Church Based Blogs and Internet Communication

After to my recent post about Giles Fraser brief article for the Church Times about how blogs can be bad for the soul I have been carrying on as normal and occasionally dabbling in the internet.  However, I have been noticing a lot of home truths emerge from what Giles Fraser said.  I also went to a seminar on non-internet based church communication that I think also applies in this situation.  The third thing that informs this post is that I went on the train to the football on Saturday and watched Boro get beaten by Man Utd.

Dave Walker made perhaps the most poignant blog on the topic of Christian blogging by giving up trying to comment upon it.  I’ll leave him to speak for himself:

I’ve spent a lot of time going through blogs and comments this afternoon and had planned to write about some of the responses to the article. But I’ve found the experience to be (as Giles describes it) “bad for (my) spiritual health” so I’m just posting some links to those sites that I had planned to link to. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I think his links make Giles Fraser points quite well.

Over the last few days on the blogsphere I have been really disheartened by the uncharitable nature in which people discuss things with each other.  It seems that there are many easy targets out there for Christians to stick the knife into each other.  I went to one particularly harsh blog article criticising a local thriving cafe church because it wasn’t “a valid church” as it wasn’t a traditional looking mass.  In theological ‘debate’, everyone tends to get a raw deal.  As a man, I noticed that ‘men’ tend to get a raw deal as one giant stereotypical collective.  As though all men are wife beaters and sexual predators.  But then I realised that women also get a raw deal in the ‘debate’.  Then I noticed that it also applies to ‘conservatives’, ‘liberals’, ‘bishops’, ‘Catholics’, ‘protestants’, ‘homosexuals’, ‘straight people’, ‘fresh expressions’, ’emergents’, ‘traditional worshippers’, ‘traditionalists’, ‘foreigners’…. the list goes on forever.  People seem to be able to suspend reason when examining their own corner from which they come out fighting but are able to make ridiculous comparisons for those of a differing opinion.  I can’t count the number of times that I have seen people likened to one form of sex offender or another.  Things that people would never say face to face.

It strikes me that people are blogging from their own bedroom and as such feel like they are on “home territory”.  It is as if this gives a license to create or perpetuate wild stereotypes that are painted with broad brushes from the “home ground”.  It also allows a small group to appear quite big and gain momentum.  This is suspect is in much the same way that a football fan tends to be quite quiet in isolation whereas a football crowd tend to say some of the most outrageous things.  To illustrate, on the train to and from the football I was sat with Man Utd fans and we were getting on really well.  There was a bit of banter about the coming match and how we supported different teams.  This was contrasted as we walked to the ground where a big group of Man Utd ‘fans’ were chanting something horrific about the 96 dead at Hillsborough.

For Christians when we add the internet to the mix, a local issue can be circulated worldwide via email and blogs and a small group can arteficially inflate their numbers.  This petition for example started as a Church of Scotland matter and many Scottish people signed it.  If you scroll to the bottom you will see that it has become a hotbed of activity… for US, Brazilian, Chinese, Canadian and Australian petitioners.

The lecture on communication used the diagram I remember from teacher training to illustrate that what you say isn’t always what is heard.

As the transmitter makes the initial point, it is subject to the medium in which it is transmitted.  The music it is set to, the images used within or around the message, even the font used can convey part of the message.  Obviously for the feedback or reply, the message is subject to the exact same principles.

If the internet is the medium that is being used, it inevitably becomes part of the message.  I wonder if a more accurate internet version of the diagram would be:


Perhaps I need to take a break from virtuality for as Giles Fraser and Dave Walker have both pointed out it is becoming “bad for (my) spiritual health”.


12 Responses

  1. Apologies to anyone who thinks that this is about something I read in the last day on blogs I regularly frequent. It is my thoughts on Giles Fraser article [that I originally read in a real world papery thing in the comfort of a coffee shop] and the Dave Walker blog [and links therein]. It has been informed largely by a trip to a football match and a lecture on communication as clergy within and without church.

    Sorry if anyone has read something else into it – that was not my intention.

  2. Hi Robb – lots of thought-provoking stuff in your last two posts and I’m pretty much in agreement with your points on stereotyping and the role the medium plays. And with grace’s comments about Levinas and on the detrimental effect which loss of face-to-face intimacy has at a deep level. To which I guess you could add the more general difficulties arising from interpretation of words without all the additional non-verbal cues – something which happens pretty regularly even in an environment like ASBO.

