"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

Are Blogs the Friend of Information but the Enemy of Thought?

Recently Alan Jacobs, professor of English at Wheaton College, wrote an explanation on why he decided to quit blogging. Dr. Jacobs is not a person to be taken lightly. He is the author of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, and one of our better thinkers among conservative, evangelical Christians. He believes the blogosphere, by the very way it is structured, is "a friend of information but the enemy of thought." I found his explanation of this thesis quite interesting:

"As I think about these architectural deficiencies (of the blogosphere), and the deficiencies of my own character, I find myself meditating on a passage from a book by C. S. Lewis. In his great work of literary history, Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century, Lewis devotes a passage to what he describes, with a certain savageness, as "that whole tragic farce which we call the history of the Reformation." For Lewis, the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants, that led to bloodshed all over Europe and to a seemingly permanent division of Christians from one another, "could have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure." Instead, thanks to the prevalence of that recent invention the printing press, and to the intolerance of many of the combatants, deep and subtle questions found their way into the popular press and were immediately transformed into caricatures and cheap slogans. After that there was no hope of peaceful reconciliation.

On a smaller scale, the same problems afflict the intellectual and moral environments of the blogs. There is no privacy: all conversations are utterly public. The arrogant, the ignorant, and the bullheaded constantly threaten to drown out the saintly, and for that matter the merely knowledgeable, or at least overwhelm them with sheer numbers. And the architecture of the blog (and its associated technologies like rss), with its constant emphasis on novelty, militates against leisurely conversations. It is no insult to the recent, but already cherished, institution of the blogosphere to say that blogs cannot do everything well. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the blogosphere is the friend of information but the enemy of thought."


What are you thoughts? (By way of information :) ).

In His Grace,


Wade

27 comments:

Jim Shaver said...

Wade,

I think this may be an example of an elitist attitude. All of a sudden "non-academia" has a way to express itself publicly. God forbid that the comman man have as much or more access to the public as a scholar!

It's much to early to tell whether the blogoshere will be a positive or negative influence on the Church.

Scotte Hodel said...

It's a complex question.
Related articles on the subject are at EthicsDaily.com (on the nature of the use of scripture by the "Christian right") and on Micah Fries weblog, where he notes that it's very easy to prefer labels over substantive discussion.

Are weblogs written and used bady? Probably. Mine may be one of the offenders! Does it follow that blogging should cease? I think not: the cure for abuse is not disuse. Paul said, "Test all things; hold fast to what is good."

Perhaps such discipline could be relevant to the blogging questions raised by Dr. Jacobs.

Glen Woods said...

I think there is some validity in his thesis. It certainly should give us pause to reflect carefully on our motives for using this tool.

The salient point, however, is not so much the structure of the blogosphere vis-vis "architectural deficiencies", but the "deficiencies of character" of those of us who choose to utilize the tool.

However, just to be fair, I would amend that the same deficiencies of character can and do show up in any other venue or media such as books, magazine articles, radio, TV, podcasts, IRC chat, the pulpit on a Sunday morning, the kitchen table, the coffee shop, newsletters, etc.

Rather than removing ourselves from using innovative or familiar communication tools, we ought to be more concerned with spurring each other on to becoming persons of godly character.

For what it's worth, I think that is the sort of thing that you and many of your users have been trying to do with this blog.

Blessings,

Glen Woods

Alan Cross said...

I entirely disagree. We would not be thinking about what he said if it were not for blogs, would we? The dissemination of information provides for the sparking of thought and debate. Yes, some are boorish and ignorant, but they are hopefully ignored. Also, C.S. Lewis could not have been more wrong on his take on the Reformation. If it had not had been for the printing press, the "leisurely" conversation that he envisions probably would have centered on what type of wood to use for Luther's burning. Behind closed doors and in the ivory halls of academia, we rarely see innovation and truth emerge, but rather, we see pride, arrogance, and evil prosper if there is no light. I think blogs are a good thing. Like everything else, it depends on how you use them.

