Thursday, September 11, 2014

Let's Talk: The Continuing Challenge of Blogging in the American Catholic Context

People do want to talk, you know. Together: they want to talk together.

In the past few weeks, before the hounding attacks began to take their toll, I listened to repeated appeals posted in the comments threads of this blog, asking that the blog host the kind of rich, wide-ranging conversation for which many people seem hungry right now, in the world of religion, politics, and culture. In the world where those fields intersect and interact.

Many Catholics, to be more specific, seem hungry for that kind of conversation, since, God knows, it has not been hosted by our own institutions for a long time now. I'm speaking of Catholics of all stripes, from those who profess to be the best of the best, practicing Catholics, to those like me, who have been shoved to the margins and informed that there's not room for us in the Catholic inn and at the inn's table. And it's important to note, too, the many people of various religious traditions or none at all — this blog has a cadre of readers raised Catholic or in other churches, who have now rejected theism, several of whom I've met personally, fine human beings and dedicated readers — who find it important to think and talk about Catholic matters, due to the strong political and cultural influence exerted by the Catholic church in many places in the world.

People want to talk. They want to talk together. They're hungry, in particular, for wide-ranging coversations that allow them to express their ideas freely, to engage in lively and even sharp interchanges with each other about issues that touch the deepest areas of our hearts and minds, and that significantly influence our culture and many cultures.

I could fairly easily shut up this blog's shop and attend to the many other projects niggling away at my attention on any given day, if that need weren't staring me in the face: the need of many different people who leave comments here, who email me, whom I've met personally, to take an active part in the conversations that unfold at this site, or who take a silent role by reading them without posting comments. 

I stop posting for several days, and my penultimate posting garners 89 comments, the next 51 comments — even when I'm not responding to those comments and egging the conversation on. This is conversation taking place between readers of the blog. On any given day, some 2,000 people (sometimes more, sometimes fewer) come here to read material at this site.

Don't misunderstand me, please: there are bigger and, to be honest, better discussion spaces online in which the issues I've named and similar ones are being discussed on a daily basis. I am, God knows, far from a perfect blogger or moderator. As I have told several of you who have encouraged me recently to spearhead the formation of some online Catholic blog-discussion space that would be a real alternative to the Catholic media outlets avaialble in the United States, I am painfully aware of my limitations to manage such a venture.

I struggle to understand and use technology; my computer skills are limited; though I have organizational skills, the nitty-gritty work of organizing and managing a big project takes a certain toll on me; and, above all, I'm an introverted intutive-feeling type who works to stay focused on projects — and the kind of alterative media project several of you are describing would require an extraordinary focus. (Not to mention: I'm headed towards my 65th year, God willing that I arrive at my next birthday, and I begin to see my energies flagging with age.)

But more to the point: you do realize, don't you, that the people taking pot shots at this blog in the past week or so, and the one trying to bully me via email, are only the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to folks who deplore or ridicule the modest bit of work I seek to do here? What I'm saying is this: there's a reason alternative Catholic publications don't get off the ground in the U.S.

There's a reason we're stuck with what we have, with, at best, "liberal" publications that employ strong hidden insider-outsider criteria as they construct their spaces for conversations, criteria that rule out the contributions of many of the kind of people who appear to feel at home in the dialogues of this blog. The reason is that these publications have power and money on their side.

And this blog has none of either. 

There's a reason the big, successful, long-lasting Catholic publications with online forums do not ever intend to be transparent and accountable regarding how they censor their conversation threads, any more than, say, the NFL intends to be transparent and accountable regarding what it has known about the Ray Rice story for months now. 

That reason is money. That reason is power. 

Money and power are always shielded from transparency and accountability in our society, even when those doing the shielding profess the most impeccable ideals about transparency and accountability.

Perhaps some of the folks running the major Catholic publications in the U.S. occasionally read postings here. Lord knows, over the years that I've been maintaining this blog, I've had hot emails from key players at each of the "liberal" U.S. Catholic publications I read online daily, objecting to things I've said about them or their publications in postings at this site.