    I’d also like to add something else to the ‘why blogs can be bad for the soul’ list: I gave up following blogs (with 2 exceptions) as my Lent discipline this year – and, by and large, I haven’t revisited the vast majority of those I used to read. One of the things I came to realise was that I had begun to visit certain blogs (those which caused me a certain degree of excoriation!) as a way of reinforcing my own prejudices and negative stereotypes. I’d tell myself that this was about ‘seeing how the other side thinks’ (in itself a telling comment I guess)….but that was disingenuous, to say the least. End result of such visits was not good on a whole variety of levels.

  3. I’ve been sat here for about an hour now trying to make a response……

    All i’ve really got is ‘don’t leave us!’ which i know sounds really pathetic!

    i think i’ll probably come up with something better at some point but i think this raises far bigger questions than those simply about blogs and blogging.

    there are questions that i’m mulling over about the media in general and the instant and continual nature of our communication and our reactions to it.

    Again some of that is linked to football. the incidents surrounding the Chelsea match have raised all sorts of things for me. The conduct of Drogba and Ballack was, to my mind, indefensable and yet due to replays being beamed instantly around the world it seems that there is subbenly a battle of virtues. Is it more important to be right or to be sporting?

    these traits of communication also seem to exasperate situations, take the recent flu ‘pandemic’.

    the thing is i still feel that God is very much within cyberspace. i dont know how all of things fit in with my understanding of God and the church at the moment but i do think that they are things which require working through ‘on the front lines’ as it were. although again i’m not too sure what that means……

    i’ll think more and try to make more sense of what i feel i need to say

  4. Hi Robb, I haven’t read your blog before and got here by a semi-random process (as I find most blogs). Found one comment interesting near the end:

    > For Christians when we add the internet to the mix, a local issue can be circulated worldwide via email and blogs and a small group can arteficially inflate their numbers.

    The good thing of course is that Christians believe that we are not really isolated individuals relating to God or even isolated local churches or even isolated denominations, but part of something global. So no issue is merely local. Now of course that petition you mention clearly breaks down the categories of people who have signed it so as not to inflate numbers artificially, but I find it very interesting to see how while about 41% of signatories are in the C of S, significant numbers from other groups want to support Christian brothers and sisters across the world in whatever way they can. The Barnabas Fund also testifies to this in a different way. That is really quite healthy, so long as we understand that we’re not interested in rabble-raising but in mutual support, each being responsible for each other regardless of race or location. That’s a real fulfilment of the Great Commission. Blogs may help create or break relationships, but that’s up to the individuals.

    Frequently people write online things in haste which they really should write more carefully. We end up dealing with ‘disposable text’ which can be vacuous and do a great deal of harm. Think of what James says about the tongue…

  5. Pat – good point about non-verbal cues. People also come at the written text with their own life history shaping their interpretation. As the internet evolves over time rather than being published in isolation, one post progresses from another. This in itself clouds the transmission and interpretation through the medium.

    Duttyo – It’ll take more than a church times article and some hasty internet based words to get rid of me 😀

    Your points about communication are very pertinent. Remember the Russell brand and Jonathan Ross incident? Listened to live by about 3 people. Everyone else who decided that they were shocked appalled and outraged had to search for it on the internet and make themselves “shocked appalled and outraged” out of their own free will!

    BTW – the Chelsea match was 😆

    David Rowbory – Welcome and thanks for stopping by!

    Your point is very true. If we look at the same thing in the opposite direction the internet can give a sense of being part of a worldwide communion. There can be a sense of solidarity as we stand with our fellow Christians. I’m not convinced it is necessarily good when we stand in solidarity with our fellow Christians to rip into another bunch of fellow Christians. I’m also not convinced about the witness it gives to the wider world. As Duttyo said, it can be re-examined again and again and again. We often treat it as “disposable text” but is it really that disposable?

    As you so rightly say, it is once more up to the individual.

  6. point of order – Giles Fraser, Not Richard Giles, right? trying to think of intelligent things to say on this… give me a while, yeah…

  7. Linus – you make a very valid point. In the rush of it all I substituted someone I actually know into the predominant role of my post. I’ll fix it when at a real computer 😉

    I think that in itself probably proves my point 😆

  8. So i spent a bit of time earlier today lookin into this and following the links Dave Walker posted and so on, and its easy to see the point he’s making. And i agreed wholeheartedly and mourned with him. and then carried on following links on the topic for a while. And then i realised i was wasting my time reading about ungraciousness and criticism and counter-criticism, when i could be doing something – or at least, reading something* – productive instead.

