Internet Civility

I try to keep things civil here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home. (Such a task is rather easy when you don’t get many readers writing comments). I have no problem with people disagreeing with the things I write or stuff I post. In fact, some of my most regular and loyal readers disagree, at some level, with most of the things that appear on this blog. That’s fine, as long as the comments section does not turn into a “shouting” match or a forum for personal attacks. There have been times when I have had to delete posts, but they have been rare.

With this in mind, I enjoyed Alan Jacobs recent post on Internet discourse at Big Questions Online. Jacobs describes his experience reading blogs devoted to Anglicanism:

A couple of years ago, I was visiting an Anglican blog, as was then my habit, and came across an article in which a theological conservative — that is, someone on “my side” of the Anglican debate, if (God help us) we must speak in such terms — was accusing Archbishop Williams of something like complete epistemological skepticism, effective unbelief. I have heard many of my fellow conservatives speak of Williams in this way. I thought that if they were to read what he writes, or listen to what he preaches — this magnificent sermon, for instance — they would no longer speak of him so dismissively. I wrote a comment on this post, challenging the critique of Williams and linking to sermons, talks, and essays that demonstrated beyond any doubt that the charge of skepticism was false.

None of this convinced the author of the article or other commenters. The general conviction was that Williams had not acted decisively for conservative causes, especially regarding sexuality, and therefore that anything he said or wrote that savored of theological orthodoxy amounted to protective coloration at best and outright deceit at worst. In their minds, he was the enemy of orthodoxy and therefore their enemy, and could be granted the benefit of no doubt. (Never mind that on liberal Anglican blogs he was simultaneously being condemned for having sold out to the forces of right-wing reaction. And never mind what Jesus said about loving your enemies, even assuming that Williams really is an “enemy.”) They believed that Williams was wrong and had to be resisted by all available means, tarred by any brush at hand. My response to this attitude is summed up perfectly in Archbishop Sentamu’s lament about a “general disregard for the truth.”

The author and commenters bristled at my critique. I bristled right back. The argument escalated. At one point, I said to myself, “All right, you want to play hardball, we’ll play hardball” — and I would have cut loose and said exactly what I wanted to say, except that at that moment my hands were shaking too violently for me to type accurately. I looked at my trembling fingers for a moment. Then I closed that browser tab and spent a few minutes removing all Anglican-related blogs from my bookmarks and my RSS reader. I stopped reading those blogs and have never looked at them again to this day. I don’t think I’ve ever made a better decision…

One thought on “Internet Civility

  1. Regarding the closing lines from Jacobs that you excerpted, a similar action and reaction occurred with me during and shortly after the last presidential election cycle. I unsubscribed from many Catholic blogs I had been following that entertained hard and far-right voices. I value intellectual diversity, but the content put forth from some of those folks became anti-intellectual and reactionary. It ceased to be discourse and transformed into ideological purification—a purification by the way that has historically been abhorred by smart Catholics. – TL

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