I’ve recently returned from the God Blog Conference in association with Blog World and the New Media Expo. I recognize this puts me in a new category of blogging geekdom. Not only am I spending hours of my time blogging, I’m now spending money and a weekend away from my family to hear other people talk about blogging.
As you can expect most of the sessions I attended were on religion, faith and the use of new media. But it was the secular key note address at Blog World that I felt had the most profound religious implications.
The key word I walked away from the conference with was “decentralization”. The death of “Main Stream Media”, restricted publishing and elitism were all reported and celebrated. Blogging and other new forms of media have fractured the cultural, publishing and media worlds. No longer are there just a few voices to tell us what to think of the world. Every keyboard and cellphone in the country is a publishing house unto itself. Underlying all of this is the question: have we been yearning for decentralization and shaped the internet around it, or has the internet given us a taste of decentralization and shaped us?
I almost immediately recognized that this does not mean good things for the Pope. Nor does it mean good things for the LDS prophet or any other religous authorities. Decentralization by it’s very nature strips power from authority figures. If you think you’re the authority on any subject, much less the thoughts of God, you’re going to find that fewer and fewer people will take your word for it. Even if they claim to consider you an authority, the way in which they consume media will undermine their own thoughts on the power of authority.
In many ways Protestantism is more prepared for this than many other faiths. Protestants of been decentralized and freely handing out the priesthood for 400+ years. The “personal relationship with Jesus” already argues the power and weight of an individual’s opinions. It could perhaps be argued that Protestantism founded the problem or at the very least bought in and promoted it. Protestants have always pointed to other sources of authority outside of themselves like the Bible or the work of the Holy Spirit. Soon enough the authority to recommend seeking another higher authority will be stripped as well.
Just today, I heard a caller talking with a Christian Apologist about this very thing (47 minute mark). The caller’s question was “If I talk to God everyday, what use do I have for organized religion?” As the conversation progressed the caller said “Why should I take Paul’s word for anything, God is talking to me? I don’t need Paul’s mediation” (paraphrase). I suspect we’re going to hear more and more questions like this.
So then, the religious blogger is faced with the dilemna: If the very action of blogging is undermining the thing I’m blogging in defense of, do I go on blogging? It’s the question Guttenberg never had the chance to ask as he printed off all those Bibles.
I don’t see how blogging is necessarily decentralization of the sort that strips authorities of power. Based on the LDS blogs I read, I could imagine someone saying, “I don’t go to church anymore; I’m part of the ‘Online Ward,'” but I can’t imagine one saying, “I’m not watching Conference this year; I get all the revelation I need from Faith Promoting Rumor.”
In my blogging, I quote a lot of Jesus and Paul. I encourage scripture reading, and the imitation of Christ and the examples he left for us. Is what I’m doing bringing an end to religion as we know it? If so, maybe there’s wrong with religion “as we know it.”
(and yeah, I’m a protestant.)
I can only speak from my own experiences, but I definitely do not think that blogging will be the end of religion. Religion will endure as long as man endures. Perhaps you mean to say blogging will be the end of “organized religion.” Here too, I don’t think this is the case. People have historically had lots of reasons to dislike organized religion long before the internet came along.
What I do think is happening is that there is much more interactions within religious communities and between religious communities. In our modern busy and complicated lives, often Church goers do not have much time to reflect on life and doctrines with other believers. Blogging has allowed these to find like-minded individuals and create more community. In addition, religious communities tend to be segregated and blogging has allowed more individuals to observe, listen or participate in the discussion of other religious communities. This alone is not necessarily a positive thing, and for many all it means is they now have the opportunity to argue with more people more often regardless of geographic location or time constraints. And I’ve certainly seen quite a bit of that. However, individuals have made positive usage of these opportunities to discuss issues with more people inside and outside their religious communities. It can promote mutual understanding and tolerance in our pluralistic society as well as break down religious stereotypes.
In the LDS community, and I suspect other religious communities, blogging can often increase fellowship among members. Members can keep in touch with those who have moved and also make new friends and create new relationships regardless of geographic location. Information is much more readily disseminated and discussion of a variety of topics is available.
I think that blogging has the power to change religion. In the LDS community my observation is that blogs have galvanized dissent as well as “loyal opposition” among Mormon ranks. Mormons who tend to question/challenge prevailing teaching-guidance-doctrine who may not have been able to find like minded members in their congregations find those members through blogs. Community makes people more open and comfortable in non-conforming views. I have to imagine that a more comfortable environment for non-conforming views will eventually allow these views to influence the “mainstream” in unforeseen ways.
I don’t know that this is a real problem, in principle, for the LDS church. I think the problem the LDS church has is that the upper leadership has been generally self-insulated from dissidents and questioners. So, I think the leadership may have to address many of the questions of the burgeoning communities in authoritative ways, which I believe has the the potential to invigorate the leadership to think deeper about what they say and how they say it to address the needs and thoughts of the diverse online-communities that may form amongst the blog threads. But I think it will take time for this to happen.
