Sunday, July 20, 2008

Should Catholics Blog? In a Word...Heck Ya!

A friend sent me an essay, "Should Catholics Blog?" , by R.J. Stove. I cringe when I see titles like this because I know I'm in for a rough ride. (I also get a kick out of message board threads with similarly worded titles and some brainiac responds by simply saying, "No.")

To summarize the essay, the writer feels that Catholics should not blog. Why?

1) It's addictive and wastes time, much like television.

2) Anonymous people take great delight in stirring the pot.

3) Snarky comments are encouraged.

4) The English language is greatly maligned.

5) de facto anti-clericalism

I will be the first to admit the Internet is a vast ocean and certain parts of it are nothing less than raw sewage. I think most people who know those spots will try to avoid them. Addiction to pornography is a very serious problem but so are apathetic officials who allow a strip club to open near a school. Problems like these are not relegated to the internet. It only means we as Christians need to be more vigilant than ever.

His point about television is well taken, but I disagree with a straight comparison. Spending hours watching television can be mind-numbing. There is no interaction. Information is coming at the viewer with little time to process or respond. It's straight, in-your-face programming that can negatively affect a person if they don't balance their life with other mental fare.

The internet, however, is a far different animal. Not only does it disperse information, it dissects it, analyzes it, and applies it - sometimes in one fell swoop. The internet connects individuals who otherwise would never have met. (And sometimes that's not a good thing.) Finally, the internet is able to reach a larger audience within a shorter amount of time than any other medium in history. It is an amazing invention, filled with inherent weaknesses but also strengths.

Now, anonymity? Ah, that is truly the bane of many a blogger. Blog software now offers the ability to disallow anonymous comments. Some message boards are enforcing signature rules to prevent them. But I still think a certain degree of anonymity can be helpful, especially if one is discussing controversial developments within a competitive industry. Take for example scrapbooking. (I know, a silly example but bear with me.) The scrapbooking industry went from a small hobby in 1995 to a 2 billion dollar industry today. Along with all that dough comes the pretenders, the wannabes, and the sharks.

There is great competitiveness within the industry to be a member of a design team. Design teams create layouts using their manufacturers products. (Such as paper and embellishments.) But the industry had turned into such a back-biting, hostile environment that some decided to comment anonymously on faceless blogs. Why? If their real name was discovered, it was almost certain they'd be blackballed from future publishing opportunities. Is it fair? Of course not. But I can't blame the ladies for trying to keep hidden so they can earn a few extra bucks for their families.

So perhaps there is someone within a parish who is stuck there but wants to vent anonymously. Of course in a perfect world, it would be great to go to a trusted spiritual adviser, but what if they have none? We are built for relationship and if the only way someone can find it is through the internet, then so be it. It's not perfect but at least it's something.

Snarky comments? Do we really have that much of a thin skin? I've been saddened to see our society descend to lower levels of rudeness but what is the answer? Put someone's head in a half-Nelson until they cry "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned!"? Sure. Like that's going to happen.

As far as the English language being maligned...well, you see what I do to it. Sure, there are many bloggers who Talk. Like. This. But I read them anyway because you never know when you'll stumble upon a life lesson God wants you to learn. He made even the simple wise, so as far as I'm concerned, I try to give everyone equal time.

Finally, the anti-clericalism. Yes, it exists. Is the answer to simply turn off the computer? Why not respond with a thoughtful argument? I have witnessed many such intelligent discussions on various websites and message boards. And yes, people did respect one another. I know. Amazing. But it can happen.

At the end of this fellow's essay, he lamented the fact that good writers couldn't make a living with all the "free content" online. I think this is the real reason for the essay. He's upset because people are spending so much time eating junk food that they can't possibly consume his Filet Mignon. Good writing, he bemoans, is ignored while the masses lap up "dumbed-down" ideas.

I say his complaint is the very same of classical pianists, ballerinas, and barbershop quartets. The masses have always clamored for the simple and easy. Anything that requires thought is usually passed over for the latest Paris Hilton development.

So what's the answer?

Keep ringing the bell. Don't give up and don't abandon the greatest tool of communication the world has ever seen. I came back to the Catholic church precisely because I was online. If it weren't for blogs, I never would have discovered the Traditional Latin Mass, the Roman Missal of 1962, Gregorian Chant, the Divine Hours, Archbishop Fulton Sheen and his Wartime Prayer Book, the saints, the great selection of Catholic newspapers, Theresa Tomeo, Dr. Scott Hahn, EWTN, Ave Maria Radio, the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, a "Coming Home" program for Catholics, the right parish for me, a multitude of new online friends...the list could go on.

