The Prerequisites for Gospel Discussion

One of the recurring themes I see in Bloggernacle discussion is what I call the intimidation factor: people prefacing their comments with "I haven’t read X or Y, but…"  or "I’m new to the idea of X, but…" or similar disclaimers.  Worse, I frequently read comments or emails where people disqualify themselves from discussions with thoughts like "I don’t feel like I can contribute… I’m not very educated or well-read compared to the others."

Is this a valid concern when discussing gospel topics?

As usual, I feel the answer to this question is outside of a simple yes or no. 

Our religion sets few minimum requirements for salvation — you must comprehend the Atonement through the Spirit, make a baptismal covenant, and endure to the end.  No literacy demands, no study seems required to make it to Heaven.  If, then, we say that the uneducated can be saved and acheive a celestial glory, what grounds do we have for excluding them, purposely or otherwise, from discussions about the Gospel?  It seems to me that we cannot in good faith require people to know very much about the Church, its history or its workings.  That seems frustrating on some levels, but any other standard would seem to interfere with Christ’s injunction, "come unto me."

That said, in the Bloggernacle we are talking about all sorts of different conversation.  Some are rooted in personal narrative and exploration; others are doctrinal exposition.  Let’s pick an example of a topic, and try to figure out what the appropriate level of knowledge is and why.  Say, polygamy.

First, a participant must know what polygamy is, and why it is relevant to the Church.  This means a basic vocabulary and a rough understanding of Church history.  So far, so good — most online mormons qualify, I think.  What else shall we require for a nice, fun discussion on polygamy?  Obviously, we’re not going to require personal experience (though that would make for a juicy thread!).  Will we require that the person know the scriptural basis for polygamy (i.e, the D&C and O.T. scriptures on point)?  That seems fair, but optional, since we rarely use the scriptures in our blog posts :).  Will we require that a participant have read various texts on Church history and/or polygamy?  Which ones — Our HeritageIn Sacred Loneliness?  We can’t require someone to have read everything written on the topic, but clearly some knowledge would be helpful — so now we are talking about distinctions of degree of literacy.

In my mind, such a distinction is ultimately meaningless.  Will literacy help us arrive at new conclusions or come up with new and better ideas or arguments?  Possibly, but in the domain of a gospel conversation, it seem to me that the best ideas and arguments will come when people write their honest impressions, or their personal experiences when infused by the Spirit.  In other words, education is helpful because it can inform our impressions, but as always it is what’s inside that counts.  The best arguments and ideas will always come from creative minds that know how to find out the good, tough questions and pursue them doggedly, and with the Spirit.

I’m not sure where all this leads me.  Curiously, I don’t mind saying that there are certain minimums of study and preparation in order to participate in Gospel-related intellectual exercises.  However, we need to do a better job at seeking out and encouraging good ideas regardless of their source. 

Thoughts?

Comments

  1. I often succumb to this, mainly b/c I don’t want to be spouting an idea that is well-known and oft-discussed and perhaps even widely discredited. I don’t need to have a revolutionary a-ha! idea to discuss something, but not having read widely in Mormon studies often makes me hestitant to bring something up, for fear that it’s already been done, and done better.

  2. Davis, it’s often said that there have been no new ideas since the Greeks. Someone has already said all these ideas somewhere else at some point. The question is, should that keep us from saying things ourselves?

    I say no. It’s important to our own development to express our ideas and get feedback.

    Someone will always know more than us on one topic or another. At the end of the day, we can’t let that stifle our discussions, or our own attempts to build communities of our own.

  3. Jonathan Green says:

    Steve, I think we’re dealing with beasts of two different natures here. For Gospel discussions, anyone who has any kind of experience with the Gospel potentially has something to say, and no reason to apologize for his or her experience.

    For a discussion of a historical phenomenon like polygamy, no additional reading is necessary to participate. What should be required, I believe, is
    1) the awareness that someone, somewhere may well have studied the issue at hand;
    1a) the awareness that the question may not yet have been studied, or that available sources preclude satisfying answers;
    2) the recognition that one’s long-held ideas about the issue may prove, upon further reading and study, to be wrong; and
    3) a supersized dose (now with 20% more!) of humility.

    Really, just that last one would help in most situations.