Are we setting the stage for a resolution against blogging at next year's convention? :)

Kelly Reed said...

I would agree that with the mass participation, there is a recklessness to it, an agressiveness to it, that is potentially fuel to the fire.

At the same time, the fire sometimes needs the fuel. As much as I respect C.S. Lewis, I'm going to have to disagree with his assessment of the Reformation. If history happened as he described it, I doubt there would have been a change at all. The power structure of the Church had a long history of silencing and executing a dissenting voice. There were many calls for reform over the years that were either isolated/individualistic or only succeeded in strengthening the Tradition and Structure, taking it further and further away from the Gospel.

Luther would be a blip on the map without the popularization of his calls for reform--we probably wouldn't even be talking about him. Any individual mind he may have influenced at said, "leisurely" debate would have been disciplined and restored by the discipline structure above him.

That's not to say that the bloodshed was a good thing, that the intolerance and slogans were a good thing, but I just find it unlikely we'd be talking about it otherwise.

That militarization of the debate is exactly why more stabilizing voices are needed--why you and Dr. Jacobs should blog even more. The information needs a temporing thought and the character of good men and women to do their best to keep it from becoming a mudslinging, a lynching fight where lives are ruined, reputations marred etc. It is hard to calm the emotional voices, but the leading voices have such an position to do so, maybe not completely, but what would happen if those voices removed themselves entirely? Why would the mature voices leave the debate to the combatants? It would only make things worse.

I would agree with Dr. Jacob's description of the blogosphere. But it will only be more true if the thoughtful voices are silenced.

Pursuing Answers to Questions of Faith & Life,

Kelly Reed

Todd said...

Glen hit the nail on the head. Jacobs thesis is undermined by the issue of what kind of people will we be. If on blogs, as you have on your own, we determine to be charitable and yet firm, we hopefully will be adding to the conversations that about with thougtful reflection. If on the other hand, from the outset a blog is intentionally acerbic then Jacobs thesis seems supported but in the end, the medium is a tool/extension of the character rather than responsible for the flaw.

Bob Cleveland said...

Nonsense.

Like .. when I read what someone posts, I stop thinking? Rather, it provokes thought, and if the posting disagrees with my normal thinking, then I have to affirm what I believe and why I believe it.

Church seldom even does that for me!

On another topic: I’m not into hawking my own blog anywhere, but I will this time. Please visit

www.mightyfowl.blogspot.com

Shanna and her family really need prayer and encouragement. It would help her if she could see that folks in the blogging community were praying for her, and the prayers would have their direct effect, too.

Please take a minute to help them, if you would.

Thank you, and my apologies to Wade.

Geoff Baggett said...

Wade,

I both agree and disagree ... can I do that? Absolutely! Because I can still think! :) I believe that it depends upon the blogs a person reads. It sounds to me like Dr. Jacobs spent a lot of his time on some of the more dark, depressing, confrontational offerings of the blogosphere. In that regard, I tend to agree with him. I've experienced some of the attitudes that he described. Several times, I have chimed in with a thoughtful comment on some issues ... only to be "handled" and treated with disrespect by the host or other commenters. It happens to well-intentioned, "saintly" folk every single day.

I have noticed that issues of controversy and denominational infighting (especially in Baptist life)tend to draw the most attention and elicit the most comments. But when the controversial issue dies down a bit, it seems that many people (even the bloggers ... sometimes esdpecially the bloggers) don't know what to talk about. Am I the only one who noticed the sudden, deafening silence that occured in the Baptist world of blogs about a week or two after Greensboro? (I guess everyone went on vacation at the same time! ;) )

What we really need is more positive news on our blogs: stories of spiritual victory, prayer needs, prayers answered, and seeing God move in our ministries. But, based on the lack of feedback and comments, few people seem to be interested in that. That's what I try to do on my ministry's blog. I am determined to keep it positive. I can sometimes pose difficult questions, but I don't feel a need to try and stir up a "hornet's nest" every day.

