Sunday, April 08, 2007

Blog Manners, the LCMS, and Aristocracy

It was inevitable. As blogging has become more and more popular, growing at a rate faster than social ettiquette could catch up - there's now a debate about blogging manners and ethics. This article is an example.

I find the piece interesting, but I think some people are making it more difficult than it really is.

A blog is not much different than one's home. For instance, you're visiting my blog right now. You are in my "home." If I like your company, you can stay. If you get drunk and vomit all over my hard-wood floors, I will toss you out on your ear. There's really no need for an international treaty and a committee of rocket scientists to hash this out. It's kind of a "private property" situation - which is why the simple and easy solution (that the blog owner has ultimate control and say over the content of the posts) isn't acceptable to a lot of folks.

Some people claim a "right" to post anything they want on anyone's blog. They can post profanity, insults, smutty doctored up pictures, threats, or spam - and if you remove such posts, you are "violating their free speech."

I see.

Once again, if you come to my house and become unpleasant, loud, rude, arrogant, annoying, insulting, or otherwise odious - out you go. If I invite you to dinner at my place, and you want to give me an Amway pitch, try to convert me to your religion or political party, or proceed to tell me how to raise my son - you'll be on your way to the local McDonald's. That's because it's *my* house - not a socialist collective.

Similarly, this is *my* blog. I post what *I* want to write and talk about here. If some find it interesting, they'll read it. If not, they'll visit someone else's blog. I do enjoy rigorous debate and other points of view - especially given that I do post personal opinions here (the usual raison d'etre for blogging in the first place) but as the owner of this virtual house, and as the host of this virtual dinner party, I make the rules. Nobody is forced to come here.

Having said that, Father Hollywood's guests have overwhelmingly been ladies and gentlemen. Seldom have I had to remove comments. Sometimes the debate gets a little heated - and that's fine. But there is a line, and I decide where it is. If you feel that this infringes on your free speech, you can express yourself by getting your own blog. They're free and easy to set up.

Personally, I don't read many blogs. First of all, there's way too much out there. To even read all the Lutheran blogs would be a full-time job. There are maybe a half-dozen I check out on a regular basis - and even those, I basically scan. My own blog serves as a place for me to archive my sermons - and if a parishioner wants a copy, he can read it online. I also enjoy writing articles from time to time, and the blog is a way to self-publish and get immediate feedback and discussion. I find writing articles far more satisfying than reading other blogs and getting caught up in arguments. In the past, I've wasted a lot of time doing that - and there is very little to be gained from it.

I've lately been appalled and disappointed by the conduct of posters to a lot of Lutheran blogging sites. Discussions too often devolve into the internet equivalent of Pro Wrestling: posing, name-calling, straw-man argumentation, repeating slogans, personally insulting verbeage, etc. And these are Christians! And typically these are among the "confessional Lutheran" crowd (in other words, our "friends" and allies in the church and in the culture at large).

But I don't think this kind of thing is limited to Lutherans. I think it has become a characteristic of modern conservatism. We LCMS Lutherans have always been on the right-wing side of the spectrum theologically. But something has happened to conservatism in recent years. Conservatives used to be known for being cerebral, well-read, reserved, thoughful, and even aristocratic. Conservatism used to be the movement of G.K. Chesterton and Richard Weaver. But there's now a kind of "white trash" conservatism typified by pseudo-intellectuals who are more entertainer than thinker. And this seems to be the direction of discourse among many in the LCMS. Not all, but many.

I was watching "The Ten Commandments" last night. I was struck at how our culture has changed so much since the 1950s. This movie was an Oscar-winning Hollywood blockbuster. It is a long film, one that requires a certain degree of biblical and historical literacy, an ability to focus on formal polysyllabic dialogue, and is devoid of wise cracks and contrived one-liners. Charleton Heston delivers (in an almost monotone) the simple biblical script in King James English. He never once uses the word "smackdown" or says "Yippee-ki-yay, M.F." He doesn't even squint at the camera and say "make my day." The message of the film is so dignified (being a dramatization of the Word of God) that no attempt to jazz it up or make it a little rougher around the edges was even considered.

But in more recent times, conservatives seem intent on not appearing "stodgy." To be honest, in a lot of the conservative talk-show world, the topics and language used is not all that different than the barrage of "mature themed" Sunday night cartoons on FOX. Some who are considered leaders of the conservative movement carry themselves with the same amount of dignity as streetwalkers, reducing political discourse to schoolyard name-calling; intentionally looking, acting, and speaking like Paris Hilton and her friends.

Basically, American conservatism have been taken over by savages. And a lot of us in the LCMS are part of that American conservatism. We've become a synod of Philistines. And if you think that assessment is a little harsh, check out some of the Lutheran blogs. We're rapidly becoming the theological equivalent of a low-rent trailer park. One has to wonder how long before Will Ferrell will be portraying an LCMS pastor in a movie with a lot of flatulence jokes.