Perhaps they knew about those postings due to Google alerts . . . . . Or perhaps they do occasionally slum by reading this or that article at this site. I don't know.

What I do know is that none of these folks or the publications for which they work really want to give the time of day to this blog, because it's just too . . . out there. Too unimportant. Too much connected with a nobody who's far too easy to dismiss because he is a nobody. Who lives for God's sake in Little Rock, Arkansas!

Did I mention that this blog has none of the financial clout or power of various Catholic publications?

And so these publications have, for a long time now, been happy to freeze this blog out by pretending it's not there (it's an ill-informed podunky "blog" written by a raving hick, after all), even when particular postings I've made sting now and again and elicit a waspy email response from this or that writer at one of the major Catholic publications. These publications are content to freeze this "blog" out by pretending it's beneath their notice, until such time as discussions here invite enough commentary from many readers that said commentary threatens to expose the lack of transparency and accountability demonstrated in glaring ways by some of the major Catholic publications to their constituents.

Then, they're willing to allow their own discussion threads to host shameful open attacks on this blog that publicly vent the scorn that, after all, those running the Catholic publications hosting such attacks obviously share. Otherwise, they'd censor comments containing these attacks by anonymous commenters on a person not even taking part in the discussion to defend himself, with the alacrity with which they censor other commenters. While never disclosing their reasons for censoring those other commenters.

As I say, I could fairly easily shut this blog down, if it were not so clearly apparent to me that people want to talk. They want to talk together. They want to talk about Catholic issues and other issues religious, political, and cultural in free, wide-ranging discussions that they clearly are not finding at some of the Catholic blog sites that profess to be all about free, wide-ranging discussion of Catholic issues.

And what is one to do with all those people who want to talk and with their hunger for conversation, a hunger that the "official" Catholic discussion spaces refuse to feed? What is one to make of the upcoming Synod on the Family, whose entire credibility absolutely depends on recognizing the claim that Catholic people need to be heard as issues of family and marriage are being discussed?

What is one to make of this claim, I'm asking, in a church that makes no room at all for the kind of discussion on which the synod professes to be grounded, the kind of discussion to which it purports  to listen? And in a church whose media frequently foreclose open, honest discussion even while they pretend to be encouraging such open, honest discussion?

Someone needs to be discussing matters like this without telling lies and blowing smoke. Someone needs to host honest, open discussion of matters like this. Someone needs to call the bluff of "liberal" Catholics who pretend to be all about inclusion and respectful dialogue, but who again and again employ never-publicly-disclosed criteria for anointing some people insiders to their conversations, and sending others to the outer darkness. With no explanation at all for that eminently un-catholic impulse which is so deeply woven into the Catholic psyche and its way of doing business in the world.

When the Catholic media refuse to host such discussions that move beyond lying and smoke-blowing, I don't know what else to do except to permit those discussions to take place here. Because what the Catholic church teaches and what it does in cultures around the globe as it deals with the topic of family matters intently to me both as a Catholic and as a gay Catholic.

God knows, somebody needs to be talking honestly and openly about all the issues related to family and sexual ethics, when the church itself refuses to do so, and when the hierarchy's liberal media spinmeisters, who are never in the crossfire as church officials wield their dogmatic whips in the areas of sexual morality (because said liberal spinmeisters are not themselves gay): when the liberal Catholic media spinmeisters refuse to talk honestly and openly, someone needs to do so. And when those spinmeisters refuse to provide space for free and wide-ranging discussion of these issues that actively welcomes the voices of Catholics long shoved to the margins when family matters are being discussed, someone needs to welcome and provide space for those voices that are, after all, part of the body of Christ.

So, despite the bullying and taunting, I'm inclined to keep on talking here, with any of you who want to keep talking with each other and with me. 

The graphic: a repaired Roman milk pot in the collection of the Swindon (England), by way of this BBC article.

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