Sunday, May 30, 2004

Don't Touch It, Mommy: It's Evil

Vagante Christian sites are one thing. Here and there you come upon unmitigated cults.

Some time back a group of us had a run-in with the minions of one "Michael Travesser", known at birth as Wayne Bent. He had a plethora of websites, all of which now claim to be closed. In earlier months they had the words of the "master" with appropriately doting (but content-free) responses from his followers. He also had a bad habit of stealing copyrighted photos from other sites.

ROAC at least makes some pretense at normality. These cultish sites are obviously nuts. Don't go there.

A Bad Example

The ROAC America website is a nice, small example of a bad denominational website. It doesn't work in Lynx; and it has a ton of stuff on it that doesn't do a thing for anyone who actually is looking for information, but which together take quite a while to download over a phone line.

When one starts looking at the options, one can see right away that this is a vagante sect, in schism from a more respectable body. We're in crypto-Orthodoxy here, so, naturally there is a list of succession given; there's also a long, crankish rant against their immediate progenitors and nearly every other substantial Orthodox body. After that, a look at their parish listing shows that their real presence is negligible.

The old version of the website was at least obvious in its pretentions. Now you have to go a level deeper.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Denomination Websites

OK, again, this shouldn't be so difficult. There are a few things which should be linked to right from the front page:

  • A parish locator

  • A directory of church organizations

  • A history

  • An indication of how this denomination is different from the others

A nice, easy-to-figure-out set of theological statements isn't bad either.

But then you get to idiocies like The Episcopal Church website. OK: first of all, the entrance wastes a huge chunk of bandwidth being totally obscure. Then when you get in, it's hard to tell what any link is. The whole thing makes it hard to find any particular information there.

Church Websites

Parishes and congregations should have websites. (Since I'm Episcopalian, I'm going to use parish for the rest of this.) But it seems to me that a lot of the sites don't understand what they are doing.

A big issue about websites in general is that they are different from advertising, and this is especially true of parish websites. As a rule, people who come looking for a church website are already aware that the parish exists. Typically they are looking for information about the parish. Therefore the crucial information should be on the front: address, phone number, service schedule, affiliation, names of principal clergy. Nobody should have to click through for any of this.

If there are going to be pictures, one should be a good shot of the exterior, and another should be a good shot of the interior. And they should be easy for the outsider to find. I see too many websites where all the pictures are of crowds of people shot at church picnics where even parishioners would have a hard time figuring out who is who.

And the sales pitch: look, if you say that you are a "community of caring people", I'm going to figure out that somebody in a position of power at the parish is more interested in appearance than reality. Nobody can tell whether you are caring over the internet, and most of them aren't in a position to find out, either. I expect all parishes to be caring, and I'm disappointed when I find one that isn't. But that's not what a church's first job is. Its first job is to do the communal worship on Sunday morning, and if I visit a parish on a trip, what I expect out of it is good worship by reasonably friendly people. Well, and a jump start if I have a dead battery in the parking lot, but that's not a high standard to meet.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Religion and the Public Life

(with apologies to Richard John Neuhaus)

Way too much of the political talk on the internet is stupid. It's stupid in that it represents nothing more than the speaker's alignment with some political camp. Too many liberal democrats refuse to admit that Bill Clinton was less than an exemplar; too many conservative Republicans can't admit that George Bush the younger has presided over a war of dubious legitimacy and scurrilous tactics.

If it's stupid when it's just politics, it's stupid squared when it comes to religion. I have no use for the secularist theory that religion can't enter into politics. I'm going to vote my religion, thank you. But you have to be a complete idiot to think that the political parties aren't using their religious hangers-on.

Instead, we see conservative groups in most bodies whose online discussions sound like a bunch of College Republicans. Come on, guys: show some independent thought! Question the president-- before his minions question you! Gee, don't you think there might be something unChristian (not to mention politically foolish) about establishing a policy of torturing captives?

Not that the liberals are an improvement. alt.religion.christian.episcopal, when it isn't being overrun by crossposts, is largely an outpost of Integrity. It's yet another example of the way that mainline churches find their morality dictated to them by the world, rather than the other way around.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

One Sign

A good sign of a vagante church is a listing of their apostolic succession!

Bullhorns For Everyone

One of the fundamentals of the internet is that it makes everyone VERY LOUD. You have to look into a site to tell the real from the bogus, the powerful from the sidelines, and the knowledgable from the blowhards. Not that you don't get clues right away. It's pretty easy to tell that The Episcopal Church website is for a real church. (It's also a lousy website, but I'll get back to that. It's also pretty easy to figure out that the ROAC-America site is for a splinter sect-- the .com suffix is a dead giveaway if nothing else.

But getting someone to throw together a decent website isn't too hard, and when you hit a forum or newsgroup the likelyhood that a lot of the most active participants are young men with too much time on their hands is not immediately evident.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

The Point Is

The thing is that on-line religion is only a little like church. I've been active in computer "discussion" of religion almost since there was any such discussion, and I've see a lot of craziness. Oh, and a lot of good people too, trying to swim upstream against the torrent of idiocy. I intend to talk here about this and also various other random comments about good and bad Christianity.