An Argument For Bloggernacle Participation by the Faithful

By: Bonnie
June 22, 2012

For the past week we’ve discussed what we believe Wheat & Tares contributes to the larger dialogue about the Mormon faith, exposing parts of a conversation that has been occurring behind the scenes for weeks. Hawk has articulated who we are with guidelines that we’ll post to the site permanently. Andrew has shared his views of different types of online communities and moderated a philosophical discussion of how those communities function to set up safe zones (to use Bruce’s terms.) Mike has structured our place as a niche community of questioning that feels welcoming to people who may not feel welcome in other forums (fora, whatever).

It seems rather assumed that “the faithful” have church and everyone else has the internet. That’s what I want to talk about. I’m addressing my discussion to “the faithful.” The rest of you are welcome to come along or click over to something else if you think this won’t be interesting.

J. Max Wilson has recently written a treatise suggesting that there is no place in the Bloggernacle for the faithful (he’s speaking about the larger LDS blogs, not about all LDS discussion online). He makes many salient points. I agree.

I also disagree. I’m going to run through his points quickly before I make my own case both for and against the faithful wasting their time on the big blogs.

The existence of both a public and private conversation among the permabloggers has the capacity to become advocacy. True, but it also serves to facilitate a discussion about interactions between commenters, to allow us to brainstorm future topics of discussion, to vet future topics with one another to determine a sort of balance in presentation, and to examine every once in awhile if we are staying true to our purposes. It would be very hard for someone who sees only the public conversation to determine the integrity of the bloggers, just as we may have reason to think hard about the motivations of government officials, business leaders, and anyone else working publicly with a back-conversation occurring. There is a lot of marketing in this world. Caveat emptor.

In discussing questions in a public forum, we’re really looking more for a sympathetic ear than a solution to our problems. True. I don’t suppose anyone reading this is unaware that the internet has been the best facilitator yet for the growth of stupid. That said, it is also an incredible engine for connection and communication, for healing and for help. We can look up anything, we can link to almost any source, we can find hope. It’s fairly difficult to turn this anonymous thing into a regulated organ of pure connection. Just as we do in any relationship, we will have to determine if our participation is helpful or hurtful to both ourselves and those with whom we connect. Friend beware.

Wolves, sheep, goats, and large bushes can become indistinguishable at internet distance. Well, that’s not what he said, but that’s what happens. Crowd anonymity takes a unique turn with the internet. The “crowd” has a totally different character as people sit alone in front of computers and “connect” into these wily, loosely structured groups. When we are not face-to-face with people with whom we debate, our interactions are pared down to a soulless wit that often gives way to guerilla sarcasm and disdain, devoid of facial expression, stripped of the weight of other connections to give these interactions balance. We have internet names that hide our identities and we will suffer no consequences if we wound or dissemble. Even if some use their full names, or their identities are well-known, it is not an equal playing field, as not everyone is fully vested. It’s a farce to believe that we are fully discussing anything. Yep, you’re right, J. Max. Sheep beware.

“Asymmetrical spiritual warfare” gives a home-court advantage to the wolves. Pretty much. It’s naive to assume that even a significant number of people enter the conversation to explore ideas as part of a greater search for Truth, Meaning, and Enlightenment. There’s a reason that online support groups don’t work well for addiction recovery: there’s no accountability. They devolve to sniping sessions and that’s completely unproductive. Any player who enters the field of religious debate expecting to search for truth needs to be armed for a battle with the anonymously ignorant and small-minded, the intellectually snobbish, and the Pharisaically sure. You will likely enter someone else’s safe zones and probably commit sacrilege against their sacred cows. Soldier beware.

Publicizing disagreement with leaders and cultivating support for that disagreement is a vote of no-confidence and an act of apostasy. True again. But even a dog can tell the difference between being tripped over and being kicked. Attitude matters. As faithful members of the church, we accept divine investiture in prophets. As faithful members of the church we embrace an ideal of unity. There is faithful questioning (which is the ground under the rock of revelation) and there is doubtful questioning (which is the seed of apostasy.)  Anyone who cares can tell the difference. What we choose to do in either of those environments is a delightful freedom of agency. Saint beware.

Criticism weakens faith. As a parent I’ve discovered that if I admit my failures too often, my children begin to feel frightened that I don’t have a firm grip on the wheel and their safety feels less assured. If I admit some failures, however, they feel strengthened to find their own pathways to apology and restitution. It’s a balance unique to every parent. I know people who admit considerably fewer failures than I do, and their children are more secure about the parents and less secure about themselves. I know people who seem constantly tossed to and fro and their children are secure about their ability to navigate life because they’ve been parenting their parents, but less secure about how they’ll be cared for. It’s pretty hard to do it all as a parent. It’s pretty hard for any venue to perfectly strengthen everyone’s personal faith. I know people whose faith has been fired in adversity so intense it would make you cringe. I know people whose faith has been fired by an unfettered pursuit of spiritual enlightenment in an environment devoid of the distraction of dissent. It would be hard to wrest an idyllic existence out of this crazy montage of experience because our personal requirements vary so widely. Counselor beware.