I disagree with the notion that the blogosphere is the "friend of information but the enemy of thought." That is the equivalent of intellectually "throwing out the baby with the bath water." I use a blog to post weekly devotions for the families of my church. I use one blog just for fun, to post goofy stuff about my interest in surf fishing. Nobody reads it, but I sure enjoy doing it. And I am able to post my thought quite well on my ministry's blog. Others can, too. And the cool part is that so many times we wind up trading e-mails and forming new relationships. I have friends around the globe that I never would have met without the blogosphere.

So, just like any other media, blogs can be good or bad. I suppose it just depends on which "stations" you listen to.

Alvin Reid alvinreid.com said...

This is my first post here, but thanks for this article Wade. I read it when it first came out in Books and Culture and tried without success to find a way to post it. I am glad you have done so. Of course he is writing as an academic and writes from that view, but I do not think the issue is elitism. I think the article helps to calm down the heat of blogging due simply to its novelty, and can help to see what light blogs can shed.
Blogs in my view are simply one more vehicle to communicate, and in its essence that is obviously not bad. But as door to door evangelism is one way I have and will share my faith, it is neither the only nor the best. And I think we know face to face discussion beats phone calls, then emails, etc. Blogging is an important part of our popular culture, but in my view not the new doorway to further substantive thought for the future. There is simply not enough time for thorough reflection in the immediacy of blogging. That said, I will reiterate that blogging can be a very important part of communicating today. I have met numerous people here for mutual benefit (according to Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, a significant type of friendship) that I would not otherwise have met. I do encourage all bloggers to ponder this article. And as all bloggers do, we will all give our take on it.

Ewinwe said...

I commented on a previous post to the tune of:
"Having an opinion and having a venue to express it gives some people the idea that they can say anything they want to, never mind the consequences."

this topic puts me in mind of the early, heady, days of IRC (Internet Relay Chat). It was, at one time, the tool of the computer geeks to keep in contact with each other, but as more and more folks got on the net and started using the network, it became as bad as (then, young) AOL. Flame wars broke out constantly, people were kicked, banned, or blocked at the ISP from even entering the network. it got ugly.
eventually things calmed down, but one of the key learnings I walked away with was that nothing beats picking up a phone and calling someone. face-to-face conversations were even better.
the 'blogs are a great equalizer, anyone can post, so anyone does and the results are not always stellar.

while i may not go to the extreme of thought that Jacobs mentions (calling blogs the 'enemy of thought'), I would venture to say that too many people jump on the "i've got an opinion and I'm going to share it with the rest of the world" bandwagon with blogging ...

... just look at us ...

Paul Burleson said...

Wade,

I think it is a bit naive to think blogging is an enemy to thought. It may be true that we can use it [blogging] incorrectly or even be adversely affected by it but the idea that "it" is an enemy is a bit much.

By using it incorrectly, I mean we can release our rants, emit our prejudices, or worse. We can, with a public platform, vilify a person, or even malign a reputation all uses that are subchristion in nature. But that has more to do with character expressed or exposed rather than the vehicle of the expression. ["Guns don't kill people, people kill people."]

Blogging can also affect us. I've noticed this about myself. I'm one who has always been too quick with a word somtimes with too little regard for the person hearing it. This is an area God has been honing in on for the past few years. Some growth has thankfully transpired by His Grace.

But I've noticed, after several months of reading blogs, I'm quick to answer again sometimes with little regard for the other person. [The person isn't there or I don't know or see them so they are of little consequence.] I forget anew the truth that says "a fool uttereth all his mind, but a wise man keeps it in till afterward."

That cartoon character is still correct when he said "I've seen the enemy and he's me." [Or something like that.]

DAD

Roger Simpson said...

I think there are two components to BLOGGING: the transitory fad, and something more fundamental and enduring.

Different media spring up at different times as a function of the cultural milieu as well as technology.

Luther put his 95 thesis up on the door.

CB radio operators chatted into oblivion on their radios.

Many BLOGS will slip into the quicksand.