  4. “Obviously, we’re not going to require personal experience (though that would make for a juicy thread!).”

    And yet some people maintain that one must have gone on a mission, be married, have children, be a woman, etc. in order to “really understand” or comment credibly on aspects of those situations.

    I disagree with this line of thinking.

  5. Bill, that’s an interesting insight, because I think we can distinguish requirements for personal experience. For example, discussion of the temple gets complicated and difficult with members that are not yet endowed. That doesn’t mean that their comments aren’t credible (far from it), but it does alter the nature of the discussion, and we should be conscious of it.

  6. Jonathan,

    I fail to see how your two categories work differently! In my mind, your points 1), 1a), 2) and 3) should work equally well in garden-variety and intellectual gospel discussions…

  7. The problem is that the bloggernacle seems too intellectual. I rarely see any simple posts where people can just comment that they felt good at a certain point of their life. For instance, posts about Church music always seem negative. Why can’t we just enjoy the songs for what they are?
    There is always some analysis going on. I’m sure that causes many potential comments to be left unsaid because people feel they can’t match wits with the original poster.

  8. There may not be any prerequisites for gospel discussion, but it sure helps to have some idea of where the other participants in the discussion are coming from. While we often make the mistake of dismissing another’s arguments because of their perceived lack of knowledge or expertise, we can also make the mistake of assuming too much knowledge. It’s best generally to get all of the cards out on the table, so we can give others the benefit of the doubt whenever necessary. To address Bill’s point, while you don’t have to be married/be an RM/have kids to talk on these subjects, it does help others to know this information when discussing them.

    I do think there’s a self-censorship effect in the bloggernacle . All you lurkers out there, if you’ve got something to say, go ahead and say it. Chances are, someone will find it interesting. The fact that you’re not a lawyer is actually a plus in my book!

  9. Dang, I thought I was posting right after Bill. Guess I’m slow.

  10. Steve, especially when some people who have had a thorough preparation for temple are surprised to find that there is really very little new information.

  11. Graham: “There is always some analysis going on.”

    It seems strange, but I think the Bloggernacle can be seen as serving multiple purposes, among them interchange of ideas and arguments (in the logical sense, not the hostile sense). If there seems to always be cogs turning and analysis going on, it’s because we’re interested at getting at the causes of phenomena and figuring out how they work.

  12. Steve, I understand and I’m ok with that. But I still stand by my original comments that there is _always_ analysis going on. There doesn’t seem to be any place in the Bloggernacle where you can just post a simple testimony.

    In general, I think the Church has all sorts of lurkers. I know that there are far more people with questions than who ask them. After Sunday School class it is common to hear people talking about things that would have made for good discussion but they didn’t bring it up.

  13. Graham, I disagree — there are many moments of testimony, without analysis. See for example here, here, or here for examples.

    That said, we could use some more.

  14. I guess I don’t understand why “analysis” is a problem. Posting of testimonies might be appropriate sometimes (“Aren’t hymns wonderful?”) but that’s not why I come to the blogosphere. I come for interesting discussion and new viewpoints. I suppose you could create your own analysis-free testimony zone blog, but I don’t know if I would be a frequent visitor.

  15. I agree NFlanders. I don’t think a testimony blog would get many visitors. Whether good or bad, I assume the vast majority of Bloggernacle-ites would meet a certain intellectual standard.
    On a side note… I guess that would be an interesting experiment. I wonder how popular a “Testimony of the Day” blog would do?

  16. Steve, I guess it’s a difference in perception. It seems there is still a lot of analysis going on in those posts. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoy it, and think that’s what makes reading the posts interesting. But I also feel that is why people do say, “I’m not very educated or well-read compared to the others.”
    My wife is an excellent wife, mother and saint, but there is no way she’d read more than a few posts because she’d think they are above her. I think the Church intellectual community, whether at Church or not, whether intentional or not, does indeed intimidate others.
    Perhaps it has as much to do with the power to express yourself as anything else. That is one of the things that my wife always mentions. She is often frustrated because she can’t express her thoughts clearly. And since she doesn’t want to seem stupid, she keeps quiet instead of speaking up. Usually no amount of prompting or encouraging gets her to speak up.