The Internet. Changes. Everything. Once upon a time investigating the Church was a personal thing, involving personal interactions. The kernel of our faith is having personal transformative experience with God. Now with a few mouse clicks one can search and come up with millions of personal stories that can substitute for actually having an experience with the character of the creator. Every interaction of doubt and disbelief, of heckling and mocking and criticism, of wavering testimony and offended faith is available for download, free. He Who Must Not Be Named has control of the communications network.

This is the core of my assertion that the faithful should engage.

The Bloggernacle may not be the field of engagement most suited to everyone, but for those who are uniquely positioned, either by interest or capacity, it’s one field. If one entire set of voices, offended by the tenor of the battle, retreats and withdraws, the field is imbalanced and the battlefield will become even more inhospitable. Every problem J. Max has identified will become more intense, and specifically because of his last point, that the internet magnifies everything, those will be the voices that are heard.

And, although I don’t minimize the damage done by ravening wolves in the form of money-making schemes or pills in the jello or apostates, sometimes what looks like a wolf may just be a black sheep. We have to get closer to tell the difference. It’s dangerous work being a sheep.

An entire sermon was preached about leaving off our closeted communities and traditions and venturing out with uncovered lights to an inhospitable world. There is no indication that Jesus Christ meant anyone to do that naively, unprepared, or with false ideas about what they were doing. Our job is not to compel, convince, or to eliminate that with which we disagree – our job is to speak our souls with integrity. If the faithful will speak, unoffended by the response or lack thereof, then the truth they espouse becomes an option among many for those who hear. If they are silent, where is that option?

By all means, retreat at night to your keeps. Engage in private discussions where people don’t relentlessly and rudely challenge your reasoning and be therefore free to explore deeper insights and more profound truths. I do. Be with your own kind and be enlivened in the way that safe zones enliven us. But come back the next day. Engage the world. Bring balance just by speaking your mind. Be brave, wherever your venue of communication arises. The ignorant and the disdainful, even in the Bloggernacle, have nothing very destructive to wield except their intimidation to make you silent.

If the Bloggernacle is a parasite, I have to disagree with J. Max that it will die if the faithful withdraw. It will be left to the pseudofaithful, the wolves of his description. Asking the faithful to withdraw is like shutting down the immune system of the organism. The ‘nacle is certainly still figuring itself out. Now is a good time for the more consistent, firm-minded participation of the faithful.

Now, whether this is all a grand waste of time is another issue altogether. If we each interacted with the circles of our acquaintance, drawing strength and giving service and engaging in stimulating conversation there, we could probably change the world a lot faster than spending hours a day commenting on blogs. Moderation is likely a wise course. After all, the internet isn’t real.

Now, for anyone who characterizes him or herself as something less than a TBM, wow, impressed that you’re still with me! I hope that, just as the faithful should not be offended by questions that you raise and should stay in the conversation, you will not be offended at the concerns they have. The faithful have grown in a system of experience with principles and ideas, so when they “bear testimony” they are accessing a personal power that has transformed them, not trying to beat you with it or evade the logic of the discussion. When you attack them for that transformation, it’s like someone calling your kids stupid and makes you look like a wolf. Think about the things that have been transformative to you: if it was an idea, it was the discovery moment, the delight of understanding that confirmed the importance of it to you. Feelings matter. Those are sometimes hard to put to words or to justify in debate.

The point that I’m trying to make is that everyone is benefited by the full spectrum of opinion. If Wheat & Tares truly is a place for respectful, enlightened, broad-ranging discussion, it is the province of every person no matter where he or she falls on that amorphous graph to engage with full purpose of heart, even swimming upstream against all the obstacles this form of communication and connection inherently nurtures.

I’ve metaphorically described the Bloggernacle as a battlefield. What if it were instead a cease-fire zone? How do we accomplish that?

  • Listen to other opinions.
  • Think carefully about whether your agreement or disagreement enlightens the discussion.
  • Phrase your observations as your own instead of grand statements of the truths of the universe.
  • Refrain from characterizing the opinions or experience of others.
  • Take your snark elsewhere; it shuts down trust.
  • Explore the reasoning behind others’ opinions. It could be mind-expanding.
  • Be positive. We are.

So, everyone willing to lay down their weapons of war? Are “the faithful” welcome too?

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49 Responses to An Argument For Bloggernacle Participation by the Faithful

  1. SilverRain on June 22, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    Bonnie, I think you are right to a point. Internet discussion does have some benefit to those who support the Church. But, as your final point touches lightly on, it is much less benefit than real life, which is why I no longer interact much online.

    It’s a good thing to engage online to a point. It is far better to immerse oneself in face-to-face service. When I realized that one was negatively affecting my ability to do the other as a direct result of the nature of online interaction, the opportunity cost became too high.

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  2. Howard on June 22, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    I would love to see more participation by the faithful on W&T and elsewhere on the Bloggernacle. It seems to me LDS arch-orthodox bloggers are in retreat. Why does a bigger tent bother them? The gospel was originally given to a limited group but in time it was to be taught to every nation kindred tongue and people. Does this expansion include more liberal thinking people or is liberal thinking somehow anti or non gospel in it’s very nature? If so shouldn’t the church consider a priesthood ban on liberals? If they are to be included are they expected to embrace the arch-orthodox version in order to be considered a good saint? Why? Originally the gospel had a uniquely Jewish tint, today it is uniquely Utahn which is interesting and a bit odd if this is actually somehow important considering Joseph’s east coast roots and the fact that he never set foot in Utah! The point is; what part of the church’s orientation is fundamental to the gospel? If the church were more Californian would it erode fundamental gospel issues or would “love one another” work equally well? How important is maintaining the arch-orthodox view of the gospel? Is it the gospel itself or somehow truly fundamental to the gospel or is it just a pharisaical adaptation of the gospel? Was Christ arch-orthodox or pharisaical? No! Of course not! Is Christ not our exemplar?