I don't believe that this barbarianism serves the Gospel. I've gotten to the point where I don't even want to read most of the blogs out there. Not because I think I'm better than everyone else, but to the contrary, thanks to original sin (which has been called "the lust for domination" by one of my heroes in the faith, the Rev. Dr. John Stephenson), my "inner barbarian" just needs an excuse to run amok. In the LCMS, we don't bow down before Baal or a golden calf, rather we worship the god "I'mrightandyourwrong." And any commandments we break en route to sacrifice before that altar are fair game, covered by our "freedom in the Gospel."

I think we need a return to an aristocratic conservatism. Not an aristocracy based on wealth or parentage, but one of conduct and personal dignity. I can't help but think about my great-grandmother - an unlikely aristocrat. She grew up as an orphan in West Virginia, was married at 15 to a coal miner. At the age of 25, she was an uneducated widow with two small children and another on the way. She moved to Akron, Ohio and scrubbed floors and toilets to feed her children.

Yet, my great-grandma, though never well-to-do, always conducted herself with personal dignity. She was always dressed nicely, used proper English, was kind, displayed manners and grace, was devout in her faith, and charitable. She sipped tea in cups with saucers. Her house was adorned with flowers. She was not a smart-alec. And though her home and lifestyle were humble, she carried herself with propriety. She was a true aristocrat, and she understood her duty of "noblesse oblige."

I don't know if we'll ever be able to restore such civility in our culture, or even in the LCMS, but what a saint and heroine to emulate!

I would especially like to see our clergy, myself included, strive toward a new culture of refinement. Given that all LCMS pastors are men, I would like to see more of our clergy behave as gentlemen, displaying chivalry and setting the example of the Christian knight in the midst of a decaying and depraved culture of wise-cracking "conservative" talking heads and Howard Stern wannabes.

I once heard some LCMS pastors boasting about going on a retreat and getting drunk, breaking bottles, damaging the furniture, and getting thrown out of the retreat center (which was run by an order of nuns). Their conduct was winked at and excused by an appeal to "freedom in the gospel" and the desire not to be considered a "pietist."

Somehow, I think we have got to get beyond this notion that in order to be a solid Lutheran or a good conservative, one has to be a belligerent lout, a loudmouth, and a neanderthal. Maybe the way we behave on others' blogs might be a good place to start.

6 comments:

Chris T. said...

If I may use a phrase common among my generation -- I feel you. :-)

Of course, this kind of nonsense is not the sole property of the right; there are plenty of anti-intellectual folks on my side of the church, too. It really seems to be about money more than anything -- I don't think Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh believe what they're saying any more than some of the loudest mouths on the left do. They've just figured out how to make a ton of money by being shocking and hateful. It sets their bank accounts ahead even if it sets the tone of our national discourse down several notches. I'm at a loss for how to combat that beyond taking the conversations in a different direction, one that doesn't reduce difficult issues to a football game.

Speaking of long movies with Biblical scripts, have you seen Into Great Silence? I caught it on my last trip to France, but it's starting to play around the US. I highly recommend it.

Paschal blessings!

Pastor Beisel said...

Fr. Hollywood, I'm with you man. I've contributed in my own way to that "white-trash conservatism" but my wife has slowly been turning me into a civilized person. Thanks be to God. There is a difference between wit and wise-cracks. You, I believe, have mastered the art of wit. It is not offensive in the sense that it is vulgar. It is offensive often times because of its truth. Keep up the good work my friend.

Father Hollywood said...

Chris:

Yes, indeed, the anti-intellectual culture has infected both the left and the right. And watching the two engage in debate is kind of like watching two toddlers trying to beat one another with algebra textbooks. It would be kind of entertaining if these people weren't raising taxes and getting control over the minutia of our lives.

I've recently heard of the movie, and I'm intrigued. I'll have to wait for it to come out on DVD, though. With a toddler, I'm kind of "theatrically challenged" as the culturally-sensitive (?) might word it.

Christ is risen indeed!

Father Hollywood said...

Paul:

Thanks be to God for our wives! Without them, we'd probably be content to eat five-day old pizza left out on the counter, and repair our rotting t-shirts with a stapler and duct tape.

Sure, it's hyperbole, but not that big of a leap.

Well, I think we're all probably a work in progress. At least I now know that I'm a "recovering barbarian."

On a personal note, I hope you got my e-mail about Brda offering to put your family up in NOLA on your way to St. Looey. He has just moved into a big house (it is four and a half times the size of mine, and even has a sauna!). So, send me an e-mail if you're still planning on coming by.

And thanks for dropping by my blog. You've always been both a gracious host and a welcome guest - and you never neglect to bring good beer. ;-)

Carol said...

Father:

I feel better in knowing that I'm not alone with being annoyed by vitriol and ad hominem attacks.

Husband has the Fox News all the freaking time and there are moments when pulling an Elvis on the telly sounds like an option. (But knowing that I would have to replace the set deters me from doing that.) :P It could be worse: he could be watching CNN or TBN. No matter-- I'm sticking to the Internet.

lthaga said...

http://www.amconmag.com/2007/2007_02_12/cover.html

I thought you might like the linked article.