  17. Graham, I hadn’t seen it that way, but I suppose you’re right. How then can we become more accessible?

  18. Steve, I don’t mean this as a cop-out, but that’s the question I’m sure the Church as a whole asks. How do you get people to participate? How do you get them to speak up? How do you get them to contribute? I wish I had some answers, because I could sure use some help in my Ward…
    For what it’s worth, I think that you’re question is the right one, “How then can we become accessible?” There are lots of things a good teacher can do in a Sunday School class to try to bring people out of their shell. It would seem to be much harder on a blog where most people are essentially anonymous.

  19. One nice thing about weblog posts is they often contain links or references to sources that provide good information. So someone who recognizes they are uninformed on a topic but still interested almost always has somewhere to go. Any blogger, commenter, or lurker who follows links/sources and does some reading will be as well-informed as 90% of bloggers within a few short months. The corollary point, of course, is that long-term ignorance is self-inflicted. Maybe that’s why BCC “tolerates dissent but not stupidity,” to use the harsh formulation of our old motto.

  20. “long-term ignorance is self-inflicted”

    An excellent point, Dave. While I think everyone should feel welcome to express their views and shouldn’t be intimidated, at some point we need to assume responsibility and inform ourselves. In the information age, there’s little reason for people to remain clueless about issues they find interesting.

  21. John Mansfield says:

    Wigner on von Neumann:
    He wrote no articles on number theory. But once I told him—this is a story which is perhaps of some interest—that I was much impressed by a new theorem about which I had read. He said, “Did you read the proof?” I said, “No, but the theorem itself is really amazing. ” He said, “Well, would you like to have a proof?” I said, “Yes, if you can give me one.” Then he asked me six questions: “Do you know this theorem?”, “Do you know this theorem?” … six theorems. I knew three, and I didn’t know the other three. And he gave me a wonderful proof, never mentioning the theorems which I did not know and using the theorems which I did know. He was amazing in this respect.
    http://libweb.princeton.edu/libraries/firestone/rbsc/finding_aids/mathoral/pmc44.htm

  22. watkinator says:

    I think that you guys have hit the issue on the head now. Everyone goes through a stage of being uninformed and many in that stage feel unworthy of participating, myself included. But ignorance is usually voluntary. If a person decided to become informed on an issue they could be. Not too sure what can be done about helping others speak up though. There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to invite them into the converstation, esp. over the web.

  23. Hum. Well, I don’t know much about this stuff but . . .

    Har. Okay. Hum. What to say. I say these self-deprecating (sp?) things all the time, every day probably, because I am intimidated by all the smartness around here. I’m not well educated, I don’t know as much about anything (gospel, politics, law, literature, animal husbandry) as most of you all. (Except poop. I know more about poop.)

    Now I happen to have a small talent for expressing myself in writing. (resisting the urge to self-depricate. Must. Resist.) So while I don’t hesitate to make my opinion known, and I do generally feel that my opinions are worth mentioning, I am also always aware of (and intimidated by) the magnitude of my own ignorance. I think it is comforting to me to be upfront about that, that way I defuse potential attackers telling me I’m ignorant. They can’t tell me I’m ignorant, I told them first.

    I don’t know if a time will come when I feel confident enough to leave off the ignorance preamble, but for now it’s almost a comfort to me. If you don’t expect much and I do okay, then all is well. I thrive on low expectations.

    Is that wrong?

    Now how to make it more accessible? I’m not even sure that that’s the problem. Maybe, but I think it comes down to different talents and interests. My husband, bless his perfect little heart, just couldn’t be less interested in the bloggernacle. I couldn’t be less interested in his ’67 Impala. And never the twain shall meet.

    As to the level of knowledge a person needs to participate in a bloggernacle discussion (if their interests do lie there) I don’t know that it’s raw knowledge they need so much as self-awareness. Being aware of the limits of my understanding is very important to me. And I find that people who overinflate the weight of their opinions, or base them in stubborn false assumptions are pretty difficult to hold a discussion with. Thus, to me, professing ignorance is often the best first step.

    But then I could be totally wrong. I often am. (urp.)