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  3. ji on June 22, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    Thanks, Bonnie!

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  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 22, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    I don’t suppose anyone reading this is unaware that the internet has been the best facilitator yet for the growth of stupid.

    That is why many of the faithful are not as engaged as they were. Like SilverRain they find that time seems wasted rather than spentt.

    It is not being bothered by a bigger tent (and that sort of assertion comes across as patronizing and dismissive FYI), but rather bothered by a feeling of being mired rather than in the field.

    I have considered not blogging a number of times since 1997 when I started. But I have found a very small audience that matters to me, so I continue.

    Would I like intelligent communication? Would I like people who are not shallow, who seek to become [p]rophets (the small “p” kind I have written about) rather than social dues paying snarks? Yeah.

    Even sometimes I encounter some.

    But I very much appreciate Bonnie’s comments. My thanks to the OP.

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  5. MH on June 22, 2012 at 8:51 AM

    I thought J Max and Bruce had some interesting opinions, but I think some of their refusal to participate has something to do with a thin skin. I mean nobody likes to get attacked, but I think some are overprotective of their own reputations, and don’t like being questioned.

    Under the Carter administration, I believe it was Menachim Begin that said “we don’t make peace with our friends, we make peace with our enemies.” Engagement is important. When we disengage, we are putting our light under a bushel.

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  6. Bonnie on June 22, 2012 at 8:53 AM

    SilverRain I understand opportunity costs all too well and agree wholeheartedly with you on that.

    Howard THAT is why the faithful are in retreat. If you have smaller forums where you can freely discuss things that are precious to you and you aren’t constantly in defense of the basics of your faith, you can delve deeper into the finer points in an environment absent doubt. The fact is that faith and doubt aren’t in some kind of divine tension – they’re opposites. They’re fire and water, and contact reduces each. They can’t coexist.

    The difference between faithful questioning and doubtful questioning is subtle for those just left of the TBM side, but it’s huge for TBMs. I’m the first to acknowledge that, even as I encourage more to engage online and in the Bloggernacle. But it really does grow rather unpleasant.

    Would you like going someplace where people constantly insulted your kids, called them foolish and mean, told you how they couldn’t survive in the world, described them as bigoted and talked about how much work they had to do to become decent human beings? On the other hand, in a forum of parents where there is good will, one can bring up questions of behavior or foolishness and seek the help of other parents and the conversation is useful and helpful. That is what smaller, private forums offer the faithful. Why would they want to go where the conversation is not encouraging? It’s not that they don’t enjoy being parents anymore; it’s that they want to do their already difficult job without being further under fire.

    If you consider their position it’s a no-brainer. Still, I’m asking them to engage. When our faithful discussions only occur in climate-controlled groups it’s comfortable for us but does little to demonstrate the true balances of opinion in the world.

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  7. Bonnie on June 22, 2012 at 8:59 AM

    MH – I like that quote on making peace with our enemies. To me, Joseph exemplified this more perfectly than any other figure with which I’m acquainted. He engaged constantly, and that was his role, until after a decade and a half he could say, “Deep water is what I am wont to swim in. It all has become a second nature to me.” If you’re going to carry a fire through that, you have to have some serious shielding.

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  8. Bonnie on June 22, 2012 at 9:04 AM

    Stephen – “social dues-paying snarks” – Love it!

    I agree, the idea of people being afraid of the big tent is condescending and dismissive and misses the point. I’ve even spoken awkwardly myself in private forums and offended others by implying that. This is my public apology, guys!

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  9. Howard on June 22, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Bonnie,
    Interesting response I’ll consider that more deeply.

    Steven,
    It was an assumption in question form based upon the the self evident defined tension between the concepts of arch-orthodox and big tent. It may be seen many ways including as a question which and is how it was offered and could be easily be answered; I’m not bothered by a bigger tent I’m bothered by being mired, if that actually is the case and it would then potentially open the discussion in two directions: 1) being mired and 2)enlarging the tent.

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  10. Howard on June 22, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    Bonnie,
    I said nothing about being afraid.

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  11. Becca on June 22, 2012 at 9:41 AM

    Bonnie, I loved your comment about retreating to your keeps at night but coming back in the morning.

    SilverRain, I agree that there is a substantial benefit to face-to-face service, but the majority of people in the (industrialized) world now come to know the Church via the internet. That is the reason for the Church’s big media pushes (Mormon.org, YouTube channels, etc). If you get on the ldstech forums you will meet a lot of faithful members of the Church who understand the importance of the internet in bringing people to Christ.

    That said – I also understand your concerns about opportunity cost, which is why I don’t both commenting on most blogs in the bloggernacle, but I have recently found W&T to be breaking free of the “bloggernacle” (that is – becoming kind of a “new breed” of Mormon blog).

