The World Table

The World Table September 10, 2013

For over a year, I’ve been working with an organization called the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy (FRD).  I’ve received some criticism of that effort from both individuals and, in some cases, organizations who have some issues with the fact that the organization embraces evangelism, both simply the idea of persuasion with respect to deeply held beliefs but also the Christian practice of spreading the message of the Gospel, rather than (overtly or covertly) asking members to avoid trying to persuade others regarding their point of view in favor of simple education.

And, to be honest, I see their point.  That said, even before I read Os Guinness’s Global Public Square, I was convinced that not only does this persuasion need to happen, it’s better that it be understood as a integral part of the conversation rather than something to be shunned or avoided.

I may have felt that Guinness’s text was somewhat poorly executed, but his message is not only important, it may be necessary.  In short, he advocates that we need to move beyond the dichotomy of a sacred or a secular debate as the only options available to us and, instead, move toward what he calls the civil public square where the sacred and the secular can be discussed openly in a safe space.

One of the things I’m most excited about with respect to the FRD is their World Table (Facebook, Twitter).  In short, the World Table is a new social network among people who not only seek to have conversation, but want to do so around topics like religion and politics.  Not because these topics are taboo elsewhere, but because when they are discussed elsewhere, things quickly result in nastiness, name calling, epithets, threats, and incivility–the exact opposite of what these topics require in these times.  Here’s a video about it:

While I’ve been working on a Pagan chapter for the FRD — along with a core group of about seven others who find the effort to have merit — I’ve also been excited for the World Table and I’m even more excited now that it’s almost here.  If it sounds like something you may enjoy as well, you can sign up at their website for more information as its released.

I may be excited, but I do have some reservations, specifically with their rating system.  If you’ve not watched the video, the rating system is based on five criteria:  honesty, respect, knowledge, fairness, and likeability.  My experience with other social networks, and with online gaming, indicates to me that these five things are in short supply in the general population online.  However, the anonymity provided by these networks means that it’s a little easier to be disrespectful toward someone without facing consequences elsewhere.  Because the that anonymity doesn’t exist with respect to the World Table, perhaps people will think twice about how they speak to and about others, but I do worry that it could be used as a means by which to bully, troll, and otherwise harm the network as a whole as we’ve seen in just about every other format online.

That said, the whole foundation of the World Table is based on a statement of ten guiding principles that seek to create the civility that is necessary for both this network and, especially, its rating system to survive.  This statement indicates that members will:

  • Be honest
  • Be kind
  • Listen well
  • Share the floor
  • Presume good will
  • Acknowledge the differences
  • Answer the tough questions
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Speak only for [themselves]
  • Keep private things private.

It’s a good list.  Simply looking at it, I know that I struggle with a few of them and I hope that my time spent at the World Table helps me to be a better actor not just within that network but within all other ones off- and online.

John Morehead, custodian of the Evangelical Christian chapter of the FRD and a member of their board, has reached out to me — due to my work with him and the FRD — to specifically invite Pagans to the World Table and the FRD.  Some have warned me that this is simply a means by which to learn about us to more successfully convert members of our community.  But, I choose to, as the list of principles above states, presume good will.  We have been invited and, for the moment, that’s enough for me.  Even better, those with whom we interact within that network will not be anonymous individuals and we can adjust our perception based on what we now about them–including their world table score.

Coincidentally, I’ll be working today to finalize the charter for the Pagan chapter of the FRD, which will have to go back to our organizing committee for review before it can be accepted.  Then, we’ll be seeking to build an advisory council to the chapter and seeking members.  If you’re interested in what’s going on or have any questions, comments, or concerns about what I’m getting myself into, feel free to contact me in the way that is most convenient to you.  You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and contact me via my website if you prefer.


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