I still think the locus of information now is the printed word -- at least for Southern Baptist life.

By any account, one of the single most influential "stories" to happen in SBC life in the last year was the Georgia Index story on the lack of focus at the NAMB which led to the shakeup in top management. This story had traction because the consitituency that is relevant knows what the Index is and the media (in the case of the Index the physical paper or its internet image) stays current for at least a week -- not just a few hours or a couple of days. Also the guy writing the story has some "credentials" as a known personality with quantifiable "journalistic integrity".

I don't think the NAMB story would have had much effect if it would have been in some obscure BLOG -- even if the the blogger would have invested the same effort into research and applied the same rules of journalism.

However, I am aware that quite a few people in SBC life BLOG. Even Morris Chapman.

This BLOG is the only one I look at. I'm too much of a computer nerd as it is. I can't spend countless hours keeping up with a dozen -- or more -- BLOGS. I found out about this BLOG due to a reference to it in the Baptist Messenger.

The Baptist Index story had a huge effect on the NASB. If this BLOG somehow has "some" effect on the IMB then I will GLADLY "eat my hat" and wake up to the new media reality.

There has been quite a bit of "fuel for the fire" right here on this BLOG regarding the management/misanagement of the IMB. Of course the stuff is pretty raw and unfiltered and for the most part anonymous.

I'll know that this BLOG is more than an academic exercise when I see:

(1) The IMB acknowledge the need to investigate if/how the CPM model should be modified/augmented.

(2) The extent that the "reporting dificulties" are acknowledged by the IMB and fixed.

Of course, it is possible the IMB is doing/will do some stuff in these areas without it getting out beyond the four walls in Richmond. In that case we will never know to what extent Blogs "helped". Also, who can say that needed adjustments wouldn't happen anyway -- even without BLOGS to serve as a "facilitator" of ideas.

Wade, to me by far the greatest value of this blog is that it serves as a window into the IMB since, of course, you are on the BoT of the IMB from my state -- Oklahoma.

Due to the inherent inertia in the method of governance at the IMB it might take up to 24 months for any result from this BLOG to percolate into observable change.

My advice, this is an excellent BLOG! Keep it going.

This BLOG has all the earmarks of resulting in tangible positive change in the IMB. To me it looks like there is more going on than just a bunch of guys in theological ivory towers arguing about stuff.

Terry Hamblin said...

As an Anglican Lewis was infected with the 'broad church' approach. As an Oxford academic he believed every problem could be sorted out by mature dicussion between sensible men over a pint and a pipe.

But reformation of the Roman Catholic Church would have happened with or without the printing press. It had become a secular power, preying on the superstitious peasants. It was a conspiracy against the laity. It would have been attacked whether or not Luther had happened. The hundred years' war would have happened even if the sides had not been chosen doctrinally.

On the other hand history was so ordered that out of this chaos emerged a truer doctrinal basis for the Christian Church. The Bible became available to the people. It would have been far better had the Catholic Church escaped from its bondage to false doctrine but it did not.

Gentlemanly talks between Protestants and Catholics continue, but teh documents that are produces simply paper over the cracks, with each side believing the same words to maen different things.

The blogosphere is prone to outlandish statements, rudeness and insults, but that's because it is uncensored. The same lack of censorship allows people who would never met to talk to each other. Mature intellects flourish. No-one has to read anything they don't want to.

Bryan Riley said...

Like so many things it comes down to the individual and their use of a communication tool (or any tool at their disposal for that matter). And, as to that individual it comes down to their approach at that moment. That is what makes it complex. I often pray for wisdom as I blog, read, study, and comment. James 1. What is key for Christian bloggers is to blog in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father. In other words, we must blog in a way that does nothing to harm God's reputation, especially because, as Dr. Jacobs notes, the medium is open to everyone.

Rob Westbrook said...