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  12. Becca on June 22, 2012 at 10:05 AM

    Howard, you seem (from these comments and other comments on previous posts) to be really concerned with this concept of “orthodox” Mormonism. Since I am not really aware of what “orthodox” Mormonism is (and I was born and raised in the Church, and attended BYU for 4 1/2 years), could you enlighten me? Are you talking about the gospel of Jesus Christ? “Church” culture?

    You say that the gospel has a uniquely “Utahn” tint to it. I don’t see it that way. I was born and raised in Arkansas, and my gospel experience has actually been quite evangelical. Is that because I was raised around evangelicals? Most of my friends were either evangelical or Methodist. I am a transplant to Utah and I have to say that the Church culture here is not much different from the places I have experience the Church for the majority of my life (Arkansas and California). So I’m not sure what this “Utahn” tint is that you are talking about. Nor do I understand what “orthodox” Mormonism is.

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  13. SilverRain on June 22, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    I have to call poppycock on one concept: that those of us who engage less online publicly engage more privately because it is comfortable, or because we have thin skins.

    Bologna.

    It’s not a matter of having too thin of skin to participate, it’s a matter of being smart enough to expose our thickened, tough, nearly impervious skin in larger arenas where it can do the most good. Why waste my time sorting out ant fights, when there are far larger battles?

    Sure, lots of people meet the Church online. Sure, that’s the first face many of them see. I applaud those who have chosen this venue for their fight, just as in a war, I’m grateful for ALL help by my allies. But some of us are called elsewhere. Some of us have battles closer to home to wage, people to serve who need us here, in real life.

    I felt called to participate here for awhile, now I feel less called, and more called to engage in my life. Until a couple of days ago, it had been weeks since I even glimpsed at a blog post besides writing a very few of my own.

    And I didn’t miss it because I am anxiously engaged in a different good cause.

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  14. Howard on June 22, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    Becca,
    Well, Wikipedia says orthodoxy is generally used to mean the adherence to accepted norms, more specifically to creeds, especially in religion. A little adaptation is required to adopt it here since Mormons say they don’t have creeds. I use it to mean adherence to the church’s stated position and I use arch-orthodox for those who define the church’s stated position even more conservatively. So this would include doctrine, culture and cultural markers, etc. My concern is simply to have a vocabulary that can be used to relatively to contrast and compare similar to what Bonnie did in #6 where she said “just left of the TBM side” to describe fairly closely a position on the orthodox – heterodox scale. I was actually thinking American before I wrote Utahn which is even more specific. Many on the bloggernacle have referred to the perceived differences in the church between being a Utah Mormon even more specifically a Wasatch Front Mormons and being in “the mission field” apparently meaning outside of Utah. While I recently lived in Utah for 6 months or so I’m not really qualified to define those nuances but, Utah is one of the most conservative states, Utah has an unusually large caucasian population and an unusually small minority population and compared to the US and an unusually large Mormon population making it unusually homogenic.

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  15. J. Max Wilson on June 22, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    I usually abstain from commenting on blogs like Wheat and Tares. But I sometimes make exceptions.

    Thank you, Bonnie, for your thoughtful and well written response. I appreciate it.

    I’d like to clarify a couple of things for your readers and commenters and then withdraw.

    I agree with Bonnie completely that if the faithful withdraw then the conversation will be controlled by apostates and wolves. But I am not advocating withdrawal from the real conversation. I still blog and stand up for the gospel on the internet, and in social media, and in real life. I participate in the meta-conversation and contribute to the SEO and Computational Sentiment battles. I build networks of influence to strengthen faith and build the kingdom, both on the internet in in real life. And I engage with those who disagree with me and the apostates among my own friends and family on a regular basis.

    Those who attribute the refusal to participate in these venues to thin skin, or fear, or not wanting to get out of my comfort zone simply don’t know what they are talking about. Many of those who have shown the most support for my criticism of the bloggernacle game are those faithful who have participated significantly and for long periods of time and have learned from experience. Bruce was a main contributor to the W&T predecessor, Mormon Matters. I was the first man to be a guest blogger at Feminist Mormon Housewives. Others have been founders, contributors, or long-time commenters on other well known bloggernacle blogs. Chances are we’ve had the conversations you are now having many, many times before.

    I think the term Arch-Orthodox is silly. It reveals more about the person who uses it than it does anything about those to whom it is applied. I know for a fact that if most of you met me in person you would find that I am not nearly has conservative or orthodox as your internet caricatures suggest. Ironically, an apostate relative of mine once called me the most liberal Mormon he had ever met! And he was talking about my views, not my beard. ;) Bruce is probably more liberal than I am (both politically and religiously). If you’ll read my post very carefully you’ll see that I am not saying that you have to agree with the leaders of the church or Mormon culture, nor that when the “prophet speaks the thinking is done”. My post is crafted far more carefully and precisely than that.

    When I encourage the faithful to refuse to participate in certain venues it is largely about refusing to play a rigged game. As I explained briefly in my post, and Bonnie partially agreed, these kinds of events and blogs usually aren’t real conversations but a kind of stilted public performance. It’s Bunraku Theater, with shadowy characters in the background quietly moving the more visible conversation.

    Having recognized that, I’ve changed my tactics. I’m still in the “conversation,” I’m just refusing to play by your rules. I’m playing by my own rules to achieve my own ends and to marginalize and neuter the game.