I'm especially grateful for the friends. God knew I was going to be making a decision that would not be popular with my non-Catholic Christian believers. He also knew I'd need support as I re-entered the atmosphere. Sure enough, He was faithful by providing me the right friends at the right time.

So should Catholics blog? Only if you want to continue Jesus Christ's mandate to find the lost and make sure they hear the good news.

If not, there's probably a "Matlock" episode you can watch.


Anonymous said...

Good morning, Mary Rose!

A good friend also sent me this very post...I imagine we have the same "good friend!"

I'm in absolute agreement with you on all points. It seems our writer is a bit upset that others are horning in on his turf. Doing for free that which he insists upon being paid for. I have seen many lives and hearts changed by the free exchange of ideas that exists in the blog world. There are the inevitable disappointments (The Cafeteria Is Closed is good example), but for the most part we have good hearted people sharing their lives and faith, quickly disseminating information in a way that was unheard of just a decade ago. If I want the most up to date news, I don't go to CNN...there are quite a few bloggers who are closer to the news source than a journalist or reporter. Most Catholic bloggers are blogging for this simple reason: to share what it means to be Catholic and to fulfill the biblical mandate that we "go forth and make disciples of all nations." I'm a mom at home. I don't get out much. But my blog has been read in quite a few countries. Reaching out with charity and compassion does make a difference...

Tom Ryan said...


I understand your frustration, but consider not your blogs but those of nit wits like Mark Shea.

His attack on Fr. Brian Harrison July 15, 2008 makes the author's point.

Warren said...
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Warren said...
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Warren said...

The kerfuffle mentioned by Hilaire is a good example of the sort of thing that might inspire general anti-blogging sentiment. I would call it a "flame war", to use some old terminology.

Like those who have gone off, this author has gone off, in a third direction entirely. After reading it, perhaps we will all feel the desire to go off half-cocked in yet another wild direction, in our response.

Nevertheless, the difference here is between wider reality and the rather sensational and extreme way that a war of words can escalate online. It is good not to return bile for bile, but to remain calm and to answer quietly, and after a long pause. My first two blog comments were knee-jerk, and I have deleted them, for that reason.

Before it was blogging, there was the whole "usenet newsgroup" phenomena, and similar amounts of calumny (then called "flaming") and rabble-rousing (then called "trolling") went on. The problem was in fact, not the technology or the use of it, but in human nature itself.

We've all got that human nature inside is, it's who we are, and we're all capable of behaving badly.

If any man sin not in what he says, the same is a perfect man.


Mary Rose said...

Kimberly, I so agree with your comments. Reaching out in charity is so important. Those who are truly seeking will get the message. May God give us grace to be faithful!

Hilaire - I'll have to check your link in the dreaded IE. (I use Firefox and it doesn't show the entire link.) I know you're no fan of Mark Shea. I don't really know his writing that well, but will check into it. I think it's sad when believers get a little too snarky with their comments. We need to be the salt and light to the world, not obstacles.

W, I also agree with you. We are all capable of behaving badly. I try to maintain a certain sense of decorum both offline and on. I try to engage people respectfully and refrain from any knee-jerk reactions, myself.

Online discussions provide a unique opportunity. Many times, people will not be as apt to say what they really think to someone "live." But online, there is a sense that one can risk expression more authentically. Unfortunately, that opportunity is many times abused as someone feels free to "flame" another person. Then of course, there are times when someone has a serious mental or physical health issue that needs to be addressed; and venting on a computer isn't the answer.

My point is this: saying Catholics shouldn't blog is an extreme reaction to the problems that exist. It's almost like saying I will no longer read books because there are pornographic books available.

I love to read. There are many books that I wouldn't touch, but I still read. I look at the internet in the same way.

joannaB73 said...

I like to Blog, on the basis you never know who might be reading it including friends and family. I also like to read other people's blogs, most of which are much more intellectual than mine - so lots of 'food' there. And it is an encouargement in my Catholic faith to read other people's blogs and walks in life.

Adrienne said...

I believe it was the National Catholic Register that just recently ran an article about the lack of Catholic authors. The author of the article countered that notion by pointing to the great number of Catholic blogs that qualify as "literature."

It is up to each one of us to manage our own blogs with the spirit of Christ.