Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Blog in Our Eye

There are, I think, three basic ways to set up comments at a public blog. The first is the way we have set it up here: anyone may post at any time, whether anonymously or not. The second is for the blogger to monitor comments and determine whether or not to let them through his 'filter' before they are published. The third is to allow no public comments at all, leaving only the bloggers who own the blog the freedom to comment to one another.

Bloggers choose among these options for a variety of reasons, which in themselves are generally neither good nor bad reasons. At Gottesdienst, we have taken the first option, because we want to encourage the free flow of ideas and discussion of matters liturgical and theological, in the interest of promoting and preserving the liturgy of the Church, and, ultimately, in service to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The downside of our choice is that sometimes matters get a bit side-tracked, sometimes heated and argumentative, sometimes unnecessarily so. We put up with that because we don't wish to stifle the exchange, which, on the bright side, can often be as edifying and helpful as the posts themselves are meant to be.

We trust our readers understand and appreciate this for what it is.

For my part--and I expect I am not alone in this observation--it seems rather stunningly ridiculous for anyone to suggest that the manner in which we have chosen set up comments at this site somehow makes us personally culpable for the opinions of those making the comments, as happened in our most recent thread of comments. Is it not self evident that we should no more be personally attacked for what one commenter says than for what another says? So self evident, I might add, that it should also be patently clear that anyone who notwithstanding this chooses to paint us with a condemnatory brush because of the comments others have made here must be so jaded with an agenda against us that he cannot begin to be objective.

So let the reader understand: one must look beyond, even ignore, such things as sneering broadsides against "the Gottesdienst crowd," or wildly bogus accusations, not only because they are pitifully petty, but because they might otherwise derail the proper purpose for this blog.

We welcome discussion and honest debate here; we really do. We encourage readers simply to set aside the unhelpful remarks which will inevitably arise.


  1. Everything you have said in this post is fair and reasonable.

    Having said that, I do wonder if there comes a point when people should be reined in if possible? I am a subscriber to your journal and appreciate what you are doing here, and I would hate to see people generally associating your work with vulgar displays of personal animosity like we just witnessed. And make no mistake about it: That is a real danger.

    Like the original offended party on the "vacationing" post, I have also found certain remarks made by at least one person to be decidedly less than charitable...and yet, is this really the place for the kind of blow-up that we saw? Frankly, it is very unbecoming. And when any casual reader of your contributors' blogs can see that the original offended party is a friend, it is very understandable if some people may become confused about whether his remarks represent Gottesdienst.

    Of course, it's your blog, and you should run it as you see fit. This is just some food for thought. =)

  2. I'm one of the GO editors, though I don't claim to have any editorial control over the comments that are posted or permitted to remain (nor would I want that burden!).

    It's always a tough judgment call whether to "let the boys play" even if a few noses get bloodied, or rather to break up the scuffles and send people to the penalty box for stepping out of bounds.

    It is especially difficult because on the one hand, these are words - sticks and stones and all that. We're all big boys and girls, and nobody is in danger of being burned at the stake or sent to a cross. Also, in the heat of these arguments, some important points do emerge - which can serve as nuggets of discussion long after the incendiaries have gotten bored and left. Finally, the freewheeling nature of these discussions are a testimony to the fact that "The Gottesdienst crowd" is not a monolithic bureaucracy running a tightly-controlled propaganda organ that is afraid to allow dissenting opinions. Free speech often thrives at the cost of tolerating bad manners.

    On the other hand, words can be quite hurtful in a spiritual way, that can, in some cases, be worse than physical harm - especially if the faith of lurkers and others (perhaps even the participants themselves) is compromised. We need to keep this in mind.

    I suppose ultimately, whether or not individual comments or threads are permitted to remain is up to Dr. Eckardt. And I'm gratified that he is prepared to err on the side of tolerance and free speech rather than becoming a control freak. I have no doubt that he would not tolerate blasphemy against our Lord or actual slander or threats against any individual. Even with some of the rather snarky things that have been offered as comments, I don't recall anything posted by anyone that falls into those categories, thank God (though one would be hard-pressed to deny that some of these comments crossed the lines of decency and decorum in the context of discussion about Holy Things).

    Maybe a good rule of thumb for all of us before we write/speak is to consider whether or not we are actually defending the faith or simply looking for a fight. Perhaps on the receiving end, we should strive for thicker skin and the restraint to turn the other cheek - not to mention that whole "best construction" thing.

  3. I consider myself a member of the notorious "Gottesdienst crowd" being a subscriber and member at an editor's church.

    But nothing depresses me quite as much as the petty debates I see on our blogs. I don't deny that significant issues are covered and important points get raised, but I sometimes wonder if the good is worth the veiled insults (and sometimes not so veiled) tossed back and forth and the personality cults that develop.

    I'm at the point of dreading reading any entry that has over 10 comments. It's just too disheartening. Theoretically there's a incredible amount of middle ground shared amongst the frequent posters (one would hope), but we never seem to focus on that. Instead it's often arguing minutia and a seeming dislike of certain people (on principle evidently) always getting dragged into the mix.

    I'm not sure what the point of this post is. Just expressing my general sadness I guess. Maybe I should just be glad the apostles didn't have blogs... the posts on theirs might have been just as bad.

  4. The point of the post is, simply, caveat lector: let the reader beware.

    If in the long run this doesn't work, we might be obliged to change the format, but let's hope it doesn't come to that.

    To all who comment: it ought to go without saying that restraint is never ill-advised, but evidently it does need saying. Let's be cordial, and remember that online communications are a minefield: it's easy to fire off an ad hominemn post against someone you don't like, and 'leave the room'; but it isn't helpful.

  5. I think it's a general assumption in the blogosphere that the comment stream does not reflect the views of the blog's owner(s). At least that's how it is with the really big blogs, though commercial blogs tend to have concerns about corporate image. If that's a particular concern here, the owners might want to make that fact explicit on the home page with a disclaimer.

    With most blogs, the purpose of a comment stream is to elicit reactions, criticisms, and comments to the original post. It's an opportunity for an author to see how his ideas play on the open market. That process tends to be subverted when commentators begin bickering with one another. This might be where some degree of moderation may be required, telling the combatants to take it outside, or in this case offline. Otherwise, the comment stream should be allowed to run free. Veith does a good job with this on his Cranach blog, in my opinion.


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