  24. Lisa, you do know more about poop than anyone…and oddly enough your post on that at FMH came up in a conversation I was in yesterday about poop. So there you go. Everyone plays, everyone wins. (oh, and then there’s the little matter of you being a phenomenal writer….)

    I think the reason that so many posts tend towards the controversial is that no one reads the nice little introspective faith promoting ones. I wish there was a way to track readership rather than just comments. I think I would write more faith promoting less controversial posts if I thought anyone would read them.

  25. Karen, don’t confuse lack of comments for lack of readership. I love your posts. The best posts IMHO sometimes get very few comments; look at Wilfried’s at T&S for example. I wish there were better indices of readership than comments sometimes.

  26. Lisa, you’ve been around long enough that you can drop the disclaimers — I don’t believe them, anyways. But you said, “I don’t know that it’s raw knowledge they need so much as self-awareness,” which I think is spot-on and completely brilliant.

  27. The character of Steve Carell in the movie Anchorman. That’s how I often feel in the bloggernacle. That about sums it up.

  28. LOL, man. Hey rusty, check your email btw.

  29. Karen — I agree with Steve about readers. I thought your last piece on charity was wonderful, but wasn’t sure what to add to the discussion (is that self-deprecating? :)). Reminds me of my 9 year old son telling us a couple of weeks ago, that he wanted to bear his testimony but didn’t have a story to tell. (I wonder where he learned that? We knew what the next FHE lesson should be on).Perhaps in the future, I will give just a simple thank you and acknowledge the individual for sharing the gift of their writing instead of worrying that I have nothing brilliant, witty or insightful to say.

  30. I wasn’t bemoaning the lack of comments on my charity post…although looking back at my comment here, it may seem that way. Thanks for your support! :o) Actually, Matt Evans and I were having a discussion about that last weekend. On M* they have a readership tracking feature which allows them to chart traffic on posts independent of comments. It seemed like a good idea to me, because it would allow the bloggers to match the needs and interests of the readers more.

  31. Lisa, I agree with Karen — you do know more about poop than anyone. That last poop post was gnarly. And with four kids under 8 at my house I know a poop expert when I read one….

  32. Hi Steve–sorry it’s taken me so long to comment on this thread!

    I think Lisa’s got it when she says that hesitance to comment in the b’naccle stems less from raw ignorance than from a discomfort with written expression. Internet communication is inexorably text-based, in a way that almost any other sort of communication is not, and for those who struggle to translate thought into the written word, this is probably the major deterrent.

    For those of us who do not carry that particular cross, it can be a major addiction.

  33. Rosalynde —

    I think in addition to discomfort with writing, lurkers are afraid to dive in because commenting requires a certain commitment to an argument — opinions are likely to be challenged. I’ve learned not to comment on topics I don’t feel strongly about, because it can be tiresome to defend words that don’t mean much to me.

    There’s also a clubby sense about the bloggernacle. The frequent commenters all know each other and have a certain familiarity with each other that can pose a barrier to outsiders.

  34. Good points Bryce. And worse than being disagreed with is being ignored. I remember my utter disappointment when the first comment I wrote at T&S last fall was completely ignored. Of course it was a very safe comment because I was new, so there might not have been much to say about it. But I wondered if I was just some idiot butting in on a conversation among a group of close friends. I had to summon up some courage to try again, but I’ve never lacked bravado. Nevertheless I can understand why lots of people lurk.

    Cliquishness is a bad thing in the church in general and it happens in the ‘Nacle too. Visiting smaller, individual blogs would be a good way to break in to commenting for lots of new visitors. I know I respond to everyone who comments at New Cool Thang.

    Perhaps it’s like going to a big new ward. You are more likely to meet a friend in a small class than in a giant sacrament meeting. You know the rule: Every new blog visitor needs a friend, encouragement to comment, and nourishment by decent posts.

  35. Geoff, I suppose it does take something of a thick skin to get in there and mix it up on a comment thread, and to get noticed. But after a few comments, people know who you are and I think that passes. I know who you are, in any event…

  36. Bryce,

    I can’t speak for the other lurkers around here, but, if can make a somewhat obvious but appropriate connection, this is why I don’t engage more (yet):

    “Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally’s assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress.” (Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form)

    I’m still trying to “catch the tenor of the argument.” And, by lurking, I have been able to determine who I agree with, who to watch out for, and the best way to engage the conversation.

