Consider this post a comment to the nice T&S post On the Possibility of Inter-Ideological Group Blogging. I think there is an optimal degree of diversity of opinion in the conversational community of a group blog: too little diversity and it's all just back-slapping and nods of approval; too much diversity and dialogue slips into accusation and acrimony. Personally, I don't see T&S as being all that diverse — if you combined T&S and BCC I think you'd have it just about right. Maybe they ought to engineer a four-blogger trade for a year.
Anyway, as I reflected on Kaimi's post, I realized how much I have picked up during my three years as a Mormon blogger about the art of conducting friendly dialogue with people holding a wide range of religious and ideological views. From the theoretical to the practical, here are a few lessons I have learned from blogging.
1. Be Nice to Visitors. If you're nice to people, they come back. If you berate them, they don't. That simple fact forces those who run their own blog and want repeat visitors to be nice to that roughly 3% of visitors who actually leave a comment. Not just be nice but learn to be nice — I'm afraid LDS religious culture doesn't teach us to hold friendly conversations about religion. You'd think missionaries would pick up that ability, but I think they often learn to ignore what others say and focus on getting their message across. So blogging taught me how to hold a nice conversation with those holding diverse LDS beliefs and those holding other Christian or secular beliefs.
2. Bloggers versus Commenters. Extending my first point, it's those who run their own blog (or, to a certain extent, participate in group blogs) who are forced to learn to be nice. Those who just drop in for comments don't face the same constraints. Not that all commenters pick arguments or go out of their way to hash on those whose remarks or ideas are open to criticism. But commenters don't have a community to alienate the way those running a blog do, so some commenters push the envelope of conversational tolerance right up to the point of being banned. Bottom line: running your own blog does a lot to discipline your conversational tone and style.
3. The Limits of the Conversation. This gets to the heart of the T&S post. While diversity is nice, hosting blog comments teaches you quickly what does and doesn't fly. Personal attacks turn everyone off. The sort of blind rejection and criticism one often sees from those at the far end (either end) of the spectrum of LDS religious opinion turns people off. Preaching does not play well at LDS blogs — maybe we get too much of it in church on Sunday. So now I just edit, delete, or ban commenters who don't, won't, or can't "get it." Hints and requests to play nice aren't generally worth the effort. Maintaining the conversation or "protecting the forum" is more important than someone's need to be a noisemaker, which they can do quite happily somewhere else. [Not that I do this very often at all, but when I do I don't wring my hands over it anymore.]
4. Strengthening Your Weak Left Flank. Most educated Mormons have a weak left flank. In the Church you get exposed to a lot of conservative and ultra-conservative religious opinion, and you learn the limits of how much you can swallow. In other words, you build strong defenses on the right for how conservative religious opinion gets before it crosses into fantasy. But you don't get exposed to much liberal religious opinion in the Church these days. Liberal religion is terra incognita for most Mormons. Many can't tell the difference between a liberal and believing Mormon and a true anti-Mormon.
Enter the Bloggernacle. Plenty of that liberal religious opinion here, accessible to anyone with Internet access (as opposed to the pre-Internet liberal Mormon religious communities, which were rather small and largely restricted to Utah). Mormon bloggers learn how far to the left religious opinion goes before it crosses into their personal fantasy zone. Blogging teaches you where your line is to the left and helps you strengthen your left flank.
5. Mormon self-criticism. This might be a little controversial, but I have to say the LDS blogs are amazingly open to religious self-criticism. I didn't realize that until I spent a few months trolling Christian blogs looking for the Catholic or Protestant equivalent to the Bloggernacle. Still haven't found it. Philocrites is the closest I came up with, and he was apparently Mormon once upon a time. I find it amazing, for example, that with thousands of Evangelical bloggers out there, there isn't a spirited conversation about the obvious problems with the inerrancy doctrine -- don't these people read books? Or that with thousands of Catholic bloggers, there isn't more discussion about the probems in papal history and the darker side of Church history (their Church history). There's a lot of celebrating and witnessing and discussion of social issues and politics, but precious little critical thinking about doctrine or history out there in the Christian blogs. I don't have a handy theory for why LDS blogs are so comfortable with self-criticism. Is it because Mormons are more secure in their own faith? Is it because Mormons are so inclined towards proselyting and apologetics? Is it because lawyers are overrepresented in the Bloggernacle? I don't know.
6. Commas. I was not an English major and I don't consider myself a grammar nazi, but my [heck] don't American schools teach the comma anymore? Do not put a comma between the subject and the predicate. Do not put a comma between the two parts of a compound subject or a compound predicate. Do put a comma following an introductory phrase, between items in a list like this one, and before coordinating conjunctions such as but, for, and, or, nor, yet, and so. Blogging forced me to learn rules like this. Colleges should just give up their ever-expanding remedial English programs and force every student to run a blog.
7. The three-paragraph rule. Ninety percent of your posts don't require more than three paragraphs. Maybe 95%. There are a few insanely interesting people out there in the blogosphere who can consistently write long and interesting blog posts, but they are the talented freaks of the blogging world. Keep it short and simple is the best rule for run-of-the-mill bloggers like you and me. Strive for brevity. Be short and sweet. Seek pith. Edit.
Any other blogging lessons learned?