Today we shall hear from a critic of this column, but before the excitement let me describe some of what I have learned about writing interacting on line with critics, since I started on a C64 on Qlink back in 1986. If you want to get to the good stuff, skipping the “how to use blogs” part, and see a commentator go after me (unedited! raw!), then skip to the last section.
On Blog Comments and Patheos as a Valuable Resource
Having enjoyed dialog on the old Washington Post On Faith through the spirited comment section, I decided to close comments here at Eidos. Partly this was because of time and partly to a change in the nature of blog discussions. Discourse has grown very toxic and the mask of pseudonyms too easy to abuse. Yet my decision goes beyond the negative reasons (too little time, too much toxicity), to wanting to have time to interact with the riches here on Patheos outside my own little bubble. I am trying to use the full resources available here at Patheos to learn about religion more deeply from thoughtful practitioners!
Dialog here at Patheos is between those chosen to be writers. I try to read a sampling of many of them and digest the arguments they make and this reading strengthens my writing. The Catholic sub-section has some of the strongest writers this side of GK Chesterton in the demanding field of “write something new most every day.”
That takes up time that at the Washington Post I used for talking to blog commenters on my posts. Oddly turning off comments has kept me out of an intellectual bubble so many who curate their own discussions enter. If I opened comments, my time would go into reading critics of what I said, falling into the trap of “fan service” for those who liked what I had to say, and then end up responding in the comments with more of what I have to say. Since commenters are almost never to the level of the writers at the Patheos site, I end up in a little world still too dominated by my ideas. Instead, I religiously read Catholic, atheist, Mormon, pagan, and other writers on the entirety of Patheos and think about what they have to say.
I am better for this experience and am thankful to Patheos for having so much diversity. I am especially deeply grateful for those sections, Islamic writers for example, that are not on the attack always. A few areas seem to exist only to put down some other section and that is pathetic, not Patheos.
Talking to People Without a Patheos Blog Using Better Tools (at least for me) than Disqs
What about about the bigger crowd?
I have an active Twitter feed (@jmnr) where I rarely block anyone: the few cases have been porn distributors, Russian bots, and alt-Right people who have sent me ugly images that I did not wish my students to see. I have been able to have discussion with alt-Right white nationalists, atheists who did not agree with me, and many other interesting people in threads hundreds of teeets long. Twitter is set up for some quick intellectual fencing, parry and thrust!
I also post Eidos pieces on Facebook where people who are critical have been uncensored and able to dialog with me to the extent I have time. As the better long form medium, I have been in Facebook discussions that are hundreds of words. Because (almost all) people are there using real names, we are able to get real, there is less temptation for any of us to be poseurs.
If a person locks down all forms of social media criticism, that is worrisome to me. As people guilty of thinking in public in an anti-intellectual age, we need the courage of our convictions.
Of course, I cannot prove my motives, and I am often accused of intellectual cowardice or once of having closed comments after a good drubbing here in the past. Since I have never had comments and one cannot lose an argument in a forum one has never had, this seems unlikely. Having engaged Niles Eldridge, Dan Barker, Jesus Seminar leaders, and (most recently) Michael Shermer in public dialog, I do not think I am afraid. Who can be sure? This much seems true: the cry “Chicken! Chicken!” Hasn’t motivated me to action since fifth grade when David Tetley used it with effect.
This is not the only way to handle a Patheos blog, but it is, I think, one justifiable strategy.
Now the Good Stuff: An Unedited Critic
A former student, himself an interesting public intellectual, asked me a series of questions on Jesus, Christianity, and extra-terrestrial life. My responses did not make a critic happy and this time Disqus got them to me poste haste or with at least better than dial up haste.
Here is Meno*:
What horrible mindless infantile made up delusional gibberish. “Divine revelation” is you talking to yourself in your head…it is psychotic. “Salvation” is the most absurd backwards primitive Dark Ages nonsense anyone could possibly believe. It is total made up tripe by fearful, credulous, gullible fools who checked their brains at the door a long time ago.
One should note that this is not an argument, but a series of assertions, some more plausible than others. Given my eye sight and autocorrect, I am always in danger of writing true gibberish. The highlighted bit in the last sentence kept trying to become “I am always in Dan Gertsch of writers true Gibbs.”
This is a delightful sentence in a Lewis Carrol sort of way, though that means disturbing too. However, I am not sure that my post rises to that level. It might be wrong, but gibberish it is not.
The other opening descriptions are less creditable to Meno.
The post might be horrible to Meno and who am I to dispute his views? As for being infantile, this is a common complaint made about Christians. We need to have a “sky Daddy.” Of course, this view depends on there being no God. If there is a God as most humans believe, then the need to kill the person you call “sky Daddy” could be characterized in many ways. This just points to the danger of using psychological jargon licentiously without a license.
I am confident that while my mind may not be good, I am not mindless: I think therefore I have a mind said no famous philosopher ever, but the thought seems right!
The core of the argument appears to be that hearing God speak is psychotic. It might be unless God speaks. Since that is the very issue in question, this diagnosis too seems hasty. Not to get all Ent about it, but we should take our time in these discussions and not rush to hasty conclusions. Imagine if I asserted (without argument) that Meno was repressing Divine Speech, because he had some sort of Theophobia!
Ah the endless joys of the suffix “-phobia.”
Evidently “salvation” is just as bad as I am, being absurd, backwards, primitive, Dark Ages nonsense.
This is offensive talk, not to me, but to the past. Since we are all, including Meno, the product of the past, it is hard to see how we got here if we used to be absurd, backwards, primitive, living in a Dark Age spouting nonsense.
CS Lewis rightly described the notion that “those people” in the past were backwards as a fashionable prejudice, sheer chronological snobbery. Generally it consists of an attitude of superiority to “those people” (like all bigotry) only all those people are dead and so conveniently unable to defend themselves.
What does it mean to be backwards? Plato had no mobile phone, but he wrote Republic. “Primitive cultures” built the Parthenon and managed not to stock pile nuclear weapons that could destroy us all. The Dark Ages did not exist. (Read Discarded Image.)
Nonsense has made an appearance or three in the modern world.
Meno resents my idea that we need saving . . . Though evidently he thinks we need saving from religion and that he is called to be a savior. Odd that.
Why “salvation?” I notice a gap between what “is” and what “should be” in me. I work on it, but need help. I need to be saved from missing the mark, something I always do. As a result, I look about for a credible philosophy that might do the job. Christianity works.
I do not follow Christ out fear, but out of love. Perfect love is not credulous, that way is abuse, but trusting when the trust is merited based on reason and experience. We call that trust “faith.” Faith begins in good questions and ends seeking understanding.
One can check a coat at the door, but should never check a brain. First, the check girl might be a Zombie. This is unsafe. More seriously, one cannot be happy, flourish as a whole person, without reason. However, one should also not check heart at the front door either. Reason without decency, love, becomes ugly.
Let’s not check any metaphorical body parties at the door, because the only place what that happens has “Abandon Hope” written over the entrance.
*Meno was not the critics real name, but then neither was the pseudonym he used.