Observations on blogging

July 4, 2008

On Tuesday this past week, I went to see the movie “WALL-E.” I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to be in an environment where people did not argue over the Filioque, and I highly recommend the movie.

Over the past months, it has become increasingly clear to me that this blog is not fulfilling the original purpose for which I started it. That is, it has not greatly furthered my work towards finishing my book on John Bekkos; by and large, it has been a distraction from that purpose. It may be that the blog has served other legitimate purposes. It has helped to make Bekkos, and my work on him, a little better known, at least to readers of the internet; it has helped former students of mine to get in touch with me, and allowed me to meet persons with similar interests; it has, perhaps, served as a vehicle for defending the idea of Christian reconciliation. I hope that, overall, it has generated more light than heat. Recently, however, I have begun to have my doubts.

In rereading my own foregoing post, I find nothing in it that I would particularly want to retract. It is, I think, an honest statement of where I stand as an Orthodox Christian who is unhappy with the present state of the division of the Churches, and who would like to see that division end. Perhaps it is even a bit too honest. I thought that, since the accusation had been made that I do not recognize any “exclusive claim to truth,” I ought to clarify how far this accusation was or was not valid. I thought, in other words, that it was one of those occasions when I was being asked to give “a reason of the hope that is in” me (1 Peter 3:15). At the same time, I do not hold the general, blog-reading public to be a theological judiciary court, qualified to decide upon such matters. I closed the post to comment, in part because I thought it was beneath my dignity to subject the question of my sincerity as a Christian to any further discussion or debate, and in part because the quarrel that occasioned the post has become utterly tedious to me, and I would like simply to terminate it. As I have said to Photios Jones, if I have misread him, I apologize.

The medium of the blog, I have come to recognize, has its own peculiar set of rules and social assumptions. It encourages theoretical discussion; at the same time, the discussion it encourages often resembles a sort of hybrid between text messaging and talk radio. It is an essentially democratic medium, and it exhibits both the virtues and the defects of democracy. It is open to everybody. It allows anyone to express his or her views on any topic under the sun, or over it. Amazingly, it allows me, from my home in New Jersey, to carry on conversations with a young scholar in Malaysia, a Catholic priest in Greece, a graduate student in Texas, a pseudonymous writer in Great Britain, an Orthodox priest in South Africa, and many other people, sometimes with all of them simultaneously. Most of the people I correspond with on the blog I have never met, and probably never will meet. At the same time, when I hear that the religious opinions of many people today are formed largely through what they read on the internet, I seriously have to wonder about this, whether this is a good thing or a bad, a blessing or a curse.

St. Gregory the Theologian, in his First Theological Oration, has a passage that I think should be memorized by every Christian who is tempted to write a theological blog:

“Not to everyone, friends, does it belong to philosophize about God, not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low. And, I will add, not before every audience, nor at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.”
(Gregory of Nazianzus, or. 27.3; PG 36, 13 C-D.)

In view of this quotation, I have to question whether St. Gregory would have seen much value to the internet as a vehicle for communicating theological truth. I wonder whether he would not have seen blogging as essentially a waste of time, an exercise of the self-regarding ego, an excuse, all too often, for neglecting one’s proper responsibilities. Certainly I have had my own questions about this of late.

To Photios Jones I say: live long and prosper. I bear no burden of rancor towards you. To Wei Hsien Wan, and the Pontificator, and Fr. Paul, and the author of Eirenikon: thank you for your encouragement and for the example you have given of intelligent Christian writing. There are friendships I have made through this blog that I hope will continue.

To all my readers: a happy Independence Day. “Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: and let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD…. Thus saith the LORD of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:16-17, 19).

For the time being, I am resolved to put this blog aside. I have other work that I urgently need to do; at such time as I have accomplished some of it, perhaps I will reconsider participating again in the blogosphere, though I probably will avoid its major slugfests. Until then, I think my primary responsibilities are to finish my book, to publish articles in scholarly journals, to find a job, to pray, and to “study to be quiet” as St. Paul recommends (1 Thes 4:11). May God grant mercy to all of us who hope to find mercy in his presence at his glorious appearing.

20 Responses to “Observations on blogging”

  1. diane Says:

    Waaaaaah! I can well understand your reasons for putting the blog aside, Dr. Gilbert, and I completely respect your decision. Nonetheless, I can’t help saying (rather selfishly ;)): Waaaaaah!

    In my admittedly limited experience, there are so few truly irenical and ecumenical (in the best sense) Orthodox blogs. There’s this one, and there’s Eirenikon, and I understand there’s Father Freeman’s blog, although I’m not personally acquainted with it. With the suspension of this blog, there will be one less. Alas, this leaves online Orthodox discourse largely to the polemicists…it diminishes the irenic Orthodox presence on the Internet. That is regrettable, IMHO. But it is also understandable. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the Internet, as you say. Or the nature of blogging. Blogs do seem to lend themselves to intellectual fisticuffs; comboxers come to fight, to take sides, to draw swords, not to find common ground. And I’m just as guilty as anyone else in this regard, so I’m a fine one to talk.

    But the long and short of it is: You will be missed. Vaya con Dios!

    Diane

  2. Fr Alvin Kimel Says:

    Peter, I well understand your decision to stop blogging. I have benefited greatly from what you have written. If I may, I strongly encourage you finish your work on Bekkos. It will be an important contribution, both to scholarship and to ecumenical dialogue. Do not let anything deter you from bringing your work to conclusion.

    God bless.

  3. vito Says:

    Dr. Gilbert,

    I understand your reasons for discontinuing, but know that you will be greatly missed. Sia lodato Gesu` Cristo!

