More on the top 25 most influential spiritual classics

The editor of Christian History, Jennifer Woodruff Tait, wrote me about our post on that magazine’s list of the top 25 most influential spiritual classics.  She wanted to reply to some of your comments, but got tangled up in World Table (!!!), so I said I’d pass along what she said:

Thanks for featuring the issue!!

I’d love to respond to some of your commenters but I have no idea how to make the World Table comment system work. If it was still Disqus I would just go in and respond as the magazine.

Can you tell folks: We did not ask people to rank a list. We just wrote and asked them to list their top 5. The list that is there arose organically out of those responses.  The “others we love” from the top 100 were chosen by me specifically to address gender and racial imbalances [because honestly, everything that was mentioned was pretty awesome] and I still wish I had thought more about the need to include Orthodox writers.
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New comment system updates

Jack Donaldson reports on changes to the World Table comment system, thanks to your input.  Some of them (e.g., bigger and more legible font; ability to get e-mail notifications) have been implemented.  He also gives the status of other, more important changes that they are working on.  Read what he says after the jump. [Read more…]

Commenting standards have been set

OK, friends, to give the new World Table comment system a true tryout, we’ve set the parameters.  You will need a rating of over 40 to comment or give ratings.  Comments with a cumulative negative or strongly negative rating will collapse, though readers can click and read them if they want to.

Now that the standards have been set, it’s time to stop playing around by purposefully giving or earning bad ratings to see what will happen.  There will be real consequences, and they will be hard to reverse.  I can still ban people outright, which I will do in the case of troll attacks, as well as blatant attempts to punish people you don’t like.  Instead of just giving a post you don’t approve of the extreme worst ratings in every category, use some nuance and be fair.  (You may not find our resident liberal gadfly’s comment to be “helpful,” but he is seldom disrespectful and is nearly always honest.  To rate otherwise is bearing false witness.)  Again, I can ban people, but I can’t bring them back from the phantom zone if they fall below 40.

As for facilitating discussion, I am told that we will be getting the option of chronological order.  (Also the option of ordering by strength of rating.  As well as by latest first, for readers who want.)  World Table has been hearing your complaints and is taking them seriously, promising refinements accordingly.

Whether or not Patheos will adopt this system permanently and for all of its blogs or if blog authors will have a choice are all open questions.  But let’s give it a chance.

The 1st use of the Law and the new commenting system

We theology nerds talk quite a bit about the Second Use of the Law (the theological use, the “mirror,” which convicts us of sin and drives us to the Gospel), and we argue about the Third Use of the Law (the didactic use, the “guide,” which shows Christians how to live).  We don’t usually say much about the First Use of the Law (the civil use, the “curb,” which enables sinners to live in societies).

The First Use of the Law concerns only external righteousness.  There is no merit to it, no question of earning salvation by external compliance.  Jesus teaches us that we violate the commandment against murder when we hate our brother, and we violate the commandment against adultery when we lust after someone in our hearts.  That inner state is where our status as sinners is evidenet, and it is this inner condition that the Gospel addresses.  But it is also important not to murder anyone externally or to actually commit adultery.  This external righteousness is absolutely necessary if human beings are to live together in families, nations, and societies.  Even someone boiling over with sinfulness on the inside can, on the outside, be a good citizen.

Our sinful nature has to be “curbed.”  The Law achieves this by means of things like parental discipline, the state’s legal system, and social sanctions.  The Law’s first use can make us feel guilt and shame.  We would be ashamed to actually do some of the things we fantasize about.  Many harmful enterprises are held back when the question arises, What if someone finds out?  Being held back by such considerations does not make us a moral person–we shouldn’t have had those fantasies in the first place–but they make civil society possible. [Read more…]

Freedom and the new comment system

Thanks, everybody, for trying out the new World Table comment system.  I can relate to the frustrations some of you are registering.  Thanks also to Jack Donaldson of World Table for commenting on the various threads.  We should rate him as “helpful,” “strongly agree.”  He wrote me an e-mail with the subject “Wow! Loving your community!”  That shows a great attitude, given how many of you were “rating” his system rather poorly, but he is right to be impressed with your thoughtfulness and your high level of discourse.  He said this:  “Great feedback coming in so far. I’ve been in the thread answering people’s questions this morning. So far, most everything mentioned is in the works, but we are feeling the pressure, having heard a ton of feedback from your folks.”  We’ll see what happens with all of this.