    (Because of the speed and intensity of many of the conversations, I wonder if many people are having a hard time catching on to it? Is there a way to make it all more inviting without losing any of the flavor?)

  37. Steve-

    Don’t be so quick to dismiss Graham’s concerns. There are many times that I read comments that seem to serve as little else than self-promotion or name-dropping. Sometimes I play a little game of reading each comment and then reading between the lines to figure out what that person’s really trying to say, for example: oh, (s)he wants us all to know that (s)he went to this school and was published this many times, or oh, (s)he wants to be remembered as the personal friend of x. There have been several times that someone corrected another’s grammar – you don’t think that might scare people off? I don’t comment often because I either have no strong opinion about the subject, don’t like the tone of the discussion, or have a baby pulling off my glasses with one hand and grabbing the mouse with the other.

    Lisa – I love self-deprecation (I seriously almost just typed “self-defecation” – all this poop talk, I guess). I would much rather listen to someone who prefaces a comment with a little humble disclaimer than to a self-proclaimed expert. I think we could all use a bit more humility in our assertions. None of us knows everything:)

  38. Pris —

    That’s a great quote.

    Geoff J. —

    Having your own blog is actually a great way to get into the bloggernacle — you have control over the conversation, but you can engage others at their own blogs by linking to them.

    I’ve seen several threads at different blogs/forums started by posters who don’t get responses to their comments. It can be disheartening. I remember my first four or five comments at T&S seemed to end discussion.

  39. Great quote Pris — who do you look out for??

    Kristen, I didn’t think I was dismissing Graham’s concerns — in fact, I think I said I agreed with him…

  40. One important thing to keep in mind is that while a bit of reading by one person can dramatically alter the proportion of what that person knows vs. what a person who has not done the reading knows, it is unlikely to make much a change in the proporition of what a person knows vs. what they do no know. Put another way, it doesn’t take all that much reading to appear “smart” or “well-informed,” but it is important to remember that even the smart and well-informed amongst us are still basically ignorant.

    Another thing to remember is that most people who are particularlly well-read in some area are not well-read because they have some special virtue that others lack. More likely, they simply find reading about topic X fun. Their apparent expertise is much like the expertise of a Yankee’s fan: it is knowledge gained because of a particular taste, but having this taste is not necessarily a sign of special virtue. (Especially if you are sick enough to be a Yankees fan.)

  41. I think that those who blog so as to get comments are blogging for the wrong reasons. Further most blogs I read most frequently and enjoy the most have precious few comments. Some don’t allow comments at all.

    I think some look to T&S and even here in BCC and see that they are frequently primarily focused in generating a discussion. However I’ll be honest that while I enjoy answering questions on my blog, the comments aren’t what I focus on at all. Indeed I initially enabled them so that I could add comments and corrections to my own posts.

  42. Clark — I disagree with you somewhat. While my “ego” per se is not caught up in getting comments, comments on my posts as well as the posts of others are somewhat important to me because I live in a place that is far away from any concentration of LDS population, publications, etc. Finding people in real life to discuss some of the issues that I get to read about here is difficult. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, but I didn’t even know Dialogue existed until about 18 months ago!! And then there is the cost for international subscriptions.

    So, while I struggle with making comments (much of it is just too fast paced for me), I really appreciate the opportunity to hear a variety of viewpoints and feedback.

  43. Steve,

    A good argument is like a good boxing match; there are rules but some don’t follow them as strictly, some people like to move around a lot, some only go for the KO while others will jab, jab, jab, etc.

    So those that I “look out for” are those that ike to throw a kidney punch or two. That sort of thing.

  44. “I know who you are, in any event…”

    I’m glad about that Steve. Though I am a little nervous about the potentially sinister nature of those italics… ; )(I probably didn’t make the best first impression over here with my impromptu interview of Ryan for The Biggest Loser, but you seem to let me come back anyway. BTW — did I miss that interview?)

    Bryce,

    I must say you may be the best I’ve seen in the Bloggernacle at encouraging people. We could use more efforts like yours to strengthen feeble knees (I was struck by how much your compliment to annegb lifted her some weeks ago.)