    Of course I engage in debate and conversation with others with whom I disagree. I too like to be challenged. I like to try to understand the point of view of those who disagree with me on all kinds of issues. But as I said in my Bite the Wax Tadpole manifesto, I will engage with them on my own timetable, on my own terms, and by my own rules. Time and tide do not allow every contention to be addressed, and often prudence dictates when engagement will do more good than harm.

    I know that Bonnie understands this. I admire and support her efforts to stand up for the believers. She recognizes that the way the bloggernacle is structured it is not a fair fight, nor is it meant to be.

    Thanks for reading my long comment. I’ll withdraw again now. Good day.

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  16. Ray on June 22, 2012 at 1:11 PM

    Very good post, Bonnie. I hope saying that doesn’t cheapen my comment by making it self-congratulatory poppycock.

    I also appreciate J Max’s comment. I agree totally with intentional participation. My own commenting in the Bloggernacle has dropped from back in my heyday (of course, anything would have been a drop for me from back then), and it has been for the same general reason as J Max highlighted. I’m targeting my commenting more now than previously, and I’m focusing my time primarily on efforts that I feel cause true conversation and thoughtful stimulation specifically in the comment threads. I still read lots of posts from around the Bloggernacle, but I comment on fewer of them now.

    Just as a point of history, in a real way, Elder Ballard started the surge in common member participation online when, in General Conference, he asked members not to let the only voices being heard be the bitter, negative ones. Many people started participating specifically because a prophet and apostle asked them to do so. I think that’s important to recognize and acknowledge upfront.

    I think the biggest failure in the surge of participation that followed was two-fold: 1) the opposite surge in condescending commentary at sites that, in practical terms, mirrored the exclusivity of anti-Mormon sites; 2) the failure of many members to rise above the fray and the bitter and negative commentary they left as a result of an oppositional, “fighting” mentality. In that analysis, I agree completely that a too large percentage of the Mormon online participation has been disappointing to me.

    Otoh, I’m one of the most prolific participants in the Bloggernacle over the past 5 years. I’m still as faithful as I was when I started – and I have direct knowledge of good that has been a result of my participation, both for myself and for some others. (and lots of consternation over the years as a result, as well) I’ve learned a lot, and I hope some people have learned from interacting with me.

    I don’t always do it right (and I can see Howard nodding as he reads this), but when it is done right, it works.

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  17. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 22, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    J Max, I appreciate your taking the time for a nuanced response. There is much to be said for your position compared to the one that others have springboarded from it.

    Which points to one problem. In engaging on the larger topic it is too easy for those reading to conclude a rejection of everything you are saying vs a response to parts (and not all) of the chorus.

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  18. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 22, 2012 at 1:45 PM

    Well said Ray.

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  19. Paul on June 22, 2012 at 2:27 PM

    Bonnie, great discussion. I consider myself faithful, even TBM, and enjoy the conversations particularly here at W&T (though to be honest, I am selective about which ones I participate in).

    Frankly, the only argument against the online participation that holds any weight for me is the time-wasting one. There are plenty of things to do in life, and if a person has more value in other interactions besides these, then go for it.

    But the notion that these “online” interactions are less real or less geniune is not something I can agree with. Most commenters on the blogs I regularly read seem sincere and carefully reasoned and expressed (though maybe not all of those at once all the time). I have come to know certain posters and commenters though these forums and I’m made better by the association. Sometimes, like in other interpersonal relationships, there is a rapid connection, and sometimes it takes a while. And to be sure, there are some whom I just dismiss as someone I’m not likely to see eye-to-eye with, just like “real life.”

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  20. Howard on June 22, 2012 at 2:37 PM

    J Max,
    I enjoyed your comment. Why do you apparently think you were labeled Arch-Orthodox?

    Ray,
    We often good naturedly disagree, but that just doubles the pleasure on the occasions we agree!

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  21. Mormon Heretic on June 22, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    J Max, glad you came here to comment. However, I find these two statements you made quite ironic.

    When I encourage the faithful to refuse to participate in certain venues it is largely about refusing to play a rigged game….

    Having recognized that, I’ve changed my tactics. I’m still in the “conversation,” I’m just refusing to play by your rules. I’m playing by my own rules to achieve my own ends and to marginalize and neuter the game.

    I can understand that you don’t want to play in a rigged conversation, but when you “marginalize and neuter”, that makes you just as guilty of playing in a rigged game/conversation. Then it becomes a tug of war, rather than a discussion. I think the Begin quote becomes very useful in this context. We all play with our own ball and go home when we disagree. We cease to be community, and break down into tribal divisions.

    Perhaps “thin skin” wasn’t the correct term to use for you, but I think that there are plenty of bloggers out there with a VERY thin skin, and absolutely hate to be questioned. Nonetheless, if you openly admit that you “marginalize and neuter” the conversations that you can control, that isn’t exactly stellar blog behavior either.

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  22. Mike S on June 22, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Bonnie, thank you for this post. You are a great addition to W&T.

    I think that LDS-themed blogs have followed a natural evolution. At first, everything is new; people try everything; time is invested. Eventually, people fall back to “their own”. I think this is the biggest reason why the more “orthodox” may have “retreated” (although I don’t know if this is 100% true). People go where they feel welcome and communities self-organize out of the initial “chaos”.