I think blogs have potential to create honest and open minded dialog in areas where there was little of that previously. People that now have a forum to write about their thoughts often think more deeply about the issues they address in their writing.
What this will mean precisely is anyone’s guess but I think the disruptions are more likely to be positive than negative. This is especially true, I believe in a Mormon context. I think Mormonism will thrive better in an environment of open inquiry and debate. These are the sorts of things that send people looking for answers, and if Mormonism is worth anything, this will mean more clarity from above.
I think you underestimate how free thinking Mormonism is, and always has been. In one breath you voice frustration about Mormonism not having a fully defined theology, and being filled with unofficial speculators, and in the next breath you seem to think we can not think for ourselves. The two do not go together.
I think as the number of blogs go up, the importance of the individual voice goes down. As the number of blogs approaches the population, the voice on a blog will carry no more weight than an individual voice does in the real world. We will all be part of the white noise of information overload. And eventually people will get back to prayer and the scriptures – where they ought to be anyway.
As the number of blogs increase, I think the individual voice becomes even more important. In the real world, voices do not carry equal weight, nor do they capture our equal attention. It is those voices who have something truly important to say, who offer valuable insight and information, which provide well-thought and considered opinions that attract audiences. White noise has been around since men and women could speak. Certainly, technology has made it more accessible and available to us. However, an increase in blogs only means that more and more of them will be ignored because they aren’t contributing to the discussion and readers only have time to consider sources of information and critique that is worth their while.
Perhaps there are people who are on the internet when they should be on their knees. However, most people can pray and study the scriptures, as well as have meals, build relationships with their fellow man, engage in work or educational opportunities, and exercise, all in the same day.
Tim I discovered internet Mormonism about 7 years ago.
The difference it has made for me is mainly that before, I tended to largely ignore what General Authorities said. I mean, lip-service and all that, but I couldn’t really tell you what they thought.
Now, I tend to pay a lot closer attention because I know I may have to defend the statements later, or at least truly make a stand on whether I agree with them or not.
One thing about debate… it keeps you on your toes.
I see no problem with decentralization… or even with anarchy. I don’t think the Lord does, either.
1. I think you’re probably overestimating the impact of blogs. How many people, out of even just the US population, really read any blog regularly? Of that number, how many read any blog with religious content? My intuition is that it’s a fairly self-selecting bunch, and most of them won’t have their faith or their institutional ties undermined by blogs unless their faith or institutional ties were already headed for crisis.
2. Turn back the clock a couple centuries, strikethrough “blog;” replace with “printing press,” and I imagine you’ve got all the exact same arguments. The printing press certainly was essential to the birth of Protestantism, but the Roman Catholic church is still going strong. It may not have the monopoly over Christianity it once had, but it’s not really in danger of extinction.
To be frank, and possibly a bit hostile? I think the conclusions of this God Blog conference were arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and hyper-alarmist.
Your comments set me up perfectly to address some of the issues others brought up.
The GodBlogCon was quite enthusiastic and excited about the realm of blogging. The thoughts I’m expressing above are my own and come from a reflection of the secular key note address given to the entire convention.
I recognize that my title is a bit of intentional hyperbole. It’s not the end of religion, it’s the end of organized authoritative religion. Religion may be in trouble, but spirituality certainly may be strengthened. And it’s not blogging that’s causing it, it’s the entire realm of new media (and old media). Blogging just happens to be one expression of that.
As Brian expressed, we can expect more and more people to view their online communities as their wards, bible studies and accountability groups. Research is already showing these kinds of trends are happening as people view their sitting at home watching TV preachers as their church going experience. Some can already claim that they are getting more out of their online communities than they are in their real life Sunday School classes. How many LDS bloggers already complain about the lack of depth in priesthood meeting as compared to the bloggernacle?
The Catholic faith as well as all others are going to see their members view them as one table in a large buffet. “I get my liturgy from mass but I get an excellent homily from a sermon podcast. My family gets spiritual exercise from Awana at the Baptist church, but I get accountability from my addictions group at the mega-church.”
Everyone’s always had their own opinions. Blogging makes those opinions seem more significant because now they are permanently published and strangers seem interested in them. This elevates personal opinion to a range closer to (or above) religious authority.
The “new media” bell can’t be un-rung, so it’s up to religious communities to find a way to make it resonate with their own message. Though the Reformation challenged the Catholic church, it also may have saved it. The same is true of new media.
Times and Seasons had a rash of this kind of navel-gazing a few years back. Does the bloggernacle undermine Church authority.
My feeling was that it might in some small way, but that the new media tends to get co-opted by the old media.
You can witness this by how gushy any bloggernacle personality gets whenever a real person (like an LDS author, professor, or even a General Authority) deigns to notice that he exists.