Large sections of the Evangelical blogosphere recently burst into flames, sparked by a controversy ignited by a good man saying something stupid. Many people pointed that out, some thoughtfully and graciously, others divisively. He disagreed. They disagreed. And so on.
My point here it isn’t to add more fuel to the flames. As much as I passionately disagree with the initial post, I see little value or edification in regurgitating what others have already said far better than I could. I also don’t want to bring it to the attention of those who’ve missed it thus far. Still, the fireworks as a whole shed a great deal of light on the nature of blogosphere communication, much of which is troubling.
It tends to be immediate. Most posts are written either the same day or within days of the most recent catalyst. Few people are both gifted and wise enough to write a thoughtful response about topics they care passionately about without taking time to pause and reflect.
It tends to be brief. Vigorous disagreements have always been a part of our tradition (Acts 15, Galatians 2). But, ideas used to be wrestled through in councils, arduously crafted creedal statements, and back-and-forth responses in printed books, articles, and pamphlets. All such voluminous discourse is now typically replaced by 400 words or less. Our capitulation to brevity robs us of the ability to be nuanced and thorough. The resulting ‘discussion’ is often polarized, polemical, and driven by bumper-sticker slogans.
It tends to foster false dialogue. Most people read blogs which either share their own perspectives, or contain perspectives they are eager to adopt without much consideration. When any given author writes a response to an opposing viewpoint, the likelihood is that most people who read it would have agreed with its sentiments even without reading it, while those in need of convincing will never read it. The resulting landscape resembles entrenched armies led by generals more than earnest coffee shop conversations or even formal debates.
It tends to be alienating. Even though most of the people I’m talking about are Christ-followers, it’s hard to believe they are on the same side. I suspect a great deal of this stems from the artificial community of the internet; I’d guess 99% of bloggers have no realistic chance of a face-to-face meeting with the people about whom they blog. Taking a stand for your beliefs at the expense of others is infinitely easier when no one else is actually in the room.
It tends to be ignorant. If everyone is an expert then no one is. Take me, for example: which of my credentials authorize me to address the nature of blogosphere communication? None. This point is made more significant by the observation that…
It tends to be bombastic. Everybody wants people to read their stuff (myself included). The best way to be heard in a crowded room is to have the loudest voice (not necessarily to have the best content).
Problems arise when a majority of voices in a crowded room are bombastic, ignorant, alienting, propagandist, cursory, and rash. And yet…
It is necessary! The underlying motive shared by everyone is passion. While some passion is misplaced, much of it flows naturally from discussing things that really matter. The reality that we’re doing a poor job talking about the things that really matter (maybe even matter most) isn’t an incentive to stick our heads in the sand; but rather is an incentive to take the sand out of our mouths!
So let’s keep writing! But let’s be quick to listen, slow to write, and slower to become angry. Let’s clothe ourselves with humility toward one another, bearing with one another and forgiving as Christ forgave us. Let’s teach, admonish, and even rebuke with all wisdom, and with gratitude in our hearts.
Let’s write for value and edification, not followers and pontification.