In Support of Deacon Greg

This past week, Deacon Greg Kandra announced that he’s closing down comments on his site for an indefinite period. As his junior colleague at Patheos, I want him to know I understand that move and support it wholeheartedly.

It’s amazing to see the things Greg goes through over at the Deacon’s Bench. In my month and a half of blogging, I’ve tended to choose quirky topics over controversial ones. As a result, I’ve built up a relatively small but invaluable core of regular readers — nearly all of them generous, and better yet, fun-loving. Greg takes a different approach, casting a wide net for news on every imaginable subject, covered from every imaginable angle. For his troubles, he’s gained a readership that, like the Church herself, might fairly be described as “Here comes everybody.” Only in Greg’s case — at least lately — I’d change that to: “Here comes everybody, including a few hardheaded trolls.”

As blogging strategies go, Greg’s ranks among the very bravest. If it pays its dividends in the form of high traffic, it also extracts a price in the form of stress. From those few occasions when I’ve broken form and jumped into a controversy, I’ve come to understand the variables involved well enough that I can explain them to anyone requiring an explanation.

Think of a combox as a bar. Leather-lunged bullies are like bikers or drag queens. Singly or in small groups, they’re easy enough to tolerate. Certainly their patronage is appreciated. When in the minority, they tend to conform, more or less, to house norms of behavior. Diversity enriches the place; ideally, it becomes a kind of Toots Shor’s, where Supreme Court justices drank side-by-side with members of Murder, Inc. (If I may boast, my own joint has shown potential to develop in that direction. My most loyal readers include a sedevacantist and a co-operator in Opus Dei.)

But the pushy types have a way of multiplying until they form a critical mass. When that happens, they scare everyone else off — for the simple reason that fairly few people think of the internet as a verbal gladiator school. Your average reader would sooner hold his tongue than have it torn out by the root. Since being scared into silence is no great inducement, the more pacific types will, eventually, find a friendlier place to play.

Once the 800-lb gorillas have claimed all the seats of honor, they begin to demand the place be changed in accordance with their tastes. Returning to the bar analogy, they’d insist the owner cover the floor with sawdust, or install a disco. They begin, in short, to act like shareholders, rather than ordinary patrons. I’ve seen posters demand that I — or Greg, or Elizabeth — adjust our editorial policies. We mustn’t write on this subject, or in that tone. Or, better, they’ll insist we apologize for posting something that offends their sensibilities. On a particularly rough day, moderating a thread can feel like dealing with so many Abe Foxmans.

In a way, it’s easy to understand where they find such cheek. A regular reader might spend hours on his favorite blog. If a discussion gets on a roll, he could end up writing more words on the subject than the blogger has himself. To a point, he can even become one of the site’s attractions: some readers will show up hoping to deflate him or win his approval. (In fact, the surest sign a thread’s taken off is that respondents have forgotten about slitting the blogger’s throat and abandoned themselves to slitting one another’s.)

But in the end, the relationship between blogger and readers, though intimate to an unprecedented degree, cannot be a relationship of equals. A blog is not a corporation or a limited partnership; it has a sole owner and proprietor, and that person deserves the exclusive right to make decisions. He’s earned it by doing the most important work. Filling a combox with thousands of words of commentary takes skill and intelligence, to be sure. But choosing and framing topics so as to incite that kind of verbal effusion takes skill and intelligence, plus a special kind of informed discretion. Add the fact that the blogger is posting under his own name, usually with his own photograph, and has scattered more than a few key biographical details to the winds, and it becomes clear that blogging also takes a certain amount of guts.

Now here comes the part that’s unfair to readers: this sole owner, proprietor, content-generator and decision-maker is also human. That means he has a limited threshold for badgering. Anyone truly determined to fracture his peace of mind or puncture his ego stands a fair chance of doing either. But that could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. Readers and their right to express themselves deserve a high priority, but the blogger must assign his own autonomy the very highest priority. Push a blogger to the point where something’s got to give, and that thing could be you.

A few weeks ago, I was talking this over with a woman who blogs on Patheos’ pagan forum. She told me, “My blog is my house. I’ll give the bum’s rush to anyone I think deserves it,“ adding that this is a characteristically pagan way of seeing things. Vas heil, and pass the hammer, thinks I. Right away, I squashed a couple of troublemakers, and have eighty-sixed one or two per week ever since. In case anyone’s curious, my traffic has been improving steadily.

Greg’s solution, I think, is much more charitable, and yes, more Christian. Whereas I rely on my intuition to spot an incorrigible turd, he calls everyone to conversion. It’s the best deal in town, folks. I wouldn’t hold out for anything better.

