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...]

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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Blog drama

In the earlier days of this blog, we were renowned for the high level of discourse and the friendliness of our commenting community.  We had lots of different opinions and different sorts of people participate–conservatives and liberals, Lutherans and Pentecostals, feminists and gays, Muslims and atheists–but with a few exceptions everybody got along.  (Remember Little Buddha–something like that–the atheist who provoked extensive, in depth discussions about God and His existence, who eventually signed off thanking everybody for the personal support he felt and for the friendships he formed on this blog!)

Well, as the number of readers has soared, that sense of community and the friendly climate isn’t the same.  People tell me that they don’t comment anymore, due to their fear of hostile retorts, or that they don’t read the comments anymore.  I have valued the openness of our discussions and I have resisted all of the recommendations to rein in some of the threads and some of the participants.  But I have now started banning people. [Read more...]

Fixing my technological fix

Friends, there has been some good discussion about yesterday’s post regarding the comments on this blog.  No sooner, of course, did the Patheos tech people implement the changes but, before I could even explain them, someone started flagging everything, resulting in a “flagocalypse.”  So to prevent any one person from doing that, or from flagging comments just because they disagree with them, I have asked the Patheos tech people to require THREE flags before the comment disappears, leaving behind only the “Comment Awaiting Moderation” line.  True, a sinister cabal could still banish innocent comments, but an individual will not be able to.  Also, this will enlist the virtual community that we have built up here in protecting itself and enforcing its rules of decorum. [Read more...]

A technological fix for my New Year’s blog resolution?

So, how are you doing with your New Year’s resolution to monitor the comments on your blog and establish a higher tone of discourse?   That was the gist of what one of this blog’s readers put to me, making the point that the personal insults, hi-jacking of threads, and offensive comments have come back in force.   I told him that I was keeping my New Year’s resolution about the same way that most people have been keeping theirs by this time of the year (not even getting out of January)–namely, not keeping it at all.  I can offer excuses–another death in the family requiring unexpected travel, the press of other projects coming due, expected travel for professional commitments, classes starting, etc.–but I have not given up.   In addition, there have been other problems with Disqus, the discussion software this blog is stuck with, with comments disappearing and re-appearing, flagged comments sometimes going into moderation and sometimes not, and probably others.  So thanks to you readers who alerted me to these problems, and I apologize for the annoyances.  Anyway, I talked with the Patheos tech people, and let me explain what we have come up with. [Read more...]

New system for our “comments”

Patheos, which hosts this blog, is going to be making some major upgrades, including moving to a higher-end server, that should decrease load times, eliminate spam, prevent a host of problems, and make possible new features.  One new feature that will be added before moving to the new server is the Disqus system for comments.

Comments will stream as they are made.  You can go back and forth to and from different discussions.  You can follow different commenters whose thoughts especially interest you.  If I’m understanding it aright, you can follow and take part in related discussions that bridge different blogs.  Here is a description of the few features, some of which I don’t fully understand:  For Websites – DISQUS. [Read more...]