No bullying while blogging
Last week, we received an overwhelming response to a Glad You Asked article we published in our October issue on whether Catholics can receive communion at a Protestant church. As the editor in charge of commissioning GYAs, I thought it was an excellent question as it reflected a situation most, if not all, Catholics will face at least once in their lifetime.
I read through every single argument against the conclusion of the article, which, despite the claims of several commenters and tweets, never promoted nor urged Catholics to receive communion at a Protestant church, only reflected on a reason why in extraordinary circumstances some Catholics might choose to. Unfortunately, there were fewer arguments against the article and much more personal attacks on the author, his school, and our magazine and its editors. Additionally most of the response has been uninformed and uncharitable repeated rhetoric. I have serious doubts that a lot of the commenters bothered to even read through the entire article before launching attacks against it.
But I don’t intend to go on about that, rather, authority and responsibility when blogging—especially about religious matters. As we well know by now, anyone with access to a computer and the Internet has the opportunity to express some kind of authority. There is good in this. There is democratization in this. It adds voices to a conversation that might otherwise go unheard.
But the other side of the coin is the risk that a person who wouldn’t otherwise be credentialed in any other way being viewed as an authority on subjects like theology and canon law and politics. When those people find themselves in positions of power, thanks to the mild success of their religion blogs, it’s important that they accept that they have a responsibility to write truthfully and charitably. Sure, we all have personal, political, and ideological leanings, but good religion blogging should take a cue from journalism here and make an attempt to set aside or at least disclose those leanings before writing from a seemingly place of authority, and then avoid sensational headlines and statements that demonize and twist the conversation contributions of others.
Allow me to be more frank: There’s a lot of bullying taking place in the Catholic sphere of the Internet these days, and it comes especially from self-anointed authorities on Catholic matters. That alone is troubling. It’s even more cause for concern when bloggers are bullying and while also enjoying an widely recognized position of authority, such as the priesthood, diaconate, or episcopate.
The GYA article I mention wasn’t a blog post, but it serves as an example of the difference between accountable and unaccountable Catholic publications and blogs. When we chose to publish the article, we approached it with a sense of responsibility for what kind of authority it was appealing to, particularly since the department is catechetical and answers directly questions about the history and practice of the faith. Before it even appeared on the pages of our magazine, four editors with graduate level theology degrees (not counting the Ph.D. candidate who wrote the piece), one of whom is a Claretian priest, poured over the careful wording of the article. We even delayed publishing it for one month to allow for more revisions.
There are a slew of fantastic religion blogs written by people who have little to no official credentials, save for their experience writing about a particular topic. For some, the tone and nature of their writing speaks to a sense of responsibility to reasoned discussions. Unfortunately, for every blogger who isn’t whipped into a typing frenzy whenever they read something they disagree with, there’s a blogger who is. While some of us answer to a publication’s or organization’s mission (and for some of us, our job depends on that), there are even more who can say whatever they want about whomever they want with no fear of their writing privileges being revoked. It’s those people who ought to step up their responsibility.