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1. The concept that you did not ask to represent anything is somewhat immature. (sorry that is so harsh)
2. There are two other major groups of Mormons who are not represented in blogging, so far as I can see, those who feel satisfied with the outlet church provides them to express their faith, those who when expressing themselves fail to find acceptance or community and thus leave because they do not enjoy the experience. I'd expect these two groups are fairly large, though I think the largest ignored group are the "proletariats". Those who are not in a decadent situation and thus do not have the time available to blog.

I've never been to any of these symposia. I am interested to see if John Dehlin can overcome the reputation sunstone has. I wish him luck.

The idea of representation is interesting. I don't think its immature to disclaim representation. In fact, sometimes its the responsible thing to do. (I blogged on this earlier). On the other hand, representation is inescapable on some level.

The talks sound interesting.

Matt, I didn't really sign a blogging contract. No one did. That was my hint that, in fact, no blogger is really representing anything or anyone except themselves, unless there is some objective and reasonable basis for you, the reader, to expect otherwise.

So, for example, when Michael Otterson posts at On Faith, it might be reasonable to think he is representing the Church, as he is identified as "Media Relations Director" for the Church on the site and he was asked to participate at the On Faith site as one who could speak with some standing to the issues discussed there. [Even so, he would probably deny that he was speaking officially as opposed to just giving his best personal response to the issues raised.]

Even General Authorities, when writing books, disclaim representation. Here's M. Russell Ballard, in Our Search For Happiness: "Despite the contributions and suggestions of many, I alone am responsible for the content of this book."

Here's from the Preface to the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, for crying out loud: The "contents do not necessarily represent the official position of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." And the EoM was written largely by employees of the LDS Church (BYU profs).

So if those speakers don't represent the Church, no reasonable person really has any basis for thinking any blogger is representing the Church. If my blog represents anything, it is a willingness to speak openly and honestly about the topics I choose to write about.

Representing the church in matters of doctrine is one thing. However, we all represent the membership of the Church. When we do certain things, no one can help but assess "Dave = Mormon. Dave = thoughtful and intelligent. Mormon = Thoughtful and intelligent." While it is unreasonable to assume that a single blogger officially represents the church. If enough people go around saying "My Church is all about Danites" or some other extreme or otherwise peripheral matter, then they are representing the church, if not the church as a whole.

Put another way, I have only met perhaps 10 buddhists in my life. Right now, because those buddhists have mostly been nice and kind in representing themselves, I can opine that "most buddhists are nice."

Like it or not, the may not be a blogging contract, but there definitely is a "mormon" contract.

All that said, I can honestly say that I feel that DMI does an excellent job of representing my faith, IMO.

As a happy atheist and even a militant anti-theist, I too, think Dave is a nice representative of his church, but it has always been my opinion that no one can be considered a representative of the church. That even includes the prophet. The only pronouncement which can be considered a representation of the church would be an announcement by the "general authorities" about a specific issue which they have "unanimously" represented as "gospel". Since I don't believe in any kind of revelation, that would simply be an un-veto-able pronouncement produced by a bunch of men who have seemingly agreed about something.
Not that my opinion in these matters should mean anything to anyone.

I have been thinking about this and I would have to say that although I don't mean this as criticism, I don't think that the bloggernacle represents Mormonism at all.

I live in a very traditional and strongly LDS area. No one I know participates or even reads the 'nacle. Most of them would be shocked/horrified/amazed at the posts and discussions that go on.

As far as excluded viewpoints, I think the conservatives have been pretty much chased away lately. And I can't say that I personally have found anywhere that I "belong."

All that said, there are things that I find here that I love, that have enriched my life, that have opened my eyes. Love it or hate it, Mormon blogging is here to stay. So while I can sympathize with your Charles Barkley "I am not a role model" stance, I think that's unrealistic. 'Nacle participants are already being sought out and quoted in the national press. Those of you that have been around the longest have the most credibility-- and like it or not, you will be the go-to Mormons in the public eye.

I don't know quite how I feel about that. After all I just said that I don't think the bloggers here represent me or the Mormons that I know.

Some blogs represent the typical Mormon better than others. Like C. Jones I suspect that many Mormons would be shocked and even offended by a perhaps representative cross section of blog posts from even what's linked to by the MA aggregator.

But I AM a mainstream, typical Mormon. So are most of the bloggers I know. We hold Recommends, we go to Church, we have callings, we have FHE- and we write for a multitude of reasons. If you saw me in Sunday school, you wouldn't know me from Molly sitting next to me.

It occurs to me that one group which is under-represented would be LDS who live outside of the English speaking areas of North America and Europe. And increasingly that most Mormons.

We could just as easily ask the question:

How well does the Ensign represent Mormonism?

Of course, the discussion comes down the semantics of "Mormonism" and "represent." The question is broad enough to let everyone make whatever point then want (which is good for a panel discussion I guess), but we should all realize that if left unqualified, it is not a question that can be answered in a meaningful way.

