A Psychology of St Blog’s, Illustrated

One of the more interesting things about blogging is to observe how different people interact.

The campus ministry at Texas A&M has a significant web presence. I wish my own parish would emulate it. Marcel LeJeune posted his list of “Top 20 Catholic Bloggers.

Yes, these are the blogs I read most. If I missed one you like, mention them in the combox. If you don’t like one of them, be nice about it. If you think one is better than the others, be nice about that as well.

I note that six of the twenty blogs are NCReg operations. Practically every one on his list is of the high hit count variety. The list leans conservative, political, and to news collectors. Greg Kandra, who is one of the most active collectors linked at the Bench.

And now I have one of these little badges, to boot.

Conversation ensued. Henry Karlson took great exception:

When will Catholic bloggers stop looking for and patting each other on the backs with such stupidity as “blog awards”?

I tend to agree. A few of us Catholic bloggers have been rather consistent in our disdain for popularity awards. Henry isn’t raining on Marcel and Greg’s parade just because he missed the gold star. He’s discussed it before.

So have I.

Henry is a serious writer and thinker. He came down hard in the comboxes on this yesterday. I think a lot of us have issues that push our buttons. Mine is adoption. Henry’s is awards. He really pricked Greg’s patience, who shut down the thread this morning:

Okay. Enough. This is getting ridiculous.

I’m closing down comments.

Henry is obviously angry because he didn’t make the list, and is lashing out at something that was relatively small and insignificant, and turning it into a federal case, complete with conspiracies and words like “propagandist.”

Sour grapes, anyone?

I think it’s more sour because somebody stood up to the jocks and cheerleaders. People have to remember: this isn’t (really) high school. We’re not afraid of the popular kids people in the blogosphere. It’s always a dangerous thing to think we have somebody figured out, especially emotions, and especially without face-to-face contact.

My own take is that some Catholic bloggers treat their internet exercise as their own private club. There’s not a conspiracy in the sense of a criminal, intentional plot to circle the wagons around the bloggers outstanding for popularity, orthodoxy, and good-looking kids. But propaganda is not far off the mark.

I went to Marcel’s site and offered a comment. I wasn’t mean to anyone. I just said my piece. And the piece wasn’t approved.

Now, I’m good with people running their blogs however they want to. If Marcel thinks the impressionable Aggie Catholics down in Texas can’t handle a bit of friendly dissent from Iowa, he’s welcome to turn his comboxes into lovefests. (Chaste, of course.) (Good luck with that SEC thing, by the way.)

And Greg has perfect freedom to shut down his threads, too. Though I confess my surprise–he usually does it when people get nasty. Henry was on the Aggie Top 20 like a bulldog. And he did throw out that cruel epithet, “stupid.” But he wasn’t at all out of character. Of course, if he were a popular top-20 blogger, more people would know blogonarcissism wasn’t his thing.

I don’t think that asking questions about self-congratulatory behavior is ridiculous. I’m sure those questions are perceived as bothersome. But my sense of the discussion is that we thought some people were big enough to receive well-intended input, and consider expanding a view of the blogging world. Apparently not. I’m not going to speculate on people getting ticked off, annoyed, or feeling insulted. I’m just going to note what happened, and keep my deeper speculation to myself.

Speaking personally, I’d rather read a good writer than a good reporter. When I read print media, I preferred in-depth features to headlines. Greg Kandra, for example, blogs the way a media journalist would blog. He collects stories, and offers them with minimal content. I suspect he’s a better writer than he shows, and I’m sure he could write a great feature. But he’s a section A journalist. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

I like to collect news items too. But only when I have some comment on them, something another blogger hasn’t already commented on or thought of. I suppose that’s narcissistic in its own way. Jimmy Mac, for example, sends me several stories a week. Most of them I don’t comment on. Some because I try to keep a tolerable level of stomach acid. And some because I agree with Jim’s liberal viewpoint, and I have nothing original to add.

I enjoy bloggers who are more pure writers. They stare out their window near dawn, and make some connection with a Bible passage, a word from a saint, some poet, some bit of nature–and in ten minutes, they have three-hundred words of a totally unique insight that nobody ever thought of before. I love that.

I suspect that Catholics are attracted to certain kinds of blogs more than others.

“Tell us the facts. Tell us the truth. And we’re good.” These folks like their religion and their life black-and-white, with no gray area. They’re going to like Greg, and most of the conservative news outlets. They need reinforcement, wagons circled, and what they thought they were sure about yesterday confirmed again today.

“Challenge me. Get me out of my rut.” These folks know they aren’t perfect. They know they need help, and if a good kick is going to help them, so be it.

Some people seem lonely, and they just want to engage in some way socially. Either to be argumentative or to be totally supportive.