Enjoy your vacation, Deacon. You’ve earned it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rudy-Barye-Garcia/1612190210 Rudy Barye Garcia

    I’ve followed Deacon Greg’s blog for about two years now from his original blog site and then to his two relocations to the current one here at patheos. Am as guilty as a lot of others for getting carried away in the let’s say the “heat of the blog” and many a time I have been sorry I said what I said. So I can sympathize with the Deacon as the heat really got high last week.

    In the other hand the type of subjects of the blogs are an open invitation to controversy; these are subjects hot on the push buttons category; abortion, homosexuality, obedience, orthodoxy etc. I think the famous Harry Truman dictum applies here (remember?; if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?)

    There is also the fact that ever since he move his blog here to this site the amount of sniping has increased as the audience, or rather the readership, includes people who do not share the conservative orthodox Catholicism of many of his long time readers.

    There is actually a few commentators that seem to participate in the discussion with the express mission of provoking heated responses. The buttons they push (probably knowingly) will almost invariably elicit the non so charitable response of very fallible, sinful and sometimes not very gentle Catholics. As you say about the blogger, so it is with the readership; all too human. And yes we do get ugly and that is not acceptable either, we need to scale down the rhetoric.

    I greatly enjoy Deacon Greg’s blog and I think is one of the best ones in the net.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PMTLR3IIGKPHZ2YNU3PDXWK4WA Kenneth

    It is his right to shut down comments, and I can’t say I wouldn’t be tempted to as well, but when it becomes a permanent/indefinite thing, it ceases to be a blog anymore. It’s more of a personal rant or facebook update or something. The whole point of a blog, at least of the sort on sites like this, is to generate some original discussion on a topic and hopefully some perspectives which aren’t being captured in the nanosecond attention span of “regular media.”

    It also seems a little disingenuous and gutless to mine the controversial stuff for all its worth and then pretend like the toxic runoff is all someone else’s fault. He posts a lot of controversial topics that he obviously knows draw a lot of nutjobs and angry people. You can manage that with comment moderation and by shutting the comments off when it reaches that meltdown point and it’s all heat and no light. When you shut off comments entirely, then it seems to me you’re doing the same thing as the bully posters: You’re declaring that your voice is the only one which will be heard on the matter. You may well have the absolute technical right to do so as owner of the blog, but in spirit, you’re doing the same thing as the looniest Corapi fan or the angriest atheists.

  • http://seasonsofgrace.net Kathy Schiffer

    My blog is fairly new and I can’t say I’ve had a boatload of crazies there– mostly respectful dialogue among intelligent people.

    Now my Facebook wall– that’s a different matter! There I’ve wrestled with the question of whom to block. A general rule of thumb: Don’t swear on my wall (it embarrasses me), don’t make fun of the other commenters, and don’t go on about your particular issue (sedevacantism, Latin Mass, or the economy) while all the while disregarding thoughtful comments by others. Obnoxious bores get one warning; then they’re outta there.

  • Silvermoonsc

    The comboxes of several Catholic blogs are a large part of why I’m no longer truly Catholic these days. They sure opened my eyes up… :~/

    Thing is, Kandra allows things to reach fever-pitch, and then he stamps his foot, grabs his ball and runs home when the comboxes go up in flames. Better not to let it get there in the first place, IMO. But a lot of bloggers are like that — they sit in the background and play manipulative games with their commenters for their own personal amusement, or the amusement of themselves and a few friends. The behind-the-scenes e-mailing that goes on is pretty atrocious.

    Regardless of the overall theme, blogs ultimately say more about their authors than they do about the topic at hand. It’s all about neediness in the end. Sometimes it’s touching, sometimes it resonates, but more often than not it’s pretty ugly and sickening.

  • http://profiles.google.com/katrina.ebersole Carolina Cannonball

    Just curious, how does shutting down comments call everyone to conversion?

  • Laurel

    It occurs to me that the same thing happens in churches sometimes.

  • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

    I think I said “My blog is my hall and I’ll ban anyone who continually violates it’s hospitality,” but regardless, glad you found it useful!

    And yes, Pagans take hospitality very seriously. Manners are just as important on the internet as they are in person.

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  • Joan Chakonas

    I now go to Deacon Greg Kandra’s blog as my daily destination because I view it as a safe place to get caught up on current events. If I comment I don’t get mean and nasty replies or attacks by Catholic bashers like I find happens on other Catholic sites. If I see nasty commentary to Deacon Greg I just don’t read it. I don’t see the faith as a debate; I go to his blog for community.

  • Michael Demers

    I’ve seen the comments go wild on some stories in the Arizona Republic. I can well imagine what kind of abuse the deacon took.

  • jkm

    “The behind-the-scenes e-mailing that goes on is pretty atrocious.”

    And you know this how, if you are not yourself party to it?

    The neediness of commenters, of course, is pure.

