Friday, June 09, 2006

Paul Zahl on Blogging Ethics

I think Zahl has it all wrong. It's not the lack of real names that creates the ethical problems. Sure, it might be nice to be able to know who to sue (though I wouldn't be adverse to appearing as 'Friskiness T. Gunrunning' if it came to that). But the bigger problems have more to do with the form than they have to do with obvious anonymity.

It's all Rush Limbaugh's fault.

No, seriously. Blogs have a lot in common with Rush's old "rant and take calls" format than they do with online fora or newsgroups. It was his program that established the "dittohead" phenomenon, where Rush postificated and his groupies called in to give "what he said" responses. Blogs are prone to the same sort of behavior, except amplified in the usual way the computers allow.

Successful blogs develop a following, and that following is rather often of like-minded people. And especially if the blogger comes on strong in expressing his positions, it's pretty likely that contrary responses get jumped on by the crowd. The result can be a kind of gang attack. But surprisingly the ethical problems appear when the blogger tries to rein this in, since his forms of control all involve some sort of censorship. Some people are just disruptive, and there's not much that can be done about them except ban them. But almost anyone with a contrary position can be taken as disruptive, because the most harmonious state is where never a constrasting view is heard. And that's where the really pernicious problems lie, because the temptation will be to falsify the history of the discussion by deleting or altering posts. And in religious discussion, there is the further temptation of interpreting contrary views as being immoral not just in their content, but simply in their stating. The expression of dissent is then transformed into bad manners-- and therefore it can be suppressed.

Thus tendency is to turn a blog into a little pool of the like-minded, openly hostile to dissent. And the world of bloggers turns into a bunch of little armed villages.

Bad manners? I don't think ending anonymity is really enough of a protection against that. After all, Dr. Zahl himself has been pilloried at length for "uncharitable" and excessive acts and statements he has made in public under his own name, as for instance when he refers to "the steamroller of what we now call 'revisionism'". It was an absurd statement, but putting his name to it didn't seem to curb his tongue. And conversely, as computers amplify anything else they offer the opportunity for the anonymous to abuse an e-mail address by bombarding it with abuse too.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Internet Theologian Tells All

Although he isn't Terry Mattingly, the Internet Theologian is very funny-- not to mention full of insights:

The Internet Theologian Explains The Da Vinci Code

"The time has come for some kind of crib sheet for the confused and frightened, a handy, easy-to-use reference guide for identifying some of the key denominations, terms, and concepts in Christianity.This, however, is not that guide."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

From Touchstone: "No More Hims of Praise"

(Tip to Wyclif)

According to Anthony Esolen, writing in Touchstone magazine, comments on the hymnal version of the latest trend in liturgy emasculation. It's bad enough in The Hymnal 1982 that there's hardly a male pronoun in the whole thing other than those referring to God. The resulting Bowdlerization is often painfully unpoetic (or at least jarring, to those of us who remember the real words), but at least they aren't heretical.

Well, apparently that wasn't enough. So here we have a familiar hymn as further corrected by some RC hymnodist:

Praise the Lord for grace and favor
To all people in distress,
Praise God, still the same as ever,
Slow to chide and swift to bless.
Alleluia, alleluia! Glorious now God’s faithfulness.
Does that not fill you with holy fervor? No? So what if the grammar is a little, um, tenuous. So what if the awkward chisel marks of political correctness mar the finish. After all, we can do without beauty in liturgy, can't we?

Frankly, I had hoped this disease could be confined to the pages of Enriching Our Worship or other follies of Anglican liturgical revisionism. And kept there, and never approved for permanent use. Or better still, suppressed. What is most striking about the ongoing revision of ECUSA liturgy is the utter denial of the past. I don't buy Peter Toon's attacks on the 1979 BCP for a minute, but the differences between it and subsequent trial liturgies puts 1979 in the bizarre position of arch-conservatism. Structurally 1928 and 1979 are very different; theologically (except for some questionable changes in the ordinal) they are different points on a continuum of emphasis. These new works are emphatically not, to the point where I must reject them.

If we can't say the ancient names of God, we have cut ourselves off from the Church. For the church must be able to tell us something about God, and surely His names would count as a pretty crucial "something". So what we are getting is a reversion to ante-Nicene Christianity-- the bad part, what with Gnostics and various anti-trinitarian heresies. In the Pagels/Ehrmann fantasy world of a Jesus perverted by the church this might make sense, but that world isn't the real world. In this world, when the church is set up as teaching that everything it had to say for the last 1600 years, both morally and theologically, is dubious if not outright in error, there's every reason to turn away from that church, or at least from those who present it that way.

If Jesus calls God "father", and commands us to do the same, who are we to improve upon his morals and his theology? Let Confessing Reader's daughter have the last word: “That’s just stupid.”

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Discussion of the Diocese of Washington expose in Father Jake's blog has escalated from the original point to commendations of Bishop Chane's supposed courage and a long sermon that begins:
Building is slow, sometimes painful. It requires continued daily effort over time. Ages, centuries.

Destruction is quick. It’s done in no time. It doesn’t cost anything (apart from what’s destroyed).