When we say "how well does it represent" are we asking how indicative it is of the average member's beliefs (if there is such an average)? Or are we asking whether it portrays an image which is viewed positively by outsiders? By "Mormonism" do we mean Mormon doctrine (as defined by what?) or do we mean Mormon people? You get the idea.

Since the question is wide open I will make the point I want to make, which is that the Bloggernacle does not need to have a representative sample of all things (and opinions) Mormon. It sits on the internet just like lds.org and the exmormon sites, and sites devoted to lesson material for Gospel Doctrine class. There is broad coverage.

Someone who doesn't find anywhere to "belong" online can either create such a place, or more likely, realize that they already have other places (Sunday School, whatever) where they do have the sense of belonging. C Jones, do you disagree?

Overall, I think the Bloggernacle does many things to represent the Church in a good light to outsiders. Beyond demonstrating intelligent and thoughtful takes on things, it shows us to be open-minded and free-thinking. It explores Mormon ideas without the danger of any ensuing craziness having endorsement from the Church. I think it is clearly a good thing.

Jacob J-
I am not criticizing the 'nacle. I think it is a good thing, too. I am not necessarily here to find a place to belong. I value the things that I can learn from those who don't think like me.
I don't want to silence anyone, and sorry, but I don't want to go back to Sunday School alone for all my information.

Dave asks the question - Does the bloggernacle represent Mormonism? But you say yourself that the 'nacle does not need to have a representative sample of all things Mormon. And I am saying -yes, that's right- it actually doesn't have such a sample.

C Jones,

Right, I was agreeing with you. Sorry if it came off otherwise. I was building on your final point about not knowing how you feel about the boggernacle elites being in the public eye. (I feel okay about it.) Also, just to be clear, I think input from people who don't "belong" is crucial to the success of any blog, so I appreciate the people like you who participate where they don't feel a sense of belonging.

Nice write-up Dave. I agree with your thoughts about the Bloggernacle and related issues.

As to the panel on the Bloggernacle, although I was greatly looking forward to moderating it, I have unfortunately had a conflict and will not be able to moderate that session after all. It's too bad since I was looking forward to hearing what the presenters had to say about LDS blogging. At this point, I am not sure who will be replacing me.

Well, since John flaked out, I have been roped into the moderator slot. (Kidding John!!) John would have been better than me in this role, but with Kristine, Kaimi, Lisa, and Russell involved, the panel can't go too far off course.

Dave, give me a good sound byte and I'll use it during the session, preferably to rebut or smack Kaimi around... "Well, no less than an authority as Dave from Dave's Mormon Inquiry said..."

Matt, here are a couple of zingers to throw at him: "Excellent point, Kaimi." Or: "I couldn't agree more, Kaimi." ;-)

I live in a very traditional and strongly LDS area. No one I know participates or even reads the 'nacle. Most of them would be shocked/horrified/amazed at the posts and discussions that go on.

I'll second that.

As far as excluded viewpoints, I think the conservatives have been pretty much chased away lately.

That's actually happened pretty much the whole time I've been participating.

I see the "bloggernacle" as being a pretty narrow subsection of Mormondom. But I define the 'nacle as more MA-linked stuff, not any random blog out there that might be written by a Mormon.

That said, like C Jones, I appreciate the fact that I get various points of view when I read blogs, and I think that can be a good thing.


I hate to disappoint the moping conservatives, but I look down my "LDS Weblogs" blogroll of solo blogs (ones that have been around for awhile), and there are at least as many "conservative" blogs as there are "liberal" ones. Really. The group blogs may lean more towards "liberal" bloggers, but it is still on the whole fairly balanced. And remember: a liberal Mormon is a conservative anything-else.

As for the idea that the average Mormon in the pews would find the idea or content of blogging a scandal -- give them a blog and three weeks and they'll find they have lots of things to write about. Look here. And here. And here. And even here. Mormons are doing a lot more with blogs than just hosting liberal Bloggernacle discussions.

Dave,

I think we are "measuring" in different ways, FWIW. I was thinking more along the lines of activity/participation/traffic levels. You are thinking more along the lines of quantity of blogs. Depending on what we are looking at, we might come to different conclusions about how representative the bloggernacle is of Mormondom.

There are lots of blogs that get little or no traffic. I suppose if we were to chart them all, you'd probably be right. But those aren't the blogs drawing attention. That's more why I was thinking along the other lines. Again, FWIW.

Moping conservatives? Yikes!
At least that's slightly more creative than the usual lib vs. con responses like, "We've already had this conversation a million times so shut up already" and "go back to Sunday School." (apologies to Jacob J for my defensiveness about that remark earlier, I like and agree with the rest of his comment)

I like liberal bloggers. I like conservative bloggers. Nevertheless, in the area where I live, even the posts on what you refer to as conservative blogs cover ground that most of the people I know would find unsettling.
Do I wring my hands over that? Not at all. I'm just sayin'.

The problem with a liberal slant seems to be universal on the internet.

The internet generally just seems to slant more liberal. If you want a conservative take on things, follow talk radio. If you venture onto the internet, it's just going to be more liberal.

I think part of the problem is that online discussion is usually premised on, well, discussion!

