As someone who is untrained in journalism, I took up blogging in about 2004 with a now forgotten section of my Civitas Dei website called Ramblings of an Unchurched Cleric. It was written on pages at the rate of one a month, and there was a simple archive. There was no provision for comments, but readers could send me e-mails as some did. I ceased to be unchurched in August 2005 when Archbishop Hepworth accepted me under his jurisdiction in the TAC. Accordingly, the “blog” column evolved and its name changed.
I experimented with a few blog sites, and settled with WordPress as giving the service that seemed the most user-friendly to me. It is said that a new blog goes up every minute or so. There are millions of them on one subject or another, or simply as a “daily diary” of someone who wants to share his or her life with the world. The word blog is a contraction of web log, like a ship’s log or the daily diary, a literary form immortalised by Anne Frank, the courageous Dutch Jewish girl and her family who hid out during World War II only to be caught, sent to a concentration camp and died just days before the camp was liberated in 1945 by the Allies. Life is short and written records abide, until they are thrown away, burned or published.
Nowadays, blogs are rarely used as personal diaries. Facebook and other similar kinds of sites provide platforms for personal expression. I have an account on Facebook, but I never write on it, and use it only to find people with whom I have lost contact. The blog is a place where readers can find a continuous stream of thought on a particular subject (with related topics) written by someone who knows his subject. That is certainly the way I have seen the blog, and have generally intended it as a tool of priestly ministry via teaching. Another aspect is whether the blogger (the blog owner, not the commenters) wants to “be followed”, or whether he wants to leave something that others will find useful (or not) without being interested in promoting his own personal prestige.
Most bloggers are amateurs, as I am, and some are professional journalists whose blogging is an extension of their career with the media they work for. Whether we are amateur or professional, the thing we have in common is that we love to write, and we write well. If we did not, blogging would be so much of a chore that we would lack the motivation to do it.
We need to choose our subjects well. This blog, as its predecessor the English Catholic, had tended to become dissipated. Too specialised, a blog will attract few readers, and it will never have dynamism. If you want to write about academic subjects, it is best to write books and articles for publication using the methodological rigour we were taught at university. If not, we write at a more popular level, and have to diversify a little. As the Sun in its Orb was primarily about a specific liturgical tradition in European Catholicism, but inevitably, it took on the more generalised characteristics of the former English Catholic. Indeed, every time it enters the polemical fray about continuing Anglicanism and the implementation of Anglicanorum coetibus, it runs into trouble with the more hostile of the commenters. With the demise of the Anglo-Catholic, the only two blogs dealing with this matter are Fr Stephen Smuts’ blog and Foolishness to the world by the professional journalist Deborah Gyapong. The former is already battling with “troll contamination”.
It is certainly better to write sparingly but with real expertise in matters. That is if we want to engage our readers.
One style to avoid is that of what British journalism calls the Green Ink Brigade? Such writers rarely have blogs, interestingly, and “green ink” writers sometimes have the profile of internet trolls. One definition I have found is:
In British journalism, Green Ink is supposedly a major identifying characteristic of written correspondence from self-aggrandising, pedants, cranks, charlatans and eccentrics, or from the clearly mentally ills. Writers and correspondents who fit this general profile are referred to as Green Inkers or as members of the Green Ink Brigade (GIB).
I have on occasion been puzzled on receiving letters from people I had never heard of, typically more than ten pages of manuscript and in huge paragraphs or even a single paragraph. The style is unreadable and meandering, and the subject is number one, the writer. It must be fascinating to go into a study of human eccentricities involving the written word, the pathology of writing, or writing pathologies. The above description often fits commenters, even those who do not show the typical malicious intentions of trolls. As I like to define words rationally, I would add (in the light of the Wikipedia article) that a troll is someone who posts inflammatory messages into a forum or a blog with the primary intention of provoking readers into an emotional response or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion. This article needs to be carefully read, since the term troll or trolling can be used by extension, not always appropriately, and often abusively. I have done it myself. I refer you also to my article of yesterday The Radioactive Waste of the Internet.
I often receive encouragement to continue blog writing by those who say that they appreciate my out-of-the-box thinking and my challenging certain soi-disant orthodoxies that in my opinion stifle the meaning of Christianity. Thus I continue as a service to those who seek that kind of expression. I therefore definitively discontinue discussion of the TAC and the Ordinariates, and these subjects are now off-topic. I must be as firm with myself as with commenters, and the temptations are often overwhelming. I therefore refer readers to the two sites I mentioned above or do things like in the 1970’s – go through the printed church magazine and call a priest by telephone or write him a letter. I believe post offices still sell stamps and do mail delivery services in most countries!
One thing I should add is that blogs are wonderful when they are new. They age very badly and rapidly run of energy as the blogger’s favourite subject is discussed. After a time, nothing undiscussed remains. Then what? Changing historical circumstances often removes a blog’s raison d’être, as happened with the Anglo-Catholic and my own English Catholic. Blogs run out of steam, and articles are so ephemeral that their lifespan is compared with that of a mayfly, a beautiful and delicate creature that lives for only one day. In my statistics page, I find that the blog is consulted maybe about six hundred times, and I might get six comments, which would make up one percent. I may have as many as twenty readers who use the search box to look up old posts, and the page tells me which posts are consulted and the number of times. It is for the sake of that tiny minority that I keep something going.
To be honest, I feel about through with it all, and I know this would please some of my critics, whose criticisms will be as ephemeral as what they criticise. I think it is a good exercise to look at blogs dealing with other subjects than our own and see what is lasting and truly useful. As religion leaves the public sphere, and probably rightly, it does itself a disservice on the Internet, and this fact challenges my assumption that the internet is a form of priestly ministry. It all colludes with many of my reflections on Christianity in general, namely that if Christianity is not to become a very nasty ideology and means of oppression, it must return to the catacombs and the contemplative life of the desert.
We are brought to a quandry, whether we react as Luddites and denounce the infernal machine. Beyond a certain age, technological progress overwhelms us. The joy of sailing is doing something that man has done for thousands of years, hauling up bits of cloth on strings and pieces of wood up a mast on a floating hull and having the wind propel the boat. But, the computer has evolved incredibly since I began to use it in the mid 1990’s. The blog itself will be superseded by something else, a new means of communication. Even Facebook is not without problems. What else is possible and where will all that evolve? I often wonder whether technological progress has not come to a point where it would collapse like a house of cards and leave us to pick up our lives without electrity or fuel, having to return to the middle-ages or the dark-ages to survive. Yet, there are new inventions all the time as technology resembles the science fiction fantasy of only ten years ago. Help I’m lost!
My emotional and spiritual life have been very adversely affected by blogging on controversial religious subjects, this I have to recognise. I don’t know if this happens with other bloggers. Funny things can happen! Reality can get distorted! Ultimately, we begin to understand the meaning of our mortality, when we think about the idea of going back in time to the middle-ages with a CD player running on batteries! We can only take so much.
Dixi: custodiam vias meas, ut non delinquam in lingua mea. Posui ori meo custodiam, obmutui et humiliatus sum et silui a bonis.