Westminster Speaks

Rethinking the Rules of Planet Blog
Posted June 5, 2009 By David B. Garner

Blogging is not a sin.  No, really.  It’s not.  No commandment says “Thou shalt not blog,” and good and necessary consequence doesn’t place blogging on par with pornography.  Real Christians really blog, but sad to say, much of this blogging doesn’t look really Christian.  With thanks to technology and the hankering to be heard, blogging has found its place, and is indeed morphing into its own accepted, self-propagating, self-attesting genre of the written word.  But by its very nature it’s unique.  It has none of the editorial, marketing, and vetting protections of other published formats.

In its basest and most common forms, blogging requires no credentials, no skills, and no standards.  It is raw, bold, and painless.  Fast and free, blogging creates an instant audience for the caustic, the sharp-witted, and the master of spin.  All one needs is a computer, an Internet connection, a felt pain or a perceived injustice, and an ability to wield a verbal sword.  Throw these ingredients in the blender and spinning out comes a virtual author with a waiting audience the size of the globe.  The clever and motivated blog-meister types his message to the world, capitalizes on the viral frenzy of the blogosphere, and discovers fame… a fame that fuels the fire for further doses of sarcasm, satire, and blogospheric acid.  I can say it no better than Michael Gerson in his article in The Washington Post (May 15, 2009): “[The rhetoric of the rant] is the dominant form of public comment on the Internet, where the pithy, personal, scatological attack has become a minor art form, rather like sculpting in excrement.”

Let me be clear. I am not on a rampage against blogging, bloggers or the blogosphere.  There are verifiable, viable, reliable blogs.  There are respected and respectful people who write blogs and read blogs.  But the blogosphere, a planet of sixties-like digital freedoms, without the conscious and deliberate application of Christian ethics, fosters a sense of anonymity, impunity, and self-expression dreadfully un-Christian. 

With its wafting stench, excrement sculpting as an art form has found its way into theological discourse.  For many there is no blush in vile blogging.  If the 60’s mark a generation that resisted authority, many in this generation deny authority’s existence at all.  On Planet Blog, such radical autonomy has found a home, where the writer operates with a sweeping sense of individual sovereignty.  Put simply, the hermeneutical circle begins and ends with me.  Blogging is the venue for radical writer expression and radical reader response.  Hence, whatever I think, I can write.  Whatever I feel, I can express.  It’s all OK, after all, because these are merely words. I can curse, rant, and rave.  I can bellyache, accuse, and malign.  I can boggle, waggle and croon.  Who are you to tell me otherwise?  Who is anyone to tell me otherwise?  This is Planet Blog, where even foul language, a caustic swipe at my employer, an ad hominem attack on my theological foe, and even outright dishonesty are acceptable.  This is my blog, darn it, and I’ll write what I want.  If I’ve been wronged, dissed, or in anyway marginalized, I will write and I will be heard. 

Evidently, Planet Blog has its own set of moral and relational rules.  Here are some of them:

Rule #1.  There are no rules.  The blogosphere is its own universe, has only one god, and only one rule of speech.  I am god and I can say whatever I want. With “Beam me up, Scotty” transference, I find myself in an alternate universe, a place where situation ethics have an entirely new situation, one not even Joseph Fletcher could have anticipated.  Enter the blogosphere and gossip, slander, malice, and accusation are not only fair game, but expected tools of the trade.  The Christian needn’t be Christian on Planet Blog, because on this planet where excrement sculpting is the highest form of artful communication, biblical mandates evidently have no authority and Christ’s lordship has no claim.

Rule #2.  Anonymity produces impunity.  As I write this, I am sitting in an airplane at about 30,000 feet above Indiana.  The lady sitting next to me has periodically looked over my shoulder to see what I am writing.  She has been squirming. I wonder if she blogs.  More pressingly, I wonder if she is reading these sentences?  With her unsolicited glances, I now have more accountability by a total stranger at my side than a lone malcontented blogger suffers at his computer.  The secrecy of Internet pornography exempts the sexual addict from accountability; in parallel fashion, the blogosphere drives the unwitting writer to an ostensible impunity.  The screen before the blogger’s eyes creates a persuasive illusion that the World Wide Web shields him from all accountability.  I will say what I will say, and I will not pay.  Such anonymity spins Planet Blog on its invisible axis.

Rule #3. Freedom is all-sufficient grounds for expression. If I can write, I should write.  It’s that simple.  And what I write has worth because people read it, respond to it, and thereby validate my verbal art.  What renders credence to my blog is neither truthfulness nor respect, but rather affirmation and inflammation. Woven more deeply into the fabric of this communication medium is the lie that such success renders me valuable.  I am important; I am a part of the story.  In fact, I am a virtual scholar on Planet Blog.  How do I know? The responses.  Empathy or outrage evidences my clout with equal measure.  Soaking in the sordid attention, the self-righteous on Planet Blog already has his reward in full.

