Warren Throckmorton’s fine blog is no longer here on Patheos. He got booted off, with no coherent explanation. That was rude — rudely disrespectful toward someone whose long presence here has enormously enriched every conception of Patheos as a community or a conversation.
And it was a radical departure of the entire premise and ethos of Patheos as a platform for writers and bloggers from every imaginable religious perspective. It’s a violation of explicit and implicit promises made to everyone whose blog is hosted at this site. Not cool.
I started this blog on Blogger. Old school. It let me get fancy — for 2003 values of the word “fancy.” Had a column on the right for the blogroll, a comment section, and trackbacks.
Trackbacks were awesome … for about six months. They sparked a healthy and heartening cross-pollination and a rich conversation between bloggers. Then they got infested with pornographic and pharmaceutical spam and became useless so everybody turned them off. That happens — some tools and platforms for writers start out with great promise, then later lose their way and we have to move on. That was a shame, because I really loved Trackbacks before they went downhill.
Anyway, Blogger was also a bit unwieldy for someone as code-challenged as myself, so early on I moved this blog over to TypePad, which was a bit more idiot-proof. Plus it had lots of spiffy “widgets” and spam-blockers and other add-ons that made it attractive for someone like me who just wanted to be able to write, edit, and post.
For several years, then, I was writing on TypePad. Note, of course, that this did not mean I was writing for TypePad. Nor did it mean that TypePad was my “publisher.” I was the publisher, TypePad was the host — the platform allowing me to write and to publish. TypePad provided servers and tech support, not editorial oversight.
I opened accounts with Amazon affiliates and Google Ads that combined for nearly $100 in monthly income, allowing me to spring for the posh TypePad Pro account. But still, that word “Pro” didn’t indicate that I was now a professional working for TypePad, or for Amazon, or for Google, or that I was in any way writing on their behalf. I was writing for only whatever readers found the blog worth reading, and I was writing on behalf of no one but me.
That didn’t change when I moved this blog from Blogger to TypePad and that didn’t change when I moved it from TypePad to Patheos back when the folks in charge of that site first — ambitiously, if a bit clumsily — decided to branch out into hosting blogs. Before it made that shift, the main thrust of Patheos was its Library of World Religions and Faith Traditions, which struck me as a pretty cool idea. It was something like a cross between a handbook of denominations and How To Be a Perfect Stranger. (Let me again recommend that book as a delightful, winsome guide to neighborly pluralism and respectful diversity.)
The library was meant to serve as a kind of encyclopedia of religious and spiritual perspectives, providing an accurate description of them written by adherents of the various perspectives themselves. That strikes me as a valuable service just in terms of civil society and neighborliness. And it might even help to lessen the possibility of superpowers cluelessly inserting themselves into all sides of regional sectarian conflicts.
Hosting blogs was something the folks then running Patheos saw as an extension and an expansion of this exploration of pluralism and the multiplicity of religious and spiritual perspectives. Robust pluralism and diversity were the whole point of the exercise. That was reflected in their earliest recruits, which included the Friendly Atheist, the Anchoress, Jesus Creed, and me. The initial crop of blogs added to the mix included Buddhists, Pagans, Muslims, less-dour Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants. The initial loose organization was something like an old Yahoo! directory, but that quickly gave way to setting up various “channels” — evangelical, atheist, Pagan, Catholic, Muslim, mainline Protestant, etc.
Figuring out the most appropriate channel for every blog was sometimes fraught, and the designations required a bit of fiddling. This blog got bounced from the evangelical channel into the newly renamed “progressive Christian” one — a phrase meant to encompass mainline Protestants, black church perspectives, “emergent” post-evangelical Rob-Bell types and even politically progressive evangelicals who tended to season their theological musings with elliptical dirty jokes (ahem).
(That designation — “progressive Christians” — was awkward and somewhat jarring when it was first adopted by Patheos because it wasn’t a commonly used term or category. That has since changed as the term has been adopted by various pundits, pollsters and religious-studies types. It’d be interesting to see a LexisNexis search on the use of that term over time.)
The reshuffling involving the creation of that progressive Christian channel was a sign of potential troubles to come. The new category existed, in part, to provide a home for evangelicals who weren’t considered/allowed to be consider “evangelical” by some of their brethren. The issue at the time seemed to be the old controversy over whether or not it was acceptable to most evangelicals for the category “evangelical” to include those who dined with Gentiles. By which I mean The Gay Thing. But the larger issue is the perpetually contested boundaries of that idea of “evangelical.”
Even within the larger umbrella of an intentionally, intrinsically pluralistic platform, any sub-category attempting to limn the outlines of who is and who is not “evangelical” is going to end up disputed. That perpetual disputation is, more or less, the structure of white evangelical polity — the thing that functions in lieu of more formal bishops and ecclesial hierarchies. One definition of evangelical might be that category of Protestant Christians who feel compelled to argue over who belongs to said category.
But whatevs … like the folks doing Brooklyn 99, I wasn’t concerned with what channel I was on as much as with just continuing to do what I was doing, i.e., writing and editing this blog independently, but without having to worry about servers and the tech side of things. The whole idea of Patheos in the first place was to have a channel for everybody — for every perspective. The “channel” thing was never the primary way most readers of most of the blogs found those sites, so the designation of a particular channel didn’t matter much to me anymore than the Blogger/TypePad distinction did. “Evangelical,” “progressive Christian,” Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, whatever — the point was always still the original deal: I write on Patheos, not for or on behalf of Patheos. I publish; they host.
That’s always been the deal, which is why the rude eviction of Dr. Throckmorton is so jarring and unseemly. He writes from a particular religious perspective and therefore, by definition, he ought to belong somewhere here on Patheos. If the “evangelical channel” was no longer comfortable including him within its contentious confines, fine, swap him over to one of the other channels — “progressive Christian” or “general Christian.” Or start a new channel. A plurality of voices and perspectives was always the whole point. If Patheos is going to start excluding certain perspectives then they’ve really lost the map. They’ve lost sight of what they are and what they do.
And if the deal is no longer the deal, well, in that case I’d need to find a new host and a different, more trustworthy and less meddlesome platform.
I’m still not terribly tech-savvy. Is SquareSpace just for podcasters? Is there some cool new 2018 version of TypePad that I should be aware of? Is there an ideal platform for blog-hosting that is able to describe and conceive of itself as such without instead mumbling about “strategic objectives”? Asking for a friend.