16 October 2018
The Edge of Elfland
Recently some fellow Patheos Catholic writers pointed out that the Patheos Pagan facebook page has just under 45K likes while the the Patheos Catholic facebook page has roughly 27.5K likes. Someone else chimed in noting the Mehta’s The Friendly Atheist, just one blog on Patheos Atheist, has nearly 600K likes. This caused me, and everyone else really, to wonder why Patheos Catholic is so far behind everyone else.
Some suggested, and I think this may have to do with much of this, that many perceive Patheos Catholic as an entirely left-leaning site. And there are many who see us that way. Left-leaning and liberal, however, often seem ill-defined. Some seem to think that being in favor of Pope Francis equals being liberal (a position I only vaguely understand in the broadest of terms, and one with which I vehemently disagree). But others amongst us were quick to point out that if there are many politically or theologically left-leaning blogs at Patheos Catholic, there are just as many right-leaning or even centrist ones. And herein lies the key. American Catholics––to say nothing of European Catholics, with whom I have had very little interaction other than the swathe of Italian, Eastern European, and Irish twitter followers or facebook friends I seem to pick––desire an echo chamber.
Now, you may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Not me! I want a balanced approach. I want to hear from all sides.” I pray you mean it and will take your word for it. Nevertheless, there is a worrying trend when I see so many Catholics either getting all their news from incredibly fringe sources like LifeSiteNews or OnePeterFive (the latter of which has, in a not so veiled way, suggested, or rather hinted, at the fact that Pope Francis might be possessed or at least simply evil). Steve Skojec, founder of OnePeterFive even recently boasted of his lack of knowledge about St. Oscar Romero and said that while he knew nothing of the man, if Pope Francis wanted him to be a saint, he probably shouldn’t be. When people like this are your sources then of course Mark Shea or Scot Eric Alt or possibly even I seem liberal. And when your diet is nothing but fringe sources of any part of the spectrum it is easy to begin to doubt and mistrust all other sources. But there’s more to it than this.
A while back I wrote two letters, one explained that calling Patheos Catholic liberal made no sense because Patheos Catholic is not a cohesive whole and the other explained what it is like to write for Patheos Catholic. I noted that we are not like a journal or newspaper where the editor approves or gives out stories that we have to do and then we are paid for our work. Rather, each blog has been selected by one of our excellent editors based on the merits of its writers who have nearly complete free reign to write about whatever we want. What is more, we only get paid based on how many people reader our content and that decision is handed down by Patheos, not by Rebecca Bratten Weiss our current, and wonderful, channel editor.
Yet here we discover another problem. Many of our writers, myself included, would prefer to be writing about theology or art or literature or prayer. But we also want to see some payment for our writing. And so, sometimes, we write on issues that people read. Since I’ve started writing for Patheos Catholic my most popular posts have chiefly been either about becoming Catholic, side issues of Catholic Apologetics, racism, and politics (in roughly that order). Yet I am capable of writing about more than just those things. Hell, I actually have a PhD in theology and my theology posts are often my least read. It seems that some need to do a better job of actually patronizing our blogs so that they see when we write about the things they say we should. Writers often respond to the likes and wants of their readers. So, if you want more posts on prayer on Patheos Catholic, then make sure you read and post and share the ones we write.
In the end, it is clear that the Patheos Pagan channel having more facebook likes is not an example of the paganization of the United States but rather an example of just how fractured Catholics, especially US Catholics, have become. So if you’re reading this and you tend to think of Patheos Catholic as liberal or left-leaning, actually spend some time with us, look through old posts and tell us which ones you liked. I can’t promise anyone at the channel will start or stop doing anything (again, we don’t work like that), but I can promise that we will respond more to positive clicks and sharing than we will to name-calling. So, head on over to the Patheos Catholic facebook page and check us out, consider liking it so you can see what we write, and maybe consider that it isn’t the end of the world to have a blend of voices talking to you rather than an echo chamber.