Rule #4.  Courage is shown by public venting.  Michael Gerson gets it right again:  “It is a strange moral inversion to talk of the ‘courage’ of the raised middle finger.  Rudeness sets out to dominate and humiliate.  Every excess provides the excuse for great and opposite excess – a search for more vicious put-downs and more startling obscenities.”  On Planet Blog, courage is defined as such perverseness, the exposing of sculpted excrement for the world to see (and smell!).  All the while, the blogger hides behind his computer firewall. His computer screen functions not as a window to the world, but as an effective defense against having to address his antagonist personally, professionally, Christianly.  What Planet Blog calls courage actually is blatant cowardice.  Ranting bloggers are the Al-Qaeda of verbal warfare.  After all, what strength is required to attack an enemy behind the camouflage of a computer screen?  Greater cowardice is difficult to envision.

Then there are the blog groupies.  It is more than a little astounding how truthfulness is not only irrelevant to the writer, but is actually undesired by the reader. Far more attractive are the rantings and ravings, which by virtue of their saltiness elicit an emotional salivating that authenticates my own anti-authoritarian, idolatrous, self-venerating freneticisim.  What gross naïveté of those who trust such blogs, believing the emotional outbursts of unrestrained spewing at the keyboard.  The visceral response to sculpted excrement is to be prized over truth, decency, and the Gospel itself.  This intoxicating feeling of power effectively masks the stark reality of spineless pageantry that underlies such rank blogging – in the heart of both the caustic writer and the charmed reader.

Rule #5.  Blogging is the tool for relationship management.  Underlying the blogging phenomenon rests a culturally disturbing trend, a paradigm shift in human relationships.  As technological tools advance, the mode of millennia-old human interaction is shifting at blinding speed.  Friends are not people that you know personally and intimately, but those with whom you interact digitally, those that read your blogs and affirm your rancorous ranting.

Let me read a familiar text from the Blogospheric Bible: If your brother acts in a way disagreeable to you, blog about him cleverly and inferentially.  If he refuses to listen to you, blog again more viciously, and encourage one or two of your friends to blog too.  The cumulative effect of two or three bloggers maligning a brother’s character should move him to sufficient shame.  If he stubbornly continues in his displeasing trajectory, create a unique blogging site that enables all your virtual friends to join in a frenzied harassment.  Surely this level of abuse will win your brother, and if not, you will at least have tainted his reputation for life.

How shall we deal with conflict? Beam oneself into Planet Blog.  Don’t face your conflicts directly and humbly; don’t seek reconciliation by personally addressing errors, sins, and misunderstandings.  Enter Planet Blog, and malign your adversary from the keyboard.  Whether by Facebook, MySpace or Twitter, cowardly digital attack is the proper means of dealing with actual or virtual conflict.

Consider a group of teens walking down the street, appearing to be together, yet each of them communicating on their digital devices – talking or texting to people miles away. Is the group really a group? Are they engaging socially or are they not? Twenty-first century relationships drift indiscernibly between these virtual and actual worlds, and the cultural fall-out of such digitally obscured relationships awaits the next generation to reckon with fully.  What is evident already, however, is that as conflict management moves to the digital world, virtual engagement with human sin is non-engagement and only extends the sin.

So here you have it.  Are you angry with someone?  Do you have a gripe against the establishment?  Have you been treated unfairly?  Do you have a complaint about, well, anything?  On Planet Blog, you have the moral obligation to spew venom at the object of your disdain to an audience, only one mouse click away, that awaits your sculpted excrement. Blog away. Blog in anonymity.  Blog with courage. Blog with power.  Blog yourself into Planet Blog renown. 

But I ask this simple question.  What will become of a society that implements digitized Al-Qaeda tactics and sculpts excrement in order to sustain relationships?

There is a better course of action, a decidedly Christian one.  Tolerance of Planet Blog ethics is not it.  Dismissing the tyranny of digital sin is not it.  Dichotomizing life between real and virtual is not it. 

Do you have a gripe against a brother, your boss, your theological adversary, or simply the establishment as establishment? Don’t blog, pray.  Don’t blog, repent of your heart’s moral turpitude, insubordination, and lust for victory.  Don’t seek your favorite blog site and ooze your heart’s bitterness for the world to soak in.  Pray for your enemy, and especially if that enemy is your brother.  Get the blog out of your own eye before you get the speck out of your brother’s. 

If you must write, don’t blog to a world thirsty for your gossip; implement the age-proven technique of private journaling.  It is not a path to self-promotion, virtual celebrity, and kingdom building.  The anger of man does not yield the righteousness of God, and the path of Christ takes us to the closet not to the Internet.  Private writing is the path of Christ-honoring humility, prayerfulness, and reflection.  Don’t spread the word about your sense of injustice; fall on your face and thank the Lord Jesus Christ for his willingness to take your injustice. 

Planet Blog is not outside of Christ’s lordship, and pretending it so is simply to sustain the dastardly blogospheric lie.  Apply the sweet fragrance of the Gospel in your words and in your silence, indeed in every venue.  This is the only way out of such a moral blog-jam.