I started blogging one and a half years ago. Perhaps like many of us, I started blogging as a form of therapy. I wanted to anonymously vent frustration and voice opinions that I didn’t feel I could say in church. Blogging, however, has rapidly become something more meaningful and more complicated to me. This is a post about both how my perspective on blogging has changed and how blogging has changed my perspective of the LDS church.
I started my first (and now inactive) blog, Mormon Rhetoric, with little expectation that anyone would read my musings and with the assumption that my identity on the web was entirely anonymous. However, within a few months I was shocked to discover that people in fact did read the blog and that the blog was traceable to me. Through a series of connections, I was invited to blog on BCC, and I thus ceased to be a private blogger. In a startlingly short amount of time, my experience shifted from one of anonymity to one of community. With this shift came a parallel shift in my focus as a blogger: knowing that I had a readership caused me to think of blogging less as therapy and more as an act of community building.
But how has viewing blogging as a communal rather than a private activity changed my writing, my faith, and my relationship to our church? On the whole, I believe I am more likely to censor what I say in a blog post than in speech or private writing. Blogging has made me more aware of the enduring consequences of the language we use (especially when that language is a lasting public record) and more desirous of using language that can build nuanced consensus. And, yet, as a blogger I am not without pride: occasionally, I feel tempted to craft posts that are more controversial, because I know that those generate the most comments. Prop 8 anyone? Blogging is now in part an act of response-management for me, and my posts reflect not the “true,” anonymous voice of my inner soul so much as the voice of a writer very aware that she writes for and within a crowd. As I see myself increasingly as a co-author and co-reader in a larger crowd, I am also thematically less drawn towards issues that focus on self-identity, such as race or gender, than I was when I wrote primarily alone, and I am now more interested in how institutional pressures have shaped our religion.
I approached blogging as a means of questioning my faith, but blogging has proved less a place to vent than an exercise that has allowed me to see my faith in new ways. Whereas in a ward setting, faith and spirituality is often framed in terms of emotion, blogging is a written medium through which emotion travels only occasionally and indirectly. Since blogging is better suited for intellectual meditation rather than emotional experience, blogging has attuned me to Church history, culture, and doctrine far more than I was before. The scriptures, our written tradition, matter more to me, and I am now fascinated by contemplating how they were written, edited, and produced. It has also encouraged me to participate in and share our religion in ways that don’t depend upon “the spirit:” making more charitable donations, reading more church history, becoming more politically active. In general, the moral activities that I most frequently engage in are now the ones best suited to an online environments: producing knowledge, connecting with people, or exchanging money, rather than more traditional neighborhood-dependent events. As we continue to be a more online society, I wonder if the experience of religion will be shaped more by actions that we take and the knowledge we create than by the spirit we collectively feel.
However, my life online has also changed my life offline. As a blogger, I have been able to develop friendships that are far deeper than those I have ever developed with most members of my wards. This is a result not only of the remarkable generosity of the BCC community that shares their thoughts and welcomes in strangers; it is also a result of the relative endurance that online relationships can have. For someone who has moved three times in three years, online friendships offer a constant in a world of geographic transience, a kind of permanent community only matched for me by my childhood ward, and the depth of these relationships has caused me to question my own beliefs and attitudes again and again.
Knowing that this online community exists has encouraged me to look for the cool people around me and not to make assumptions about Mormons, but, unfortunately, belonging to a community with such depth and self-selection has also spoiled me. As I spend more time online, I realize that I am less and less invested in my actual ward. Since I find it more fulfilling and easy to belong to my self-selected online community, I sometimes feel myself spiritually fulfilled while being a lackluster participant in church. I have never spent more time engaged in the gospel, and, yet, I am strangely disengaged from traditional ward activities. In confess: my home ward now sometimes feels like my second ward, while my online community seems to become a more and more entrenched part of my religious life.