    I have done this myself. I think I’m a fairly reasonable person – faithful yet questioning some things. I think my comments are, in general, fairly respectful. But, for example, I don’t ever go to By Common Consent anymore. At first, I would comment occasionally there when something sparked my interest. Then some comments wouldn’t go through. It got to be a pattern. I don’t know if they have some “blacklist” or something like that, but I figured that if they only wanted people who echoed what they said, it wasn’t really interesting to me. I certainly don’t begrudge them, as it’s their sandbox and they can set the rules, but the upshot is that I haven’t gone there for months or longer.

    Similarly, there seem to be a number of other sites with similar moderation policies – and they tend to be the more “orthodox” sites. It reminds me of Church, where there are certain things I should say and certain things I shouldn’t say. That bores me, so I don’t really go there.

    This Balkanization of the bloggernacle is understandable, but is another reason I like W&T. It’s not as “neat and clean”. It’s not always “faith-promoting”. But it works for me.

    I do think that the fault goes both ways. While more “orthodox” believers might be attacked on some more “anti” sites, there is just as little tolerance the opposite way.

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  23. N. on June 22, 2012 at 4:24 PM

    I’ve been involved in online discussions of mormonism (and other things) since 1991, before the advent of the web as most people know it, when the internet was all text all the time, served to a dumb terminal from a mainframe computer. I’ve been everything from active leader to invisible lurker at every stage in the game.

    I’ve seen this discussion every few years, in every new access type (Prodigy, USENET, AOL, www forums, blogs, etc).

    IT NEVER STOPS. The issues never get solved. No one is successful in creating a “safe but challenging and invigorating space.” A big tent is never created. There is no utopia.

    Newsgroups, rooms, forums, blogs all devolve into the worst mire they can become and an echo chamber for whoever owns the space, or controls moderation, or spends the most time shouting other people down until all the dissenting voices go away and do something else with their time.

    Once you realize that everyone you’re interacting with is this guy, it all makes more sense. Sadly, I keep forgetting, and keep getting sucked back in.

    I just thought you all should know what’s in store for you. Best of luck to you; I haven’t been able to escape yet.

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  24. Stephen M (Ethesis) on June 22, 2012 at 4:35 PM

    N, I was on line in the 70s. You know, some of us are still here. ;)

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  25. N. on June 22, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    N, I was on line in the 70s. You know, some of us are still here.

    Then there is no hope for me to escape the pull. I’m past the event horizon. :)

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  26. prometheus on June 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    Here are my 2 cents, for what they’re worth.

    First, for those of us who are geographically isolated from large populations of Mormons, the internet / bloggernacle provides access to a faith community that is otherwise limited, especially when the people you see at church are totally uninterested in talking about theology / social practices / and other related topics that are somewhat niche in their appeal.

    Second, I think that part of the airing of dirty laundry comes from the fact that there is no real channel to provide feedback to anyone much higher than a SP. It is all well and good to have private conversations, but when the powers that be refuse to allow them, what then? Do we all just suffer in silence?

    Third, the other part of the dirty laundry is really just history (MMM, polygamy as two examples of what might be considered as such). Should we cover it up and pretend it didn’t happen or should we come to terms with it and recognize that we are all sinners – ancestors not excepted.

    Fourth, I am not convinced that criticism of policies is the same thing as criticism of church leaders or their personal faith journey. I can observe policies that are not beneficial and provide feedback to try to make them work better, without believing that there is any ill intent on the part of the person creating such policies. I have certainly made stupid policies without really thinking it through myself – if anything I am sympathetic to the person whose great idea turns out to be less than great.

    I think that this discussion is important to have – after all, the unexamined life really isn’t worth living.

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  27. Sunshine on June 22, 2012 at 6:28 PM

    Bonnie,

    Thanks for this post. Your metaphor of parents and children hit home for me – and demonstrates much of my lack of initiative to post online, and to engage.

    I have joined this community as an observer for only a couple of years now. My husband left the church 1.5 years ago, which led me to search for communities that discuss these topics with a balance of open-minded honesty without stamping out the possibility of faith. I turn to the internet to learn, see other ideas, and also to seek help developing my own voice. Your words (along with some others who post here at W&T) help me do so.

    So thanks.

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  28. hawkgrrrl on June 22, 2012 at 7:49 PM

    “the notion that these “online” interactions are less real or less geniune is not something I can agree with” Hear, hear! I think we need to bear in mind that we are engaging with real people in both places. But I do agree that we should also engage with people IRL.

    J Max – thanks for coming by. I disagree with Mormon Heretic’s comment that you are thin skinned. I do find your use of terms like “your rules” and “opposition” to be unnecessary and divisive, though. I don’t see how you can establish and build influence if you are unwilling to likewise be influenced (which is I suspect your core reason for limiting your participation – because you already know your views and are merely representing them as articulately as you can, not trying to engage in a two-way conversation). There are many people on both sides of the belief spectrum who are likewise convinced they are right. I just don’t find that very engaging or interesting in a blog.

