2/05/2007

Temperance in Blogging: A reminder from Giles Fraser


Giles Fraser, vicar of Putney has written a piece for the Church Times titled, “ Poisoning the wells of open debate.” It’s a fine piece written by one of the premiere writers in the generally outstanding gang of church related press folk in England. It is quite critical of bloggers and blogging and ends with this statement: “In reality, intemperate bloggers are poisoning the wells of open debate, not enhancing it. Many of those outside the blogsphere are put off by the sheer unpleasantness of internet debate. So it is abandoned to people with thick skins and short tempers. And that is hardly the open forum that many bloggers claim they are protecting.”

Aside from my jealousy of Giles’ writing abilities and the fact that he is “Vicar of Putney (what a fine thing to put on one’s calling card…almost as good as “Rector of all Lewes”), the good vicar has caused me to reflect on how much blogging contributes to the problems we face as a communion.As this blog has increased in readership I have been surprised by the consequences. I now have to moderate (wish there were a better word) comments so that some who constantly go off on rants better suited to their own blogs are cut out. While I am at it I mostly cut out those who give no indication of a name, not even a blog fiction, and thereby become hard to distinguish, one from another.

But more I have had to ask myself the question Giles raises: Is the level of my own intemperance contributing to the poisoning of the well? In particular one piece I wrote recently got a number of crabby responses to the effect that I was comparing Archbishop Akinola to the devil. This is because the title of the post was, “Be watchful, for your adversary is a roaring lion.” As I later tried to point out, the title can indeed remind one of the phrase “be watchful, for your adversary the devil is a roaring lion,” and it was a hook to get people into the story itself. But the story was about the powerful agendas of the Archbishop and the fact that he is a worthy adversary. Still, it was viewed by some as intemperate.

I suppose I was a bit intemperate. Still even in the blogsphere titles of articles are meant to have some punch. Most of mine are dull as dishwater.

In thinking about Giles’ comments and in wondering about the extent to which what a number of us do in our blogs is helpful or hurtful I have come to several conclusions:

  1. The work done by bloggers on religious topics, for example the Anglican Communion or the Episcopal Church, needs some self discipline, mostly I suspect derived from one’s spiritual life. We have an expectation, often fulfilled, that people will be treated with respect even when there is profound disagreement with the actions or words of those we consider advisories in the struggles within the Church. How we achieve that expectation derives from our measuring our words against some basic plumb line. The question, I suppose, is not “what would Jesus do?” but “What would Jesus have us do?” or the question I raised earlier (stolen from Wendell Berry) “would this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?”…you’ve got the idea. Some measure of temperance would be useful.
  2. We need to be more specific in acknowledging the good work done by one another. This means acknowledging the work done by bloggers whose interests and hopes are contrary to our own. In particular we need to work harder at acknowledging the role of some bloggers in uncovering material hidden in the mass of stuff we all have to deal with or in asking, for the first time, questions that arise from that material.
  3. The matter of confidentiality has come up most recently in the publication of what was meant to be a limited circulation of an email. I believe we need to be much clearer about the extent to which the networking of bloggers “off blog” are meant to be private and confidential and much more conscious of the need to ask permission for publication of such materials. While there are limits on the distinction between the confidential and the public, it would be of some value as a witness to the wider community if we exercised considerable care about the extent to which our work could be harmful to the relations between other persons.

Giles Fraser has done us a service in publishing this article. We need to take it to heart. At the same time it is also interesting to note the number of occasions where bloggers have brought important questions to the attention of the wider church community and the newshounds of that community.

There is work to be done and we all have a part.

3 comments:

  1. As Dave Walker at Cartoon Church says - the complaint is more about comments not bloggers. Comments seem to occasionally show us at our least Christian. Something about the little comment box that seems to invite quips and put downs. A few allegedly Christian blogs come to mind that are written to evoke controversy but most are speculations on things that matter to us. Moderating (an apt word) comments seems to be the only way to keep the tone of some respondents civil.
    As to confidentiality - my thoughts are that if you publish on the web - it is not confidential. Giving attribution is proper - but if you don't want something read by all of creation - don't write it on your blog.

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  2. Mark, much food for thought here. I appreciate your acknowledgement of the extent to which your blog title re: +Akinola was intemperate.

    And also, I have seen you commend the work of those you might not agree much with -- such as your kind word and link to Lent & Beyond recently.

    I hope this prompts reflection and good discussion by all of us in the Anglican blogosphere.

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  3. I think the internet and blogs have done a great service. They have opened up communication and, especially in the US, have countered the ENS and 815's domination of the news. We now have news that is not filtered through the HOB and other partisan groups in the "TEC."

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OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with comment moderation but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.
Rule: PLEASE DO NOT SIGN OFF AS ANONYMOUS: BEGIN OR END THE MESSAGE WITH A NAME - ANY NAME. ANONYMOUS commentary will be cut.