Blogs are just a reflection of the people who blog and those who comment on those blogs. In most ways, it's no different from any other means of communication. Some people talk too much, some people talk over their heads, some people have a calming effect, some are optimistic, some gossip, etc. Blogs have become an extension of personality. We all know people who are wellsprings of information. We also all know people who, as we say in the south, "would argue with a fencepost." Their personalities are reflected in their conversations, whether face-to-face or in cyberspace. If you were to read my blog or comments, it would paint a pretty good picture of me: messed up!

There is one way, however, where I think I see blogging differing from other forms of communication. It seems the anonymity and separation that the internet brings emboldens people to speak in more negative terms, knowing they will probably never physically face the people they are flaming. Much of what is posted as comments would better be handled through private email conversations. That seems to be the point, to carry on the attacks in public and to never have to really deal with each other privately, face to face, in a Matthew 18 kind of way. Some people, whether on blogs or in "real" life, seem to thrive on controversy.

Are blogs the friends of information but the enemy of thought? My answer: maybe and maybe. See, I'm messed up!

Bart Barber said...

I'm with Jim Shaver....and Alan Cross....and a dozen others who have already stated so well what I would otherwise have said. With all respect to Dr. Reid, I think it is about elitism.

And that is my expert opinion as a Ph.D., so you'd better doggone well pay attention to it and adopt it as your own, you rabble!

(For those of you without a sense of humor, that was a joke. For those of you with a sense of humor, that is what it looks like when a person without a sense of humor attempts to make a joke)

C. T. Lillies said...

I don't know what to think about this. I have read some bunk in blogs but I have also been reminded of some great truths. Much to think over.

Josh

Debra said...

I wouldn't call blogging the 'enemy of thought' however, in many ways, it is the 'enemy of thoughtfulness'. Internet communication is the next major advance in communcation and access to information--and that is a mixed blessing: more good things available, more bad things available and more time required to sift and sort through it all. But like it or not, it's here to stay.

Just recently I urged a blogger to either discontinue or review comments before posting. His blog was an excellent source of scholarly information on an important subject but many of the comments were simply foolish and unedifying and few contributed anything significant to the conversation.

I don't think the problem is with blogging but with anonymous posting and exchanges between people who have no relationship with one another. I love reading the thoughts and information on various blogs. I think the self publishing that blogging allows is a wonderful benefit to the world of ideas. However, dialoguing with strangers is another matter. It encourages thoughtless, pointless, and rude commenting. I think restricting comments to colleagues or friends could be useful. Reviewing comments before posting might be alright--but I'm sure a review and selection process would be time consuming. And some blogs are wonderful resources without the need for any comments whatsoever.

Do we really need to have a public say in everything? Yes, we are all entitled to our opinions--and with blogging available to all we can all set up our own cyber-soapboxes and go to town. I think that is great. But I think Dr. Jacobs has a point. Although I disagree that the problem is with providing too much information to the masses, public discourse with strangers does not encourage thoughtful exchange.

I am saddened that a thoughtful contributor has decided to bow out of taking part in the open marketplace of ideas. But I do understand his concerns. I've enjoyed rough and tumble, iron sharpening iron, interesting exchanges in the Christian blogosphere and have even made a couple of friends over the Internet. However, I think we should think twice before totally disregarding the old fashioned social convention of refraining from discussing religion and politics with those we don't know well. There is a time and place for these discussions--in public and in private. But they should usually be conducted in an arena where there is the accountability that comes with face to face interaction and/or a full disclosure of one's identity and background.
---signed (profile blocked) Anonymous ;-)

James Hunt said...

Thank God for people willing to cut the lines sharply to define biblical salvation. Maybe Paul should be silenced with his vitriol that if someone preaches any other gospel other than that which has been given...let him be eternally damned...he repeats...let him be damned.

Let people voice opinions sharpening each other, challenging each other in love. I for one have learned much these last months as I've read the thoughts of so many wiser and more informed than me.

C. T. Lillies said...

Debra

Thats a good point. A lot of the contentious comments I've seen have come from anonymouse posters or posters with no profile or blog for that matter.

Josh

Roger Ferrell said...

