Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Askesis of Blogging

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal posts, but I have been thinking a bit about the subject of blogging over the last few weeks and, to some degree, this kind of reflective navel-gazing is de rigour in blogging circles. So, I thought this could be the time.

Truthfully, I decided to write on this topic this week because of an exchange I was having with another blog which got rather heated on my side, largely because aspects of a post got up my left-nostril (one of my expressions for being annoyed-I don't know why it is important that it is the left nostril, so don't ask). Now, this kind of little explosion is not uncommon in blogsphere and, as explosions go, it was kind of small. It isn't like it sparked blog and counter-blog entries for weeks on end or made the news. Still, it is sometimes these small explosions which reveal our actual practice as bloggers, not our sometimes fulsome ideals in posts such as this.

The questions raised by this contre-temps are intensified, I think, by the fact that I am a Christian and I'm trying to write in a way that is consistent to my faith, whether here or in the comments on other blogs. One of the things that I firmly believe is that we are called to find and practice the presence of God in all that we do day to day (a la Brother Lawrence), even in this world of code and word which we call blogsphere. In that sense, like many other tasks we spend our time on, blogging can (and should) become an askesis for us (a spiritual discipline) which is designed to help us deepen our faith by finding God in where we are. Since we are dealing with real-live people in blogsphere (no matter how much the anonymity of the Internet seeks to hide it), we are constantly bumping against the two Great Commandments: having no God except God (our focus isn't to aggrandize ourselves, but to serve God) and loving our neighbour as ourselves (how do we interact with our fellow bloggers/commentators?).

So, what is the askesis of blogging? Certainly, they are a set of practices designed to bring us closer to God. Certainly, many of them come off as merely common sense or ethical. Don't mis-represent the truth. Don't get into ad hominem accusations. Don't give false witness. Those, I think are obvious enough not to provoke comment.

However, the real spiritual work, the real askesis, has to be found in the less certain, gray-areas of blogging. Am I taking the time to understand what someone is saying? How do I react to what I think is an unjust accusation? Am I charitable in my disagreements with people? Do I seek the truth, not my way, but God's way? Do I honestly love the person I'm agreeing with or do I just want to score a point? Am I just arguing for arguing sake?If I'm honest about these, I can't say that I'm always successful in them. I do post hastily and angrily without really listening to what someone is really saying, not what I think they're saying. I do treat some comments as attacks to be parried (if possibly, pre-emptively) rather than a person's honest thoughts. I do indulge in debating tactic to 'win' the argument without asking what God wants in this.

Still, an askesis taken on doesn't mean an instantaneous change in one's outlook or practice. The old monastics talk about askesis as a refining process in which the gold or silver is purified slowly and painstakingly from the dross. So, in the askesis of blogging, I can see and be grateful for my progress from my early days commenting on various bulletin boards (the ancestors to the blog). I am more careful about when I post and how. I am less inclined to indulge useless arguments, but find ways to break free of them graciously. I am starting to see that, as John Howard Yoder puts it, "Love of enemy must include love of the intellectual adversary, including intellectual respect for the holders of positions one must in conscience reject" and act accordingly. Like any askesis, I am being taught to leave my desire to win and be seen as smarter than my opponents where they belong; in the ditch along the side of the road.

I'm not there yet, but, by God's grace, there is progress. Perhaps with my prayers and yours as well, I will get there. God willing.



Thos said...


Good post! I'm new to your blog, and appreciated what you had to say. If we view how we use our time as Christians as a steward question, we definitely need to use our blog time wisely. We should use our time to build one another up in love, and I think that's exactly what you were saying in your post. Thank you!

Pray for Unity!

Malcolm XYZ said...

I wonder what Chrysostom would say about the nature of debate and how to engage, disagree, teach and learn from interlocutors. Is he close to Plato on this and does he see dialectics as an approach to a truth that is distinguishable from religious truth? Another issue related to him is that he must have seen debate as a way of distinguishing between heterodoxy and orthodoxy. I don't think many bloggers with an interest in Christianity and religious history would overtly claim they are attempting such a bold venture. But in private they might agree to such an idea. It seems Golden Mouth might be of use here. I will see what I can come up with on this.

Phil Snider said...

Well, I did run into this quote from the commentaries of John Chyrosthom on the Gospel of John (Homily 26, as it turns out):

"By this mode of action He was giving us also the example of unceasing gentleness, and teaching us not to show displeasure, ont ot be indignant, when we preach to men and do not persuade them. For it si not possible for hte angry man to accomplish anything; rather, he renders it more difficult to persuade others. Therefore, weought to refrain from anger and thus make our teaching more acceptable to all, not only by not showing anger, but also by not ranting. Noisy speech is the fuel of anger."

That should give enough to think about.


Phil Snider said...

That would St. John Chrysosthom. I was typing rather faster than my brain was processing.


Phil Snider said...
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