  45. uhh yeah, that interview. Ya know, I think we all just forgot about it :)

    Don’t worry, the italics weren’t meant to be menacing. Although it’s weird that I would say that I know who you are — I don’t. I barely know anybody, really, in the Bloggernacle. But I know enough about you to talk to you, and enjoy the conversation…

  46. Aaron Brown says:

    Hello all,

    I’ve been otherwise occupied for the last few weeks, still am, and hope to be getting back to being my annoying online self in short order. Maybe in a couple of weeks from now.

    Geoff — You didn’t miss the interview with Ryan Benson. I hope to get the ball rolling with Ryan in the very near future. It’ll happen soon. I promise.

    As to the general discussion in this thread:

    I have long been preoccupied with the question of how to make the Bloggernacle a bit more inclusive of lurkers and other less vocal participants. In fact, I posted on this a few months ago, in a thread entitled “Come Out of the Closet!” If someone more technologically sophisticated than myself (Steve E.) will please provide the link, you can go back and read our earlier discussion on this topic.

    That said, the key phrase in the prior paragraph is “a bit more.” The Bloggernacle can’t be everything to everybody. If everybody at BCC, T&S, etc. watered down their posts so as to be as unintimidating, unpretentious and all-inclusive as possible, the Bloggernacle would cease to be the Bloggernacle, and nobody would visit here. At least I know I wouldn’t. Much of what some people find off-putting about the Bloggernacle in fact makes it what it is. That’s just the nature of the beast.

    As I’ve said elsewhere, I do think there is a problem of cliquishness among many of the Bloggernacle posters that probably dissuades many potential participants. I think this is unfortunate, and I think I’ve been as guilty as anyone in this regard. But the “look at how smart I am” quality of many of the posts, whether intentional or not, is an inevitable part of blogging, in my view, and will likely continue. Such is life.

    Steve’s initial observations that “the Gospel” should have no prerequisites to participation are all fine and good, but the Bloggerancle is neither “the Gospel” nor “the Church.” It is its own animal, and we should treasure it for what it is.

    Aaron B

  47. Thus saith Aaron!

    Actually, I agree with your points — we’re not trying to be everything to everybody, but at the same time I’d hate to think we’re scary or something.

    Aaron’s post is here, on our old site. (tip: if you look at your profile, you can see all the posts you made at the old site).

  48. Kris my point isn’t really so much about “ego” being wrapped up in comments. Just that blogs aren’t very ideal for conversations. You’re far better off on a mailing lists or, to a lesser extent, one of the big blogs with lots of commentators. It used to be forums were OK as well, but few of those are that great IMO. Although they are out there for the brave.

    The point I’d make is that if you are looking for conversation, a small personal blog is one of the less effective ways to do it.

  49. Hi All;

    I am a long time lurker and I don’t comment often. I don’t comment because I have a hard time finding the right tone. I tend to relate personal information that doesn’t seem to present my point well in this forum (I guess that comes from my own weakness in writing.) Thus, I hear blog-crickets chirp after I post and that is embarassing.

    However, I am content to not comment often. I like the “inside” nature of the conversations in the comments. I actually feel like I’m part of it even though I don’t participate.

    So, please keep posting intelligent posts. Keep joking amongst yourselves and other regular commenters. It is fun to read.

  50. Too late Kori! You are now sucked into the commenting vortex and will belong to the blog forever!

    Besides, your writing can’t be all that bad. The blog-crickets was a nice image.

  51. Nice analogy, Pris. I like it.

  52. Geoff J.–

    Thanks. I try to be supportive in my comments, and I try to comment when I’ve gotten something out of a post or a comment even if I have nothing to add. Sometimes that acknowledgement can be important. I was surprised at the effect my little comment had on annegb, but I’m sure glad I made it.

    Hang around long enough and you’ll realize that the real champion of encouragement around the bloggernacle is danithew. Without him, the bloggernacle would be a much less friendly place.

  53. Yep Bryce, friendly is a good thing. It’s a Mormon thing.

    Kori,
    Thanks for the insightful comment. It dawned on me after reading it that refraining from commenting isn’t a bad thing. And my calling those who don’t comment “lurkers” may not be the best choice if words. It has all sorts of sinister connotations. When I teach a gospel doctrine class I don’t refer to those who don’t comment “lurkers”. Some people simply are more comfortable listening and learning. I’m sure there are many readers at the various blogs in the ‘nacle that fit the same profile.