    Vito


  4. This is an extremely sad announcement, but I certainly understand your decision. I will continue to glean insights from your previous blog posts, and I very much look forward to reading your published work on John Bekkos. Many years to you!


  5. […] a very sad post from Dr Peter Gilbert at De unione ecclesiarum, announcing his intention to suspend his blog (for […]

  6. T. Chan Says:

    May our Lord give you the help you need to finish your book–I look forward to reading your writing in the future, in whatever form it may take!

  7. evagrius Says:

    From someone who’s only lately appreciated your views, I’m truly sad to see you part, though I fully understand your reasons.

    God grant you many years!

  8. Macrina Says:

    I’m also saddened at the news. I’ve only recently discovered your blog and, while I must confess to knowing next to nothing on Bekkos (will get to that era sometime!), I have been moved by its tone and humility of spirit. I hope that your previous posts and pages will still be available to catch up on!

    Many blessings.

  9. diane Says:

    An irrelevant aside: I just noticed, Dr. Gilbert, that you have a “top post” labeled “Bekkos or Vekkos?” Heh…I asked my DH about that very thing last night. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on Basil II and his immediate successors. (It’s called “Emperors and Arsitocrats in Byzantium, something something something.” (I forget the exact dates covered.) Anyway, he was familiar with Bekkos, but when I asked about the pronunciation, he shrugged and said, “Who knows?” In classical Greek, it would have been Bekkos, he said, but in Byzantine Greek Vekkos…and who knows whether we have a lock on how either was really pronounced? Or something like that. And now I will look at your post on the subject.

    I, too, hope and trust that you will complete your much-needed book on Bekkos.

    God bless,

    Diane

  10. diane Says:

    sorry for typo; that should be Aristocrats, of course. Sheesh, I have got to learn to spell-check!

  11. Brandon Says:

    Thank you for sharing yourself with your readers Dr. Gilbert. We had a brief glimpse into a rare, gentle, and loving heart. Peace to you.


  12. Dr. Gilbert,

    Slip me an email when you get a chance: photius at sbcglobal dot net

    Thanks

    Photios

  13. Karl Says:

    I look forward to the Bekkos book. I hope you will post an announcement when it is completed.

    Best,

    Karl

  14. J Blood Says:

    Peter, though I surely have the least knowledge of church history and doctrine of any of your readers, let me add my valedictory to the many here. I have enjoyed having this insight into your life and thoughts. I too look forward to the Bekkos book, and a visit to Berkeley as well I hope.

    Pros philou,

    John Blood

  15. Joseph Says:

    Sad sad sad. Just tell me where to pre-order the book!

  16. Wei-Hsien Wan Says:

    Dr. Gilbert,

    I will miss your presence here, but I’m grateful for all that I’ve been able to learn—and will continue to learn—from you, both from your example and your scholarship.

    And thanks for considering me a “young scholar”. I’ve never been called that before.

    Your student,
    W.H.

  17. Brandon Says:

    O.K. I’ll admit it. I keep coming back to your website hoping you have changed your mind and decided to keep posting. We all miss ya’ Doc. I am confident I am speaking for everyone here. I just hope the turkeys didn’t get you down!

  18. Sophocles Says:

    I posted the following on Eirenikon as well(I was just recently made aware of this blog from Dr. Scott Carson of “An Examined Life”)

    As well, I can certainly understand your desire to stop blogging. I came to the same impasse at the beginning of my blogging and resorted for the longest time to only posting Orthodox News and the Saint and Feast of the Day as in a very real sense I “hid behind these things”:

    Gentlemen,

    I have posted on my blog the first of a three part essay in which I attempt to develop thoughts on the Orthodox Catholic Faith.

    In these thoughts my attempt is to somehow explore what exactly is the Orthodox Faith and through this endeavor(I am not necessarily speaking exclusively of my particular endeavor but endeavors like it) I believe one may reasonably begin to ask the questions I feel oftentimes are lacking in forums where “ecumenism” is the trump card above all other criterion in the search for unity.

    In other words, I believe that many things are assumed as being true for The Orthodox Catholic Church and the Roman Catholic Church without some very serious questions being addressed first, namely, what is the Christian Faith we are both(Orthodox Catholic and Roman Catholic) speaking about? Is it the same thing or are we wielding the same words and phrases with very different meaning poured into them?

    These and other questions like them are paramount in my estimation of the starting point for ecumenical discussion.

    One of the reasons I tend not to engage in forums such as this one is that many assumptions are incorporated into the groundwork necessitated by the overarching call of Ecumenism and that the prime questions of what we’re all supposed to be in agreement about are not asked or if asked, the one asking is misunderstood because he draws from a different soil(and therefore his roots draw forth different nutrients) in his answers and formulations.

    I believe it to be wise to take into account the voice of those who dissent from “ecumenism” and to make the attempt at listening to why they offer dissent. Perhaps they may may be right.

    My essay springs from a heartfelt desire to make known this other voice to those “outside” the Orthodox Catholic Church. Not in condemnation but with love stating that the differences are very real and have ramifications.

    Bear in mind I am not a learned man but I (fearfully) may lay claim to trying to love God and attempting to acquire the Holy Spirit.

    The first part of my essay may be found at:

    http://molonlabe70.blogspot.com/2008/07/response-to-dr-carson-thoughts-on_21.html

    and again it is a sincere attempt to speak of things to those who may not know them and though I may speak in a simple way, perhaps some good may come from these efforts.

    In Christ,

    Sophocles


  19. God bless you on your continued journey. Perhaps Christ will bring you again to this blog and if so, I will be glad to read your excellent thoughts.


  20. […] year, around this time, I discontinued this blog for a period of several months; the thought has occurred now to do the same, or to hang it up […]


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