and for eighteen months or so there was a cataract of white-hot opinion uploaded. A passage in Ronald Knox's Enthusiasm comes to mind:

I have been told, in the months immediately following the Russian Revolution, citizens of Petrograd would stand about the streets making interminable political speeches -- you could not stop them talking.

A people too long prevented from saying what is important to them will make the most of the opportunity for self-expression when it arrives, and, when they finally do get the gag removed, their efforts at civility are likely to be modulated by unpleasant memories of their erstwhile censors. While it's not as if conservative Catholics were silenced the way democrats were silenced in Czarist Russia, the principal organs of Catholic opinion (pre-Internet) were in progressivist hands, and were effective at filtering out discordant voices. In 2002, faced with the agonizing revelations of sexual abuse by clergy, and even more with the jaw-dropping insouciance of senior bishops ("We have all been enlightened"), lay Catholics pounced on the chance that blogdom provided to make themselves heard.

Are blogs uncivil? Yes, often. But this incivility is both easily escapable (click!) and easily corrected by edifying counter-example. Blogdom provides the free-est of all free markets. Anyone can participate. There are no scarce commodities. Its resources are infinitely and effortlessly expandable. A man who dislikes the content or tone of one site can shift immediately to a hundred others more conformable to his taste. Those convinced they can do it better themselves are at liberty to try their hand, and that at no cost. If they have something to say, they'll be heard.

For personal blogs at least, no officious editor stands blocking the writer's path. In fact, there's no editor at all, even the helpful sort. That means political timidity and overly-cautious careerism doesn't spike trenchant opinion, and it also means all kinds of boners -- both of fact and judgment -- make it through unchecked. That's the downside to freedom: if a moral entity is free, it's free to speak the truth, but also free to do something stupid or wicked or harmful. On balance the advantages are worth the risk.

A final point that, I think, is often neglected. Most opinion-blogging will be negative in thrust for the same reason that most letters to the editor are negative in thrust: in the public sphere, men are moved to take pen in hand more easily by a sense of injury than a sense of appreciation. But opinion is not the sole offering, and Catholic blogging has also given prominence to a vast number of positive enthusiasms (music, homiletics, patristics, hagiography, liturgy, architecture, church history ...) for which the level of interest and knowledge is astonishing. Before the blogs were big, we might have been able to gauge the dissatisfactions lay Catholics felt toward the Church, but who could have guessed the range and depth of their delight?

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Nov. 28, 2007 3:40 PM ET USA

    "In the public sphere, men are moved to take pen in hand more easily by a sense of injury than a sense of appreciation". That is a really Knoxian comment: profound, true, a generalisation which doesn't generalise, and a wonderfully-balanced sentence. That's why I (and I imagine many others who frequent this site) go to Off the Record before any other blog. Thank you!

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 7:58 PM ET USA

    What about some suggestions where one may find responsible, solid, and thought-provoking blogs? The intellectual life of many Catholics is pretty bleak.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 3:01 PM ET USA

    I assume only modesty prevents your pointing to perhaps the best Catholic blog of all.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 2:27 PM ET USA

    Another article on the internet "Oprah and Friends" to teach course on New Age Christ date Friday, November 9, 2007.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 2:20 PM ET USA

    "in the public sphere, men are moved to take pen in hand more easily by a sense of injury than a sense of appreciation" I'm hurt that you would say such a thing. How offensive...

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 1:41 PM ET USA

    It may be easily escapable (click!) and easily corrected, but it is still (click!) sin. Rare the sinner who says simply "I sin." Instead, he points to circumstances or cloaks it in respectability (like calling it exercising or providing "freedom.") Yet even cyber-space is beyond the realm of our computer-literate Divine Judge, who respects neither blog or blogger. Oh, that one day we are not saying to our screen-savers, "Hide me." And here's my "click.

  • Posted by: - Nov. 27, 2007 10:33 AM ET USA

    "Before the blogs were big, we might have been able to gauge the dissatisfactions lay Catholics felt toward the Church, but who could have guessed the range and depth of their delight?" While the former allows for a needed safety valve of emotions, the latter provides the critical element of that great virtue of Hope. And I am amazed at the youth and frequent erudition of some of our Catholic bloggers.

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