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  29. Bonnie on June 22, 2012 at 8:17 PM

    Thanks in aggregate to all of you who have stopped in. I am fighting a darned tenacious sinus infection and have been down for the afternoon and evening. I apologize for not engaging your … engaging comments. I’ve been gratified that this discussion has been inclusive, incisive, and yet respectful. It’s a great model for discussion. Bruce commented in his original article that we’ve linked several times that the faithful are stripped naked publicly but those with alternative opinions get to keep their clothes on. I’m glad to see nobody had to endure that here. I don’t want to know what y’all look like naked.

    :D

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  30. Stephen Marsh on June 22, 2012 at 9:55 PM

    Bonnie, thanks for participating, infection and all. Wish you the best in recovering.

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  31. Jettboy on June 23, 2012 at 7:59 AM

    I was trying to think of a clever thing to say on the topic, but decided there was a simple reason that has been articulated already and ignored. The reason I and I feel many have similarly disengaged is that I don’t like the bloggernacle participants and they don’t like me. Let’s not forget that J. Max didn’t leave the bloggernacle voluntarily and I didn’t either even after ironically defending it. Our blogs were kicked off, his with fanfare and mine uncerimonally. Only a fool or self-hater or troll will remain to argue in a hostile environement. Its not about thin skins. Its about self respect of both ourselves and our beliefs. The fact that there is even an accusation of thin skin is a recognition of hostilility inherent in the system. No thanks.

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  32. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    Valid point, Jettboy, and thank you for making it. When the boundaries are policed from a position of anonymity, it’s never going to be anything but a rigged game. It’s one of the reasons I’m willing to write at W&T – there’s very little policing, and with the removal of the dislike buttons, there’s very little drive-by tomato throwing from commenters. I like the ethics of it, and I think it brings some balance to the problems inherent in digital connection, though it certainly doesn’t provide the transparency of face-to-face connection.

    And I get withdrawal to preserve self-respect and respect for values being a valid choice in a hostile environment. That’s why I’m divorced. No number of people insinuating that divorcees give up intimidates me at all – it wasn’t about having a thin skin. Hopefully we really can at least create cease-fires in that hostile environment.

    Thanks for commenting.

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  33. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 9:17 AM

    Jettboy,
    Sorry, I don’t know the story briefly how were your and J. Max’s blogs kicked off? What do you mean by “kicked off”?

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  34. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 10:16 AM

    Bonnie,
    The difference between faithful questioning and doubtful questioning is subtle for those just left of the TBM side, but it’s huge for TBMs. Please expand on this, why is it huge to TBMs? Does this imply that critically questioning their beliefs is foreign to them?

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  35. Andrew S on June 23, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    re 33,

    Howard

    Have you seen this post from J. Max Wilson?

    I think there is definitely something to the idea that the Bloggernacle could as a whole tone down hostility. That is why we at Wheat & Tares are trying something a little bit different than what some of the other big blogs are and have been doing.

    But it’s still tough. We have to work every day — both commenters and posters — not to be dismissive or snarcastic.

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  36. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Howard – it’s a trust issue. I’ll draw a metaphor (because that’s what I do.)

    If you have a disagreement with a family member, it’s important that you resolve it (all kinds of secular literature, Matt. 18:15-19). Here are two options:

    You can go to your family member and you can explain the situation and ask for your family member’s feedback about what to do. That actually takes a lot of courage and self-control, but it’s founded on a high-trust relationship and a deep affection for your family member. It usually results in an amicable understanding.

    You can go to the town square and you can announce that you have been wronged by your family member. You do this because you have low trust that a private discussion will be effective, or you have little regard for the continuing relationship. This usually precipitates a defensive reaction from the family member, and the fight is on.

    TBMs approach faithful questioning from the James 1:5 model – turning to God with real intent (an expectation to receive an answer and an intention to act on it) in a high-trust association because they expect to maintain the relationship, even strengthen it, through their questioning. When the town square resolution model is explored, people who value the long-term relationship are offended because … that’s offensive.

    It’s like one of your children approaching you angrily because they feel you’ve wronged them, and you know that they don’t trust you, your intentions, your capacities, anything. Contrast that with one of your children approaching you filled with the knowledge that you love them and will help them – what kind of resolution is possible then?

    TBMs question. But the manner in which they question is WHOLLY different. It isn’t a throwing the gauntlet down before God or prophets thing. It’s a high-trust seeking for understanding, and a willingness to accept that there may be things they don’t know.

    The tenor of the debate in the town square makes them defensive of their family member first over the resolution of the question, which is less important than the relationship.

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  37. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Snarcastic. Love that Andrew.

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  38. Andrew S on June 23, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    re 36,

    Bonnie

    Loved the thoughts on high-trust vs. low-trust questioning. It reminds me a lot of the times that people have explained faith to me as being about trust (rather than about belief). So, to have faith in God/the church/the prophets isn’t necessarily to believe every claim attributed to them on every single point, but that, when you have questions, you still trust them overall.

    So, it makes sense that the dividing line between faith and lack of faith is that sense of trust deteriorates…

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  39. Natsy on June 23, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Bonnie-

    I liked your analogy, but I feel that some TBM are not looking at it that way. When I was growing up I was TAUGHT that questioning anything about the Church was walking the road to apostasy. That wasn’t from my parents – it was from Sunday School, Seminary, Institute, etc. I was taught to pray for personal revelation on every matter with the implied outcome being that I would see the truthfulness in every aspect of Church. I don’t always find answers, so according to some I’ve talked to – I just to try “harder” and have “more” faith.

