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.