Courage; yes this is rare in deed. And Bishop Chane is courageous. And no one have stood up to defend and support him.
I don't think what Chane is doing requires any courage, but that's not the point. To do justice to the author's work would require quoting almost all of it, but by the time we get to the end of it, we learn that bullies are destructive, it only takes one, it's all about fear, "political Calvinism" means that "the organization is to serve the Body of Christ", that St. Paul is relevant (but presumably not those passages in 1 Corinthians), that tradition is spent bullying one's neighbors, that we are called to love our brothers and sisters....

Obviously most of this is of the same ilk as a congressman or senator's speech yielding to no one in his defense of motherhood, apple pie, truth, justice, and the American way. It's empty rhetorical calories, or worse, self-congratulation. And just about the only content in this speech is a rather dubious condemnation of Cantuar for not attacking Akinola in his Easter sermon instead of addressing an issue (The Da Vinci Code) which is of more relevance to his own diocese and in my opinion more germane to an Easter sermon anyway.

But let's turn to all this talk of bullying and destruction. As a gardener, I can testify that planting takes minutes and weeding takes forever. The weeds have a different perspective on this, for it takes a weed a while (but not long enough for me!) to grow to seeds, and a second for me to pull it up. And when I turn from my flowers to the moral teachings of the church, it's surely a matter of perspective. It's reasonable to attribute it ALL to destruction. But then, from every life some weeds must be pulled.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Punted by Ponty

Al Kimel of Pontifications fame has asked me to stop commenting in his blog, and it appears he is determined to enforce this, since he has deleted a comment I made in response to someone else's query explaining that I had been asked not to continue.

Back in the ancient days of usenet news, taking back what we said became quickly impossible as the backbone refused to transmit message deletions. Soon enough after that, dejanews and the caching of old news items mean that our words remained available essentially forever, at least for anyone who knows how to search the archives. Therefore, plenty of what I said twenty years ago can be anyone with the wits and desire to find it.

I haven't looked at usenet religion discussion in years, and it seems to me that the real action has moved to blogs and to a lesser extent to fora. Thus, as discussion has moved away from publicly archived sites, erasure of the past has become a problem. It is less so in a forum, because as a rule the maintainers do want to archive traffic and find, as with usenet, that allowing people to erase their posts is an opening for abuses. But blogs are different: they can be erased and edited at will, and therefore they offer all sorts of temptations for erasing the past. I've seen this happen quite a bit: the history of the Russian Orthodox Automomous Church in the USA involves a number of deleted blogs and websites. Much of the pagan rites flap of October 2004 was carried out as the various offenders scurried about deleting their various webpages and blogs, though not fast enough for us "persecutors" to ferret them out.

My last response in Al's blog was deleted. Before that I saw my comments entering a sort of moderation. And in looking back at at the predecessor topic I see that Al also appears to have deleted the somewhat intemperate message with which he closed it. On one level, I'm annoyed, with cause, that I am not being allowed to close out my presence in his blog. It is perhaps not deliberate, but he has created the false impression that I withdrew into my hole, presumably failing to answer the questions which were put to me. But then, websites and blogs are always, in a way, false fronts. We write out our thoughts to the world, and then we take them back, thus editing our countenance for those to come.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The New Tractarians?

(Tip to Serge)

Over on A View From the Sacristy has a post which suggests:
And in that wondering, I can’t help but think on the world of blogging as a new witness and perhaps a new, “Tracts for Our Times.” And within this I don’t speak to Anglicanism at all. I speak to the wonderful web of folks, mainly traditional ‘Anglo-Catholics’ or Anglicans, feisty traditional Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox folks (in no particular order) who have banded together to form an appeal to Holy Tradition and a witness to something ancient and in our modern day, something new that does speak to people’s lives….or least those willing to listen.

I would love to believe this, but alas I think it isn't so and won't really happen. Blogging about controversy seems to create communities of those who reckon agreement unto righteousness, where posturing is more important than taking opposition seriously. Well, perhaps the original tractarians shared the same fault.

But there's also the The Law of the Stupidest Argument and the priciples of Jerks For Jesus, Bullhorns For Everyone, and The Standard Arguments. It's extremely hard to sustain worthwhile discussion in a medium that rewards people who make biting, conventional, and simplistic comebacks over those who make longer, calmer, and more considered responses. Time and again I find myself refraining from commenting because I've spent enough time thinking about something to ensure that the post has rolled off the page and that nobody is going to read what I wrote. Time and again I don't respond because a wave of standard argument quick comebacks have swamped the comments of a post. Time and again I cut my responses off because it's clear that the person on the other end doesn't read what I wrote, but only what one of the stereotypical participants would have said. The same lack of psychological presence that allows flaming also allows the more subtle fault of reducing opponents to cardboard-thin stock characters rather than real, changeable people who hold their own, changeable opinions.

What tends to happen, as a result, is that forums and blogs tend to get locked into a circle of like-minded people who tend to reinforce their common prejudices and opinions, but who are cut off from other communities with dissenting opinions. I think that's one of the biggest differences I see between blogs and the tractarians. The Tracts were written to convince the rest of the church; blog articles tend to be written to reinforce membership in the blogger's subculture. Traditionalists write to other traditionalists; liberals write to other liberals. The communities are disjoint and often as not contemptuous to each other. Therefore I tend to find the writing on both sides disappointing, because it never risks the one thing that would make it a real, living argument: refutation.