    It’s been hard for me to break from that mode of thinking, which I had to do because of how uncomfortable I’ve been feeling lately. I do have doubts but when I try to bring them up with people at Church they are either horrified (and I’m not talking about anything revolutionary – it’s more questions along the lines of “Is wearing one pair of earrings really a commandment of God?” – and for the record, I only have one hole in each ear.) or they give me the usual “well if you’re praying you’ll know the truth.”

    The fact is, I have prayed, I have read my scriptures. I’ve alwas been actively involved in Church – served in many callings, including RS Pres – most people still look at me as a TBM. I don’t know how I view myself anymore.

    Finding Wheat and Tares and other LDS sites that are open to questioning has been like a balm to me. For once I’m feeling like there is a spot for me – a place where I can find people like me.

    I am fairly new to the LDS blogging world, but I’ve appreciated so much all the different view points. I appreciate those who have no doubts and I appreciate the views of those that are extremely critical. I believe all sides bring balance. It gives people like me, who are wondering, more to consider.

    Also, I don’t think participating on blogs is any less helpful than talking to people in real life. One of the comments (sorry can’t remember which) said that it’s important to go where you are needed – and I think people are needed online. As mentioned, this is where a lot of the world comes for answers.

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  40. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Natsy – you’re right. All TBMs aren’t looking at it that way. That’s really sad. They’re afraid and coming from a low-trust place. Building trust within yourself when you’ve been raised in a low-trust environment is really hard. I wrote about that last Sunday. But we can trust God, and that was what helped me to grow to trust people more. Without faith, trust always has to be in imperfect people, and that’s pretty tough, though I suppose just about as tough as placing trust in someone you can’t see is for people who don’t believe in God. Seems that we can’t get around life being about faith. We are all forced to have faith in something or to become snarcastic. I will be using that in every conversation from now on until I get used to how cool that is, Andrew.

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  41. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Andrew,
    Thank you for the link explaining how J. Max was “kicked off” the agitator. While the Bloggernacle isn’t nearly as hostile as the political blogs I spent many of my early blogging years on and I think one person’s concise and direct comment may be another person’s snarcasm, but I’m sure we could all be more polite. Did you read J. Max’s BCC comment?

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  42. Andrew S on June 23, 2012 at 12:56 PM

    re 41,

    Howard,

    Yeah, I believe his blog’s link to the comment is off…I think this was the comment (And I think this is Steve’s response)

    I definitely think that different people can disagree as to whether a person’s comment is “concise and direct” or “snarcasm,” but I think we should be willing to defer to those who feel slighted, dismissed, or attacked when we become aware that they feel that way. I mean, that’s just polite, no?

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  43. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 12:59 PM

    Bonnie,
    Thank you for the explanation. Do you have a sense of why TBMs tend to default to the James 1:5 model rather than the D&C 9:8 model?

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  44. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    Andrew,
    You have a valid point, it is polite and I know the goal is to make W&T inviting for almost all. But that level of sensitivity in a public conversation is pretty rare and I think it would tend to make Bloggernacle conversations more like Sunday school.

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  45. Andrew S on June 23, 2012 at 1:20 PM

    re 44,

    Howard,

    That level of sensitivity in a public conversation is pretty rare, yes. We also think we are a pretty rare site. We aren’t like most Bloggernacle sites, I would venture to say. Yet, I would also say we aren’t really like Sunday School, either.

    (For whatever it’s worth, I think people could get a lot with saying a whole lot more in Sunday School if they phrased their questions differently, and were careful with what they said. Most people are notoriously terrible at presentation, ambiance, etc., though)

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  46. Bonnie on June 23, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Oh, either model works, Howard. It’s all in the attitude. D&C 9:8 doesn’t say “challenge all the options with reckless abandon and an absence of manners,” it says, “study it out in your mind” (and that doesn’t say anything about the town square.) Either scriptural method you choose, an unwillingness to be snarcastic (hee hee) doesn’t have a rat’s tail to do with being unwilling to either question or study it out. I think most reasonable TBMs are engaging in these conversations (I participate in a lot of private forums in which they are, anyway) – they just don’t won’t to mess with other people’s attitudes in their search for truth. It’s not an echo chamber; it’s just a realization that you don’t have to debate 2+2 if you want to engage in calculus.

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  47. Howard on June 23, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    Bonnie,
    No it doesn’t but there is a significant difference between studying it out in your mind and having it given to you! And that difference isn’t about attitude or manners it’s about reasoning. I’m very happy to know both models work.

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  48. el oso on June 23, 2012 at 2:12 PM

    Just wanted to chime in about W&T and LDS blogs generally. My frequency in even reading many of the other big blogs has decreased a lot. Some of the reasons are articulated above. W&T is more “friendly” to a wider variety of views including virtually all TBM views. Keep up the good work. It is not easy as several articles around the bloggernacle recently have shown.

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  49. [...] So … why did I talk at Sunstone if I’m a TBM?, Sunstone and safe zones!!, The Argument, and An Argument For Bloggernacle Participation by the Faithful. This included a bit of a sub-topic on whether Wheat & Tares is a bunch of apostates and [...]

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