It takes all kinds. That’s why were a catholic Church. That’s why we’re a body. We’re not 1.2 billion ears. Or 1.2 billion folded hands.

Maybe once we realize that, we can get to work reading other blogs, other viewpoints, and find out who the really good writers, thinkers, theologians, teachers, poets, artists, and saints are. And not who stars for Team Catholic and cheers them on.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Politics, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A Psychology of St Blog’s, Illustrated

  1. Liam says:

    I liked your mention of Annie Hills. I love her (and Priscilla Herdman and Cindy Magnsen, et cet.)

    I just can’t take seriously any list that features Peters fils as a serious blogger. He’s an opportunistic polemicist, pure and simple.

  2. Commander Craig says:

    The biggest sin I committed when I was doing “Catholic Radio 2.0” was an obsession with numbers of listeners an with self-promotion. For example, I nominated myself in several categories for the 2009 Catholic New Media Awards. I was shut out in all my categories. And while I did a comedy bit about it — where I played Dusty Rhodes wrestling promos and threatened Fr. Z and Fr. Roderick (whom I called “The Flying Dutchman”) with a whuppin’ — I was coming from a completely egotistical sense that I was doing something special and not getting any credit. What twaddle. I should have spent more energy promoting the Gospel instead.

  3. I love Greg – and I do not say that lightly; he is a personal friend. His blog is more of a news round up and homily showcase, you are right about that. And he is an excellent writer, if he wished to publish other kinds of work, he would be very successful I’m sure.

    I did not read that thread because I had a feeling that I would be annoyed. There is an echo chamber-y feel to so many of the blogs at Patheos. Yet I do find myself reading them, more often than not! To be true, I look at the Bench, Elizabeth’s blog and Why I am Catholic. I’ll look at the others if one of the aforementioned bloggers links. Recently Elizabeth linked to a piece from Katrina aka The Crescat, about why she does not believe in ecumenism. I think you weighed in on that one, Todd. I actually commented at Elizabeth’s place… and I got scolded a bit. I know, how inappropriate of me to actually discuss actual ecumenism. Katrina had no such sense of it. *sigh* Seriously?

    Yesterday I allowed myself to get into with Frank at Why I am Catholic. He was in punitive mode with Bishop Zavala and angry that the church would be paying for his children’s college education. Seriously, I ask again?

    Those awards are kind of dopey and the whole big-kids-blog-club has a sort of he-man-woman-hater feel about it, inserting “real Catholic” for man and the rest of us for woman.

    Henry is a really serious writer and thinker and he takes his licks. Good on him for calling things into question. How sad that it turned out the way it did.

    There is a reason I come here a lot… Wisdom and maturity. All in one handy-blog-package. Not trying to be funny, it is just true!

  4. Neil says:

    The listing of “blog awards,” while in itself rather insignificant, does raise some interesting questions:

    1. Is there a “St. Blog’s” anymore? There are now sufficient numbers of conservative and liberal (and traditionalist and radical) Catholic blogs that one would have to intentionally spend a good deal of time reading a variety of blogs to be able to speak of the Catholic blogosphere as a whole (even if one didn’t consider the large number of Protestant, Orthodox, and ecumenical blogs). In the past, there might have been Catholic blogs that everyone seemed to read; I’m not sure that’s presently the case.

    2. What is the connection of blogging with being a professional Catholic writer, speaker, etc.? (Here, I distinguish these professional Catholics from parish priests, lay ministers, professors, and others directly associated with – and accountable to – specific communities.) A number of more noticeable Catholic bloggers have always used their blogs to sell books and get speaking appointments and raise their visibility. Jonathan Last’s 2005 First Things article, “God on the Internet,” already spoke of bloggers “hawk[ing] their wares.” I suspect that the need to “hawk” means that you might have to blog in certain ways – you might have to network and cultivate a reputation as “conservative” and “orthodox.” (I don’t mean to be critical here – one does need to make a living.)

    3. I might be wrong here, but does the list of “favorite” bloggers show a lack of interest among Catholics in theology (and related disciplines)? Here, I mean theology in the sense of systematic theology and exegesis that doesn’t have an immediate connection to church politics or apologetics. One wonders if there could be the Catholic equivalent of a Scot McKnight or Ben Witherington.

    4. I wonder if the nature of the list is determined by the concern for many Catholics – not all conservative – to find and promulgate a seemingly threatened Catholic identity? Thus, most of the blogs seem to help the reader develop a distinctly Catholic viewpoint on the news, increase the influence of the church, and read identifiably Catholic writers. (I don’t mean to be critical here, either.)


    • Neil,

      Sadly, there still are the mega-blogs which, even if we don’t feel called to read and be in the loop, are the “loop.” Which would I consider it to be?

