A Place of Our Own

“Bloggernacle, USA — pop. 300.” That’s what the town sign would read if there were such a place. I’ve been reflecting a bit lately whether the Bloggernacle, as a small and loosely organized network of weblogs and individuals, is, on the whole, a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral vessel that is neither good nor bad per se. The reasonable comparison, I think, is to an average LDS congregation, another network of individuals that most of us participate in. How do they match up?

How is the Bloggernacle better? The conversations are more interesting. You don’t have to wear a white shirt and tie to blog. If I decide I don’t want to blog this week, no family member lays a guilt trip on me. I actually learn things while blogging, both content (LDS doctrine and history) and skills (HTML and site design and management). If somebody says something stupid, I can just disagree openly (if politely, most of the time). B’naclers actually give sources for their crazy ideas. B’naclers are from all over — geographical diversity is good. B’naclers cover the political and religious spectrum — ideological diversity is good. No authority issues or politicking.

How is an LDS congregation better? A congregation is religion (rendering service) while the B’nacle is just people blabbing. Church teaches and expects sacrifice; the B’nacle asks nothing of its participants. Illiterate peasants can attend church — broad access is good. Church only takes three hours on Sunday, while blogging can absorb an almost unlimited amount of free time. Church offers salvation, perhaps exaltation, while the B’nacle offers only a glimmer of enlightenment from under the door. You can go to church with your family, but blogging tends to be an individual activity with an undetermined impact on domestic harmony.

Those are just some ideas to spur your own evaluation. Two things have made me reflect a bit lately. One is the demise or seeming dormancy of some previously active blogs (A Soft Answer, Sons of Mosiah, A Motley Vision are three I can think of), which reminds us that the life cycle of weblogs is fairly short. They come, they go. People start blogging, do their thing for awhile, then move on to something else in the real world.

Second, I’ve received a couple of emails lately and seen a few comments on other weblogs from people who have appreciated in a fairly positive way some of the discussion they have found on troubling LDS doctrinal or historical topics. People actually get answers and some encouragement from B’nacle discussions, which is really sort of surprising because the general tone is often that of a dissenting or even critical perspective. But it is generally informed discussion of topics not discussed elsewhere in the Church by (generally) informed and honest Mormons who also give links and sources that people with questions can follow up with if they want. In contrast, in two years of blogging, often on topics orthodox LDS view with some suspicion (not always unjustified), I have yet to receive a single comment like this: “Dave, I am appalled a good Mormon would write such trash.” Not one. Well, not many.

So, what do you think? Is the Bloggernacle a good thing? Have you handed out B’nacle pass-along cards to your non-blogging friends yet? Or have you encountered any bitter ex-bloggers who leave us, but just can’t leave us alone? Who will be the next active B’nacler to leave the stage after fulfilling the measure of their online creation?

Comments

  1. Funny you write about this today Dave, Ned just wrote about this very thing here. In his case it seems that the ‘nacle is a good thing, and he explains why.

  2. i think it is a good thing for two reasons. first, the chance to meet lds people from all over the place, people you would not have known otherwise. and secondly, honesty.

    we are more honest on blogs, and i get the feeling that it spills over into our real lives as well. i can’t wait until it spreads into our church meetings, and open converstations can take place there as well as in the b.n.

  3. Not dead yet.

  4. John Mansfield says:

    I disagree about the Mormon blog participants being a more diverse group than an LDS ward. In some ways they may be, but the economic and age grouping is narrower than that of wards I have known. Any mechanics or landscapers or millionaires here? Teenagers and old folks aren’t visible either. Compared to an LDS ward, the blog participants are closer in diversity to last year’s BYU graduating class.

  5. John M raises a good point. While I think there is some economic and social diversity on the bloggernacle, most of us are white, college educated, American, somewhere in the middle class, and have ties to Utah (school, family, traumatic childhood summer vacations, etc.). Wouldn’t it be fascinating to read through a Brazillian bloggernacle? Or a South African bloggernacle? It would be great if we could reach out across nationalities, languages, etc. to communicate with Mormons all over the world in this way. How could we do that?

    Despite the lack of economic and social diversity on the bloggernacle today, I think there is a very wide range of ideas and beliefs among participants here that are definitely not readily apparent or communicated in a typical LDS ward. This kind of diversity is wonderful, and should be embraced and celebrated.

    And I’m so glad Dave hasn’t gotten hate mail about his testimony. I think we’re all worried about people casting aspersions on our character or our intentions whenever we deviate from the standard interpretation (whatever that may be), and it’s nice to know that maybe people in the Church are more accepting of different ideologies and creative thinking.

  6. I agree with John M. My ward circle of friends is very diverse.

    I don’t think I’m more honest on the blog than I am in real life, I pretty much lay it out, no matter what. For me, the difference is that the other bloggers are thinking about the same sorts of things. Not very many people bring up these types of issues in church. Perhaps it truly is not appropriate discussion at that time.

  7. There are a couple of really good things beyond the jollies we get from our intellectual exhibitionism. The Bloggernacle is a substantial web presence. Thousands of people a day come to bloggernacle sites from search engines. Sure we are not the polished PR that the Church itself produces, but considering the alternatives, the bloggernacle is a gigantic tool in the belt of the Church. I imagine that more people come to B’nacle sites than official church sites by search engine (geneology excluded). Would the Church rather someone interested in Zelph go to T&S or some distorted anti site? As there won’t be Zelph on lds.org any time soon, I’m thinking that the Church hierarchy will vote for the B’nacle every time.

