Room for argument
Speaking out


Saturday I attended my first BloggerCon. I met some interesting people, got a mess of new URLs for my aggregator and blogroll, and had some good conversations. It wasn't all scintillating; but given that the con is free, I definitely got my money's worth! During the What Is Journalism session, Jeff Sharlet compared blogs to sermons, which resonated for me. And Dave Weinberger said "Writing is a way of caring about your world," which I liked. I also want to note that Rebecca MacKinnon's International session was terrific; I especially appreciated the link to her World Blog Aggregator.

Unsurprisingly, I was most excited about the Religion session, led by Jeff Sharlet.

We began by talking about the term "Godblog," which is apparently offensive to some folks, though I think it's really cool. It was suggested that blogging about other subjects (education, pop culture, politics) inherently means blogging about religion. Jeff observed that much of the language we use in describing the blogosphere involves religious metaphors: jihad, priesthood, missionary, sermon, miracle. People have a lot of visionary hopes for what blogging can do, which may make blogging itself a religious endeavor.

Questions included: is the internet by definition irreverent? Is blogging about religion a spiritual practice? Is it the only spiritual practice for some people, or is it part of a larger, more orthodox spiritual practice? What about politics: are religion blogs necessarily connected with politics? Is this really a question of storytelling: how we tell stories about what we believe in and what we don't believe in...? Can we strengthen congregations by having congregational blogs?

Several of the participants spoke up about how we use, and see, our own religion blogs. Fructus Ventris cited St. Blog's Parish, a Roman Catholic blog webring. She characterized the members as liturgically similar, but often politically opposed. Another participant cited The Village Gate (formerly The Right Christians). I talked about how I think religious communities, and therefore the religious blogosphere, can bring together people who hold a range of political opinions but who agree to listen to one another because we're part of a spiritual community. I also talked about how neat I think it is that blogging is such a DIY phenomenon, and made an analogy to branches of Judaism which place emphasis on individual engagement with tradition. One woman (I think she blogs at Rosa's Mundi) talked about neopaganism, which is generally very technoliterate. She observed that the web is a great way to meet other neopagans -- sometimes the only way.

We talked about blogging as essentially anti-authoritarian, and asked whether there's a disjunction between hierarchical religious traditions and this anti-authoritarian online spirit. We talked about Hasidic Rebel, the only Hasidic blogger we knew of, and wondered aloud whether he stopped blogging because he got outed within his community. There was also some talk of Catholicism, which is also pretty authoritarian, and how/whether that fits with the rebellious spirit of the blogosphere.

It was agreed that religion can be a pretty personal thing. Jay Rosen pointed out that there can be a tension between blogging (very of-the-moment, day-to-day, every day is new) and the timelessness of religion (and/or the idea that the world is eternal, unchanging). The woman from St. Blog's Parish put forth the theory that most religion bloggers believe in Truth-with-a-capital-T, which I'm actually not sure I agree with, though I didn't say so at the time.

Which religion lends itself most to blogging? Someone said Buddhism, because it's a religion of impermanence and the blogosphere is always changing. (I've already blogged Dave Weinberger's very funny comment about why so many Jews blog.) Someone else said atheism, because there are so many atheists online. URLs mentioned included Blogs4God, Dharma Crumbs, Catholic Rage Monkeys and Islamicate (I mentioned their Ahl al-Kitab blogroll).

We also talked about how some blogs focus on other religions, and not always in a spirit of respectful engagement, either. There's a way in which blogging opens communities up, and there's also a way in which blogging encourages polarization and insularity. Do we fear the way religion blogging can amplify extreme voices?

Could we collect a blogroll of religion blogs which could be used to teach kids about different religions? An Iranian blogger whose name I don't know said "What we get from blogs is lived religious experience, rather than doctrine," which I thought was a neat idea. Though Joshua Farber argued that "The plural of anecdote is not data," and that a range of blogs can show good information but they're still not a scientific sampling, which is also a good point.

How do we measure the success of religion blogs? Do religion blogs need to be read, in the same ways that journalism exists to be read, or can the mere writing of them be enough? Unsurprisingly, no consensus was reached there.

What can religious blogs teach secular bloggers? Jay Rosen pointed out that we tend to assume the binarism of verified fact vs. opinion, and that secularism triumphs when we think hard facts trump lived experience/faith/opinion; maybe religion blogs, he suggested, will teach us not to categorize everything by that simple either/or. Dave Weinberger said he's seen AKMA's blog have a pacifying effect on flame wars. Do religious blogs have a particular tone? Are they necessarily pacifying? I said they might be, though so many Jewish blogs focus on Israel that they become fractious fast.

Towards the end, the question was raised, "Can we use 'religion blogs' as a category, or is it too broad? Are there too many differences?" Unfortunately, I had to duck out shortly thereafter, so I missed the session's conclusion...