    You don’t fight fire with fire, you fight fire with water. Let’s invest time in demonstrating a better way of doing things, rather than in criticism. This site, and many, many others do just that – not only demonstrating a better way of doing the internet, but calling us to a better way of living and engaging with the world. This invitation to a new way of living is called encountering the Kingdom of God.

    A lot of important points have been raised by these posts, about mob mentality, taking sides, home turf, stereotyping people and more. But none of them seem internet specific to me. Rather, the call that i feel as a result of this is to take responsibility for my words and actions as an individual. To make sure i think for myself and don’t succumb to prejudice. To avoid just going along unthinkingly with whatever the group consensus is. To always treat other people as individuals, not “one of them”. To understand that they are people in need of love, not vicious monsters or worthless detritus. And to do this not just online, but everywhere else too.

    The “face-to-face” thing is valid up to a point, but the internet allows for one-to-one or small group interaction which really does enable people to develop a deeper understanding of each others’ individuality and vulnerability. The internet is not a substitute for face to face interaction, but there are people who i know only from their online comments and writing, but whom i care about as a result, nevertheless. Robb is an example of someone with whom i have a much stronger friendship as a result of the internet than we would have without that interaction.

    So the call for me is – as always, i think – not to disengage, but rather to engage in a positive way, so as to make a positive difference. To believe in and seek a better way of doing things. To spread grace wherever i go. To hope for all things. To consider others better than myself. To love my neighbour, and my enemy. To declare that the Kingdom of God is here, and it is wonderful. This is a challenge i fail woefully to live up to, but it’s a calling that, in my better moments, i love passionately and embrace wholeheartedly. I’d like to encourage everyone else to do the same, cos i genuinely think it’d be a great thing if we did.

    *this is where there is a danger that the internet is bad for my soul: when it puts my focus onto talk rather than action.

  9. Quick replies:

    Witness: There are 2 ways to look at this. We can present a ‘unified’ front to the world and basically say we don’t stand for anything much, but we’re united in that. Then what’s the point? Real love is actually a lot more hard-nosed than that. “Do not suppose I came to bring peace to the world.” said someone in Matthew 10.

    Fighting fire with fire: A mistaken metaphor. This refers usually to military ‘fire’ I believe. Fighting bullets with water is not normally advised.

    Disposable text: Think of ‘disposable’ plastic bags. They are not designed to last, but they do. I live in Africa (now in Kenya, in the past in Nigeria) where you find whole fields of rubbish – mostly broken plastic bags – thrown away and causing great harm to the environment (ie animals and people as well as the appearance). I meant that we write things thoughtlessly intended for a moment but which have longer-lasting consequences… maybe even eternal. So I actually agree with you. We need to think carefully before writing.

  10. Linus – thank you for coming with the reason and perspective I have come to expect from you. I don’t care what all those other people say about you 😛 , you are a wise man 😉

    I think you are right about action. I hope that is what drives the distaste I have for bickering about the minutiae. I agree, it isn’t just confined to the internet – but it happens a lot faster and on a bigger scale with a much more public forum when the internet is involved.

    You have a good point about our relationship being stronger because of the internet. However, because I know you in reality as well I find it much more easy to gauge your tone because when we talk in the real world it is always with a cheeky grin on both sides of the table over a pint. As we live a few hours drive away from each other the interaction is facilitated to a different level by the internet.

    David – Very true we have to show that we stand for something. Without the grit there is no faith. Jesus didn’t call us to inaction and blandness He called us to be salt and light. I’m just not convinced that the things we spend most of our time fighting about are the important things we are called to fight for. We spend much less time shouting about world poverty and children dying through lack of clean drinking water for example.

    I love your thoughts on “disposable”.

  11. As an (occasional) visitor to your blog- I want to say ‘thanks’ for this post- it has made me think.

    As an aside- I was also at Middlesbrough v Man Utd! (and I now have an idea for a series of blog postings on that match that may see the light of day)….


  12. Hey Graham – welcome! Glad to have helped.

    The train journey was one of the best experiences of footy I have had. Sat with Man U fans all the way there and back. We were having such a laugh on the way back that we decided to stop off in Leeds for a light refreshment 😉

    That is how football should be – everyone able to enjoy it together!

    I’m looking forward to what you have to say!

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