    The other really great thing is that the B’nacle, while ephemeral, does have the ability to push peoples Mormon Studies into hyper-drive. As Dave mentioned, people typically cite their weird ideas and people typically call a spade and spade (especially when it can be pejoratively labeled as such).

    People also really do find solace from their crises of faith. Yes, sometimes they may be exacerbated, but, like Dave, I have seen several comments and emails that speak of the crises assuaged by participation in the B’nacle

    The B’nacle is in no way a substitute for participation at church, though. It is very difficult to serve people here beyond the intellectual.

  8. Julie in Austin says:

    You forgot one advantage: the fact that we aren’t in real time means that diverse people (lawyers, students, moms) can squeeze in some blogging and talk to each other. I rarely have time to talk to people in my ward, although I wish I did.

  9. Kristine says:

    “I pretty much lay it out, no matter what.”

    Gee, anne, here I had you pegged as shy, retiring, and reticent…

    /grin/

  10. I’ll start with some of the negatives I feel about my experience with the bloggernacle. Just to play devil’s advocate……

    I must admit that I think the bloggernacle has made me more cynical. Now when I have a Word of Wisdom lesson I am thinking about all the nuances discussed about it in the nacle. Or when we are discussing church history I am thinking about all the things they are leaving out. I think this has made church more frustrating and dull. Sometimes I feel like its just information overload-and that it would be nice not to dissect everything about our faith. It kind dulls the shine on the mystery on things.

    I also often think about how perhaps instead of spending several hours a week on reading blogs, I devoted that time to community service. And what if all bloggers did the same? Wouldn’t that be a better use of time?

    And I certainly don’t read my sciptures for the same amount of time that I read blogs. What if I flip-flopped the time I spent doing each?

    I am also concerned about when commenters get truly contentious. It definetly happens. And we all know where contention comes from. Should we simply say that since most of the time people are civil, then occasional contention is justified? Bloggers often talk past each other and say cutting things.

    Despite these reservations overall I think the bloggernacle is a good thing. It has helped me through some doubting times and it has been wonderful to know there are people out there who feel the same. I have learned lots of fascinating things and been inspired to find out more about certain topics. I think it encourages thinking and knowledge, and that can never be a bad thing.

  11. danithew says:

    I think the Bloggernacle is a very good thing and that it might even become vital someday. What a great place it has become — where LDS (and some non-LDS) people of all stripes and backgrounds can communicate with one another. And I’ve appreciated being able to meet some of them in RL too.

  12. I’m one of those people who was immensely helped by the Bloggernacle. Finding honest discussions about some really thorny issues kept me in the Church, because people explained how they felt about certain issues and why they stayed in the Church in spite of disliking something, not being able to explain something, and so forth.

    However, the Bloggernacle has made me more critical of the shallower talks and so forth I hear in real life. Yesterday, I attended my friend’s wedding, and was mentally ripping apart the kind and rambling remarks from the temple sealer. He related quite a few historical inaccuracies and several bits of advice that were not doctrinal. I’m way too critical now. But I think my days of smilingly accepting every word that dropped from the lips of a Church leader were over before I ever got here. The bloggernacle just refined my critical abilities.

  13. Don’t underestimate what a negative effect the sorts of discussions we find on the bloggernacle can have on relatively new Mormons.

  14. Should I blog?

    I started my own blog, journaling the instances when I placed foreign language copies of the Book of Mormon. I took the blog down because I thought it was a bit too spiritual, and wondered if non-members would ridicule it. Only a small circle of friends gets it via email now.

    Over the last 13 months, I’ve delivered copies of the Book of Mormon to an average of about 25 people per month, most of them immigrants who delight in finding a free book in their native language along with an English translation of it.

    Some of these placement opportunities I make myself (going to ethnic restaurants), some are plopped in my lap by “divine coincidence”, and some, in my opinion, were when I felt spiritually motivated or directed to certain places or people.

    I’ve sprinkled some of these placement stories on other blogs, and at an LDS literature site, Mahonri.org.

    About 15 to 20% (I don’t keep track) are where I write in my personal journal that “the Spirit indicated to me to….” or “tugged me” or “pulled me over.”

    Question: should the spiritual communications be edited out of the specific entry for public consumption? Should the entire entry for such a placement be omitted?

    If I leave out the recounting of the spiritual direction that led to an event, it sounds like I’m bragging of my own efforts, and not giving credit to the Lord. If I leave in the spiritual direction, it still sounds like bragging.

    On one hand I want to communicate to others how to approach people, and how Heavenly Father blesses those who attempt to promulgate the Book of Mormon. On the other I want to avoid the “Look at me!” aspect. Is it a matter of learning a more humble writing style?

    Comments?

  15. I think that you should blog and other peoples’ perception of it be damned.

    If you know that your intentions are not to be boastful, why worry what others might think?

    Blogging could be a useful tool, for both yourself and others who could learn from your experiences.

    I think that you should leave out spiritual things that you decide too sacred for just publishing where all eyes can see, but as for the rest, perhaps you could just go with your gut and do what feels right to you.

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