It seems pretty frequent that a conservative voice will pop up in a nacle discussion for the first time and these are the kind of comments you hear:

"We don't need to speculate about this stuff, it'll all be sorted out in the hereafter"

"Brothers and sisters, this is the true Church and Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet. Our way is clear!"

or

"Dallin H. Oaks said..." (often said with an air of finality as if this closes discussion)

or

"Just do your home teaching and quit complaining about this!"

Now, are you seeing a common thread here?

It seems that too often, a knee jerk conservative Mormon reaction to a standard bloggernacle discussion is to immediately try to end the conversation. You can see why such do-gooders are frequently met with something less than cheers and flowers in a community dedicated to discussing things.

That said, it does sometimes seem that arguing with Quimby's latest left wing rant on fMh is rather likely to result in you getting at least a warning from the permabloggers.

But I'll have to double-check on that.

Seth R,
You make a good point. Conservative commenters do have their own knee-jerk reactions. I might even have a few myself :-) Its just that a knee-jerk reaction to a knee-jerk comment stops discussion as well. I wish we could do better.

And Dave is right when he points to links of Mormons with blogs that are pretty diverse. No one is saying that they don't exist anywhere at all. But the name of this post is 'Spotlighting the Bloggernacle.' Maybe I'm defining it wrong- I'm talking about the blogs listed on the MA.

But I'm not even sure how you could lump very many of the MA blogs into lib or con categories anyway. There are a few that are pretty easy to define, but where would you put New Cool Thang? Or DMI? Or even T&S?

i tend to agree with m&m and c jones. while it is fun to think about the possibility that the majority of lds members are listening to general conference and thinking about what they take issue with in each talk, it is pretty unlikely. it is unlikely that mainstream mormons don't mean what they say when they speak up in sunday school and testimony meanings.

the more apt parallel to dave's paradigm about the plurality of blogs and representative opinions being heard in a forum is washington lobbies. while dave argues that the startup cost for a blog is low, this is not absolutely true. if time is money then the start up cost of running a user friendly and successful blog is enormous.

so just as the cuban and israeli lobbies hold enormous sway in washington--virtually holding american foreign policy hostage to their wishes. so do those with the time capital in the bloggernacle hold sway on what opinions are envogue. it seems that the mainstream mormon who is happy and content with the status quo will spend more time hometeaching and reading the most recent conference talks than starting a blog to say the same things mentioned in the conference talks they so dearly love.

Paul, you make a nice point about the time commitment. On the other hand, spending 30 or 60 minutes blogging offers a lot more than spending it watching TV, playing video games, or reading trashy novels.

What we might term "orthodox bloggers" (those who might post and discuss the same topics that we talk about in church on Sunday) face a real hurdle: most people get plenty of that sort of talk at church!

For example, I confess that I have never read all the way through (or even much past the first paragraph of) the occasional "here's a talk I gave on Sunday" posts at B'nacle blogs. I'm sure they are fine talks. But it's just not what flips my switch when it comes to online reading.

The bloggernacle isn't a representative cross-section of the church at large, but it accurately represents those Mormons who participate in online discussions. It tends to favor people who 1)have advanced verbal ability and who 2)can make and evaluate arguments with emotional detachment. Those two reasons are why so many lawyers hang out here, I think.

Seth said:
I think part of the problem is that online discussion is usually premised on, well, discussion!

Right on, Seth. If people experience shock and revulsion at something in the bloggernacle, it often isn't the content of the discussion so much as that the topic is even being discussed at all. We use a devotional style of discourse at church, and it doesn't translate well to this forum. The underlying premise of a weblog that allows comments is that there is actually something to discuss, and that assumes that there will be dissenting opinions, and that sometimes those opinions might be legitimate.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. I agree with C. Jones that it is not easy to place some blogs on any sort of one-dimensional spectrum -- I think the B'nacle offers more diversity than we recognize. It's people who are at one of the extremes who get the sense the "LDS bloggers are so liberal" or "the Bloggernacle is so conservative." For folks in the middle there are opinions in every direction.

And I agree with Seth and Mark IV that discussion is a good thing but that discussion isn't for everyone. I guess the non-discussers of the world are not going to like all this ... discussing of Mormon topics that happens on LDS blogs. Unregulated discussion, no less. Nothing wrong with that view, but you can't hold back social trends by just wrinkling your nose.

More and more social interaction, including religious interaction and discussion, happens online. If you want to be in the game, you have to get online and have an online presence. (By "you" I'm referring to religious institutions.) LDS.org and other "official" sites can do some things, but there need to be personal, unregulated voices accessible to Google as well. What's the alternative to a Bloggernacle site coming up on the first page of a "Mormon polygamy" or "Mormon polygamy blog post" search? That's the question one has to answer before concluding the B'nacle is a bad thing from a policy perspective.

[Obviously, from a personal perspective the problem, if any, is self-correcting. Someone who thinks blogging is a bad thing or a dumb idea just doesn't blog or comment.]

Okay, the B'nacle session happened last night. I posted link to online summaries as a postscript to the main body of the post. I'm going to close comments here, as further discussion is better directed to posts from discussants or attendees of the actual session.

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