Wade,
In the months that I have been blogging, I have noticed that blog participation spikes when we talk about things that are controversial. What Geoff Baggett and I have tried to do with our blog (www.missionmpossible.blogspot.com) is to focus on ideas, positive things that students are doing in church planting, and articles that spur thought. We don't have as many readers as many blogs, but feel we serve a purpose in encouraging and equipping the body of Christ in a specific way.

So I think this forum can be a good one for thought, but thought has never been popular and most would trade in controversy, innuendo, levity, and criticism whether it was on a blog or at the agora. It is not blogging that is hampering thought, but people's reluctance to think that is hampering the blogs.

By the way, you make me think. So keep it up!

TruthOfActs said...

To Paul Burleson,
My first time to write you and I have enjoyed your many comments. You and others have covered very well the ridicules statement (bottom line—paraphrased) of ‘information being the enemy of thought.’ If that were true, we should stop reading the Bible.

Many times I have thought of the cartoon you mentioned and how it applies to Baptists. I think it sort of went like this: “We went to fight the enemy and it was us.”

Rex Ray

Greg Cloud said...

Good blog, and great comments, all. I like reading what other people think. It makes me ponder why I think the way I do. I think I'm the stronger for it.

Blessings,

Greg

sembrador said...

Blogs offer an opportunity to build relationships with like-minded folks all over the world. We can see the doctorinal issues, news articles and pride that we struggle with based upon our blog entries. Friendships are great, sometimes. We are warned by scripture not to be deceived, because bad company corrupts good habbits. Bad company could be any source of media, or friendship.

However, all friendships do not have to be bad. Friendships are not stagnant, they grow, or deminish.

If it were not for blogs, I would know much less about our trustees. Wade is one example. I received an email some time ago stating that he was to be removed from the board of trustees, and the reasons were vague.

I am a far removed missionary, living in my little corner of the world trying to make friends here who talk differently than I do, eat different foods than I do, think act and feel differently than I do. I have the privlege of telling them about Jesus. For me, blogging is an opportunity to interact with people of like mind, and people who are much more experienced and educated than I am on a personal level.

I believe that blogging is here to stay. Maybe, groups of people, such as missionaries or trustees will be banned from blogging about certain things, however, I don't believe that we will ever be banned from using a viable source of communication, at least not by our convention.

thanks,

jiaje said...

I think Jacobs' thesis has truth, but it also needs to be thought through. Perhaps the nature and architecture of blogging bogs down thoughtful discussion, so why not restructure that architecture? Why not arrange for private conversations on email or chat with those who have chosen to pick up your thread of thought. Yes, there are those who are intentionally antagonistic, and perhaps some who present an opposing opinion to keep the discussion going.

Is blogging the enemy of thinking? Only if as educators we have approached our job as teaching others what to think (an information driven approach) instead of teaching them how to think (a thought-driven approach). As human beings of diverse experience and approaches to life, we approach the printed word quite differently. We are diverse in many ways. It is the promotion of our own selfish agendas that causes divisions, strife, and thoughtless conversations (whether through blogs, phones, forums, or face to face). Christ commands us to be unified in our diversity, driven by the Spirit to fulfill the high calling of God. Blogging can be information-starved and thoughless; detailed or insightful. It is neither friend nor foe to either one.

Tim Sweatman said...

I disagree with Jacobs' analysis. In the year that I have been blogging, I have been challenged to think more deeply and to stretch myself, to think about why I have certain beliefs, and to consider new points of view. Yes, I have observed a great deal of pointless bickering and closed-minded hostility, but the openness of the blogs opens up a world of entirely new ideas and perspectives.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kelly Reed that the problems within the dominant church could not have been fruitfully debated only between mature and saintly disputants in close privacy and at boundless leisure, but would have been hushed up and filed away. How long would we have had to wait until the next Luther arose?

Time was of the essence - there were souls being lost while the Church's resistance to change held sway. Peace is not a quiet lack of conflict while injustice and stupidity hold onto power - peace in my book is the forces of right fixng what's broken, wrong, and unfair.