  • Mei

    A good idea when blogging, especially upon spiritual topics that bring out all the atheists or worse, people who love to cause trouble, is to allow only those who register and DONATE to leave comments. That way, if they do cause trouble, you can tell them they are financially supporting your religious beliefs (thus helping to evangelize against their OWN belief system ;)
    I’ve actually seen this done on another site and I thought it was a great idea.

  • Mei

    Not sure what blog Star is talking about but I disagree with the pagan comment. I’ve found a huge lack of hospitality in this secular world, especially towards those with any type of faith. You just have to go to CNN and read the comment boards, especially on any story that is morally traditional, Christian or “not up their alley”. Attacks on the faithful are extreme and immediate. Hospitality is not in their vocabulary. Of course, I’ll be fair and say that not all “pagans” are bad. I’m married to one. :)

  • Silvermoonsc

    Because one particularly nasty member of an already nasty little crew of holier than thou Catholics chose to BCC me on a bunch of their emails.

    That’s how.

  • Silvermoonsc

    Everyone’s needy, but bloggers themselves describe a “need” to blog. Sometimes something good comes of their need — or even “call”, I suppose, although who’s doing the calling is always an issue — to share. Sometimes not.

  • Anonymous

    Guess what? I’m doing the calling here, and I’m calling your attitude the shittiest I’ve heard all week. You feel nothing but contempt for people who keep blogs, but you’ll accept the forum they give you to snipe and spout off. Take that somewhere else; you’re done here.

  • Phil Steinacker

    Ever since Father Z instituted re-registration for everyone on a one-at-a-time baisis, with applicants offering some personal information about themselves so Father could get a sense of who they are, the overll atmosphere at What Does the Prayer Really Say has improved immeasurably.

    Father needs to spend less time writing in red corrections and admonishments to folks in the combox and the overal flow is more relaxed while staying on topic.

    He doesn’t need to ban offenders like he once did because they don’t tend to make it into registration. The drawback is you may have to wait 4-8 weeks before he finally gets to your app.

    I agree that shutting down the combox neutralizes the concept of a blog.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LRPN6HG2CG2SWZ2H5LK7MJ4BLM phoo

    Hi. Greg, you may enjoy my reflections on Jesus’ sense of humor, and on humor in the Bible, God’s sense of humor, etc. Want to read one?

  • Melody

    Would rather hang out at a coffee shop than a bar! I don’t know why people feel that they have to jump all over a non-catholic or less than uber-orthodox commenter to prove they’re orthodox. I’m sure it really impresses the person with how we love one another.

  • Barbjensen2

    MayJesus ChristBe Praised!
    The good deacon needs to remember that if he expresses opinions, especially if they offend ideas that are important to others, he needs ot expect heat. If he can’t take the heat, he sould get out of the kitchen. I have always found his column to be rather bland, except when he wants to deride others who do not think as he does. Whose term is ‘incorrigible turds’? Deacon is offensive in the oh so smiley way that is an afflicition of the mediocre.

  • diane

    You’re losing your faith because of blogs? Really???

    I like blogs, but sheesh…don’t you think Real Life is just a tetch more important?

  • Greg Kandra

    FWIW, to clear up any confusion:

    “Incorrigible turds” is Max’s description, not mine.

    Dcn. G.

  • Michael Demers

    I read something the other day about how Jesus would make a statement in reply to the Pharisees or scribes and then he would move on, instead of contending with unbelievers.

  • Michael Demers

    Don’t let blogs scare you. Let God guide you.

  • Billiamo

    Interesting contrast between your opening salutation and your closing insult, Barb. Did you really mean that?

  • Greg Kandra

    “Just curious, how does shutting down comments call everyone to conversion?”

    It doesn’t. But it doesn’t repel people, either. I decided to shut down comments for a time because some of my readers were upset that the conversation was becoming increasingly hostile and disrespectful; a couple told me they couldn’t stand being there anymore.

    I decided it was time for a breather.

  • Just Fred

    Thank you for this. Deacon Greg – should you happen on this – thank you for what you have and will do for the Church Internet.

    +Peace
    Fred

  • justamouse

    I hope he opens them up again. Not soon, but again. I’m going to make a point to post and be nice in hopes that the gorillas learn to eat with a fork and knife.

  • Kevin

    I think it is good move by Deacon Greg. It’s no secret that the Catholic blogosphere’s handling of the Corapi matter was far from its best moment and left a lingering bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

    In the future I’m sure matters like this will be treated with more charity by the bloggers themselves, who seem to cross-market and cross-reference each other so much that a pack mentality arises, and commenters will learn to either ignore the more provocative posts or read other blogs. There is no shortage of them out there.

  • http://twitter.com/Tonyflavin Tony Flavin

    I have been unfollowed and blocked on twitter because I am not an EF bunny who sees the EF as a superior liturgy.

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