Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Christian, Manly Discourse and the Democratization of Information

"Your answer is now required Marcion, murderer of the utter scoundrel, who pronounce 'innocent' the assassins of God..." Tertullian @ Nicea

"O Praxeus, you heretic who has crucified the Father and driven away the Holy Spirit." Tertullian, Against Praxeus

A friend tells me that Duke University singled out the PCA for egregious offense in the internet civility department. I wish I could argue with that, but...

I find this article on civility and passion, from the other side of the politico-religious aisle, very interesting.

Here are a few scattered thoughts...

Quite frankly, I think we are living in a wimpish age. Instead of asserting ourselves strongly, and, when necessary, defending ourselves strongly, we duck and run for cover. Our fathers faced the flames singing, we wince and wail when our precious feelings get hurt. There's a lesson about American self-absorption in there somewhere.

We confuse persons and positions. Someone criticizes my positions or my words, and I take personal offense. This kills public discourse and makes correction impossible.

I am for free, full and vigorous discourse. I don't much like the Ninth Commandment flung around as a way of quashing dissension and debate. If someone mis-characterizes my position, I shouldn't cry"Foul!", which, after all, convinces nobody. Rather, I should man up and defend my position. That's what Paul did, after all, when he suffered at the hands of Corinthian super-apostles. He did it with sarcasm, too. Horrors! Paul, I wish you were nicer, like Jesus, except that time he called Herod a fox, and the time he took a whip and drove out the moneychangers. But, other than that!!

Niceness is not a Christian virtue; not when truth is at stake.

In the civic sphere, the great cultural gatekeepers do not much like the blogs. Who, after all, appointed these anonymous upstarts, often working for free, to decide what events are newsworthy? Isn't this the territory that belongs to the professionals? The big three information filters? The AP and the NY Times?

The truth is, if you control information, you effect how people think. How can they ponder alternatives they never hear? How can they process events of which they are not made aware? The major media love to decide what is important and what is not. Why do we hear about the wholesome blondes Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart, but not the nameless, faceless minority youth who disappear every day? There are countless cases of gross injustice in our society: why do we hear only of a few, and these over and over, even from (gasp) Fox News? Networks cover the horror of war, but not the triumphs of war or vice-versa.

The good news is that the genie of democratized information will never go back into the bottle. Bloggers are here to stay. I think this is good, but not an unqualified good.

There seems to be a growing concern about the use of blogging within our own denominational context. This is worrisome to me.

A few random thoughts.

1.) If we are going to have free speech, we must put up with irresponsible speech. Much of what is said on the Internet is unfair, inaccurate and uncharitable. This is the price that we pay for the free flow of information. The alternative is far worse: if we restrict information, error, misunderstanding and ignorance will grow. Because of inaccuracy, each reader and writer should be careful to check his facts. In the church, we must hold people accountable for their words.

2.) Some, whose statements are singled out for scrutiny and critique, will find such scrutiny uncharitable. They will be right in some cases. In other cases, they will hind behind this defense in order to continue to propagate their errors. In some cases, they will be mad just because some people had the temerity to disagree with them.

3.) Sunlight remains the best disinfectant. The press, in the body politic, must be free to hold the government to account to the people. It is the "Fourth Estate," the ones who shine the hard light of truth on the actions of those in power, to ensure honesty and prevent against self-serving. In the context of the church, public information is crucial to hold pulpit and lectern accountable to pew, and more importantly, to Bible.

4.) Men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil. We, quite naturally, want to hide ourselves. Even when our deeds aren't evil, nobody wants to be critiqued or called out publicly. It is uncomfortable. We feel foolish. Our friends rush to our defense. Ranks close around us. We feel justified in our opinions. Rhetoric increases. Positions that were soft and fluid become hardened with opposition. We have staked our ground, uncertain as it might be, and now ego demands we must defend it.

5.) We must come to distinguish the difference between "You are an idiot" (the saying of which puts us in danger of hellfire), and "your positions are wrong." This is true on both the giving and receiving end. A person critiquing my beliefs or positions is not necessarily calling me an idiot. A person articulating false positions is not necessarily an idiot, either.

6.) Love doesn't demand being squishy in our thinking. Publicly advanced positions and arguments are rightly dealt with in public forum. If I launch a salvo into the public domain, I should expect, not a private phone call trying to work out some interpersonal issue that is really unrelated to the matter at hand. I should, rather, expect a public response. Matthew 18 is not in play, as long as I haven't impugned another's character. As someone once said to me, "If you are provocative, why are you surprised when people are provoked?"

7.) I don't care how virtuous we are, we need some alternate sources holding us accountable. We know ourselves to be good men. Our motives are noble. Our intentions are pure. Our positions are right. Yet, in our heart of hearts, we know we can be self-deceived. Denominations need more than an official news agency. The actions of church courts and the positions of teaching elders need to be known. Our people need to be Berean, holding us accountable to the Word of God. How can they do this, if we propagate what we propagate under the cover of darkness? Error and false teaching flourish if nobody engages in a little truth-telling now and then.

The PCA is not immune from error, false teaching, mistakes or underhanded dealing. History teaches us we ought to expect it. It happened in the apostolic church, and we are certainly no better than they were.

Bloggers are here to stay whether we like them or not. The fault does not lie with them, alone, if what is published is false or uncharitable. Readers are called upon to be discerning, too. The truth triumphs in the open marketplace of ideas. Of what do we have to be afraid?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the occasions of egregious incivility were toward non-Christians or our own folks. :\