Not long ago, I attended a conference on liturgy in which one of the plenary speakers took it upon himself to critique the dangers and evils of an increasingly technological age. He rehearsed now-familiar lines about how online interaction stunts people’s ability to relate realistically with one another, how online relationships and communities lack the substance of those in the “real world,” and how our ability to communicate is suffering because of screen-time. Throughout the talk, his message was clear: electronic communication = bad; in-person communication = good.
Of course in-person communication is a good thing, but the reason this presentation stuck in my mind was its nearly wholesale rejection of electronic media as effective and fruitful forms of communication. A rejection like this misses an extremely important opportunity for theology: people discuss online, and people discuss things that matter to them. People will do theology, and will discuss it fervently. The online community provides an expansive thought-playground in which to test ideas, glean insight from others, and participate in communities who travel together as they seek understanding and truth.
But this catalysis can have both a positive and negative power. By now the article from Crux has made the rounds online: Fr. Thomas Rosica (CEO of Salt and Light Media, and a Vatican PR aide) has warned that the Catholic blogosphere too often reads like a “cesspool of hatred.” He points out that anger, indignation, and vitriol make their way into discussions and then set up shop, twisting conversation until it is utterly unrecognizable as the speech of loving Christians.
Fr. Rosica’s comments were explicitly about Catholic presences online, but they could be easily applied to just about any area of theology that weaves its way onto social media and blogs (which is helpful for me, as I’m Lutheran rather than Catholic). Start with some point of theology, add cyberspace, and poof! One can find oneself welcomed into (and even contributing to) an anger-factory emanating waves of resentment instead of a community of faith seeking understanding.
This likely isn’t groundbreaking news to many people. If you’re shocked by Rosica’s suggestions, do a quick Google search for his comments, and see how many blogs take (vitriolic) exception to him. Read the language, and feel the ire. My point is this:
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Reading theology online doesn’t have to be like beekeeping, where in the process of harvesting honey one hopes not to be stung too badly. Likewise, doing theology online doesn’t have to mean protecting one’s store of sweet, sweet truth against those whom one perceives to be out to steal or corrupt it. The theological blogosphere can be a collaborative community without being toxic. As an oft-repeated slogan (usually misattributed to Augustine) puts it, “in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.”
These last four words—in all things charity—represent the place theology should have in the online sphere. Too often in discussions of faith, the other theological virtues get lost: hope and love. It is my goal to contribute in some small way to an online community that aspires to embody these things as it does theology.
People discuss things that matter to them, and they will seek communities that share their passion. Theology blogs can, by God’s grace, help create those communities, and can grow with them as they wrestle with questions of life, God, faith, truth, and love. The trick is to wrestle without malice, and to grow without twisting away from the grace that fosters such growth. Theology has much to offer in this, and I’m excited to join the discussion.