      CreativeMinorityReport, Mark Shea, CatholicVote, and of course, NCR, LifesiteNews…

      And there really is a consistent attempt within that circle to keep it together and keep out outsiders. Look to Tito’s daily “best commentary on the blog” posts and you will see who/what is pointed to all the time, and notice who/what is ignored. It’s how they control the net; if you are new and looking you find the big group and get caught into it. With how big VN is, I still get people saying they never heard of us and surprised we exist. Of course, I am for an open discussion from all kinds of groups and I have tried – and continue to try — to get it that way, even when others try to find every excuse to ignore outsiders.

      Yes, there are a lot of bloggers which try to use their blogs for money and self-advertisement. I admit, I’ve turned things I’ve written on blogs into self-published books, where I edited what I wrote slowly and sometimes added essays/chapters not online. I don’t really bring attention to them, but figure, if people want such things they can find them, otherwise, just doing this to preserve what I wrote in a published form and this is a good way to do it (among other things). I think that is different from what you describe, which is the hard sell people do, which I dislike too.

      There are some in the popular circle which are into theology, though of course they just give the preferred answers. But the populace, the readers, don’t want serious discussions. My longer posts tend to be the least read. I know that will happen. I know why. Controversy not serious explorations about truth is often what is wanted.

      I think the real concerns of these lists are to put out bloggers which will have views they hope will influence the Church itself to follow their ideology.

      • Neil says:

        Dear Henry,

        I don’t regularly read the blogs that you mention, but I’ll accept that there is a “circle” that attempts to “control” online Catholic discourse. But what is the level of their “influence?”

        1. They can’t monopolize web traffic. According to Alexa, the first blog that you mention (CreativeMinorityReport) doesn’t have more traffic or receive more incoming links than Commonweal. And a “liberal” Catholic can now read blogs on Commonweal, America, and National Catholic Reporter – as well as Vox Nova, which amounts to thousands of words daily.

        2. They can’t control serious theological argumentation. I don’t think that this “circle” offers the equivalent of PrayTell, Women in Theology, Catholic Moral Theology, your own longer posts, etc. I doubt that they have a recommended Vaticanista as influential as John Allen.

        3. I wonder about how much influence they have on the church as a whole, especially if they have been connected to some of the harsh commentary on Cardinal O’Malley, etc. It might be telling that the controversy about the legitimate use of the name “Catholic” is occurring between an archdiocese and Real Catholic TV, not, say, the National Catholic Reporter. A very popular “conservative” blogger suddenly shut down his blog after an angry discussion with a seminary rectory. I wonder if there is inevitable tension between this “circle” and much of the institutional church, which often has to be realistic at the cost of ideological purity.

        Thus, if I can speculate, I would think that they have two sorts of influence.

        1. They might be able to promote and limit access to certain parts of the conservative Catholic world. Thus, if you are an independent Catholic writer and speaker who wants to get on a specific television channel, get hired to do workshops at a conservative parish or diocese, or be published in certain magazines, it might be a very good thing to gain favor with this “circle.”

        2. They might present the only Catholic “loop.” “Liberal” Catholics don’t really seem to want to create an alternative “loop.” For example, dotCommonweal doesn’t even have a blogroll. (This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

        I hope that this makes sense – sorry about my level of ignorance.

  5. Neil,

    Well, some of them, like Thomas Peters, bring in influence via people like Cardinal Burke. And if you see the change going on at the USCCB, you would be able to see the change reflects the talking points of such blogs.

    • So true Henry, so sadly true.

      • Neil says:

        Dear Henry,

        Well, perhaps. But how influential are “people like Cardinal Burke?” I understand that he’s on multiple congregations of the Roman Curia, etc., and a prominent speaker and scholar of canon law. But I must say that I’m unconvinced by arguments by those like Marco Tosatti who say that he’s the “puppeteer” of American appointments. (Tosatti’s piece in La Stampa predicted that Archbishop Chaput would become a cardinal in the recent consistory.) Really, what’s the evidence?

        Does the “circle” have any influence over any Cardinal-Archbishop in the United States? Furthermore, given that recent actions to recover a strong form of Catholic identity in sharp distinction from secular culture really haven’t worked in any detectable way (Cardinal George has stepped away from his harsh language about the gay rights parade, Bishop Olsted stepped away from his norms on wine and communion, I don’t think that the University of Notre Dame has visibly suffered from Bishop Doran’s suggestion that it change its name), is the influence of the “circle” declining?

  6. Jimmy Mac says:

    It’s not hard to influence Burke, so long as your train (oops, cappa magna) is not longer than his!

  7. Pingback: social influence

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