    Having said that, there may be those who want to comment and just haven’t worked up the courage yet. With any luck the bloggernacle in general will remain inclusive enough to welcome all newcomers with open arms.

  54. Coming from someone who has posted approximately four times on any post anywhere in the Bloggernacle (but who has been reading the various blogs for a long time), I agree that often, these blogs seem like a special “clique” where you have to know the right people to make any sort of comment. I also agree that people are afraid of having their comments ignored, and unfortunately I believe that this happens a lot more if the commenter is not “well-known” in the Bloggernacle.

    In addition, it can be rather intimidating for someone like me (a college student) to comment, just because everyone else seems to have a much more “impressive” background (whether or not this is really the case). No one wants to be looked down upon, but perhaps many feel that this will happen.

    Finally, I think it’s sometimes assumed that to comment, you must have something great and profound to say, or you might as well close your mouth. I’m not sure where exactly this attitude comes from, or if it necessarily represents anyone’s attitude (although of course, everyone will claim that that is not their attitude).

  55. Unfortunately, one of the best ways not to be ignored is to write an over-the-top comment. I’ll read a hundred sensible, nice comments (like Chris’s or Kori’s) and nod, but not necessarily feel like I need to respond.

    And then someone will say “But if you say anything bad about any church policy, you’re going straight to hell!” and I’ll get annoyed and respond.

    So when it comes to having comments responded-to, I think that it’s often a good sign if your comment doesn’t get a lot of response.

    I mean sure, there’s the occasional commenter whose every comment gets lots of feedback because it’s brilliant (e.g. Jim, Rosalynde, Wilfried). But for the most part “nice and harmless and a little bit clever” is the best that most of us can aspire to on a regular basis. And those comments sometimes get responses, and sometimes don’t, without any necessary negative reflection on the commenter.

  56. Amen, Brother Kaimi.

    (BTW — You’re going straight to hell for spending so much time blogging…)

  57. Jonathan Green says:

    Of course, Bryce and Dan B. were also friendly and supportive in their comments to a certain rising star in the evangelical world, and we all know how well that worked out.

    (Sorry, that’s an in-group reference that a newcomer wouldn’t understand. (But I can say it, because Bryce was once my roommate. (Sorry, I just had to show how well connected I am. (And I have a forthcoming article in Archiv für Geschichte des Buchwesens–no reason to add that here, I just wanted to show off.))))

  58. #$!!@&*% you, Jonathan!

    (see, i’m not always so nice).

    Jonathan and his wife have a new baby as well, so congratulate him if you haven’t already. I guess he ran out of parentheses.

  59. The Artist Formerly Known as Ed Enochs says:

    I’ll get you, Bryce Inouye, if it’s the last thing I do!

    (Shakes fist).

  60. Marcus Coffey says:

    That Artist fellow, he sure is an articulate young man, whoever he is.

  61. As to Graham and Karen’s concerns about writing more inspirational/testimony-type posts, I can add my own testimony that that kind of thing just doesn’t seem to work. I’ve learned that lesson for myself by setting new lows for comments on a group blog in my somewhat testimonial series about the Savior. Still, I think it’s important to share personal spiritual feelings, regardless of the amount of discussion they provoke. But I do have my doubts that there are many like Graham (and myself) out there, who want that kind of post– if there were, such posts would be much more popular when written.

    Of course, some (Kristine, Jim) have perfected this form, finding ways to 1)comment on doctrine, 2) share personal feelings and experiences and 3) be interesting, all in the same post. Alas, it’s a skill that the rest of us can only strive for.

  62. Ryan, testimony-type posts are often difficult to comment on. They’re often intensely personal, and any comment can come off as a direct criticism. And I suspect many people read and silently agree without commenting because they feel they have nothing to add.

  63. That’s exactly the problem, Bryce — how do you discuss a testimony? What if somebody gave a really dumb testimony — can you mock it? I mean, I know I could, but you?

  64. Steve,

    You are welcome at our dinner table on any first Sunday of the month. You might feel right at home.

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