Anyway, one larger point was raised that deserves discussion in itself.  Is this attempt to create a climate of civility by means of an algorithm part of the same syndrome that has given us politically correct speech codes, trigger warnings, and the hypersensitivity to being offended that shuts down the freedom of speech?  The syndrome that we have mocked and criticized on this very blog?  Do we have such thin skins that we need to be protected from other commenters, lest our feelings be hurt?

I’d like to hear what you think about this, but I think there is a difference in what this new comment system is trying to do, which I will explain after the jump. [Read more…]

We’re getting a new comment system!

In the rainbow of diversity we have here at the Cranach blog, opinions vary on all sorts of topics.  But virtually everyone agrees on one thing:  Not liking the Disqus commenting system that we’ve been stuck with.  Patheos, who hosts this blog, is considering adopting a new commenting system, which is called the World Table. And we have been chosen to try it out!

One of the problems with Disqus from my point of view is that it is very clumsy to moderate.  Reportedly, 28% of online commenters are trolls, interested only in disrupting conversations and insulting the people trying to have them.  We don’t have that high of a percentage here, but we get our share.  And it isn’t just trolls who are dragging down the quality of onine discourse.  Other commenters may be serious participants, but instead of offering arguments and insights, they try to score points against the people they disagree with by battering them with ad hominem attacks and what they consider clever put downs.   I’ve met loyal readers who never comment because they are intimidated by the nastiness they are afraid they will encounter.  We used to be famous here at the Cranach blog for our high level of discourse and, more than that, the strong sense of community that we built up.  Now, not so much.

I have tried to deal with these problems, to little avail.  Disqus lets people people flag and counterflag each other, but I just don’t have time to keep up with all of the comments in a timely manner, and when I finally do my moderating, to the point of banning somebody, it is often way too late, after the damage has been done.  What World Table offers is a “self-moderating” system.  Actually, it’s more of a “community-moderating” system.  You sign into it, via Facebook, Google+, or, if you must, Disqus, which allows you not only to comment but to rate the other comments, as to how respectful, helpful, honest, and likable the comment is.  If the score reaches particular levels of lowness, the comment will be collapsed (invisible unless you click it) or be deleted or the commenter will be banned.  If you yourself have a record of highly-rated comments, your influence in the other people’s scores will be greater.  If you have a record of low-rated comments, your influence will be less.  And there are safeguards built in to keep people from ganging up on someone to just give opponents lower scores.  Also, appropriately for a Christian blog, there is a “forgiveness factor.”

There are other features:  Even though registering makes the interaction less anonymous (the source of much online obnoxiousness), your privacy will be protected.  The comments will be presented chronologically, as the discussion unfolds (as opposed to Disqus, which handles each comment as an isolated saying to be voted up or down, oblivious to the context and the flow of the discussion).  And more features are being developed, such as the ability to edit one’s comments.  Perhaps the most important feature at this point, since both Patheos and World Table are using this blog to try out the system, is the “We’d like your feedback” link at the top of the comments box.  Use that to communicate what you like, don’t like, suggestions, or what you’d like to see added.

After the jump is a video about the World Table system and a link for more information.  Also, if all goes well, the new system might be in place TODAY.  On this very post.  You can use the new system to discuss the new system.

UPDATE:  On the webpage, posts are listing “0” comments, because that’s keyed to Disqus.  There actually are comments, using this new system.  And even if you don’t post comments yourself, please sign onto World Table so that you can rate the comments you read.  So far, you are making very helpful suggestions.  I’ll pass those along, but also convey them via the “feedback” link, so they will be sure to go to the people to need to hear them.

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