I’ve read an article recently that complains about the rise of bloggers, especially those who have many negative things to say about the church. The article is in Chinese. So, I won’t post it here, but it does remind me of a greater problem in blog sphere in general.
Opinion is like our bathrooms. Everyone has one and sometimes it stinks. The problem isn’t whether it stinks or not but whether the said opinion is true. Blogs allows us to have an outlet for our opinions. As a result, everyone can be a writer these days. So long as we know how to open up a blog via WordPress or other tools, we can become a writer. We don’t need to publish journal articles and books (both of which I also publish). The trouble with blogs is sometimes we run out of things to say. Many bloggers, including academics, merely reblog what other people write because they’ve run out of things to say (I’ve seen this on Patheos quite a lot).
Another problem with blogging is that everyone can sound like an expert, even though the definition of “expert” ought to be more stringent. Many blog about all sorts of things with almost no experience: dating, church leadership, making rockets (OK, I made the last one up). Not every opinion is legitimate, but every opinion has the potential to SOUND legitimate.
Another problem with blogging (as well as with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram) is how easy one can gain exposure and fame (or notoriety). As a result, I’ve known a few academics who haven’t ever done hardcore research work in their area of supposed expertise but have become quite popular due to blogging. This happens even (perhaps especially) with big and famous primarily white (read, Western) blog portals like Patheos. In fact, many got invited to speak at churches or many religious settings just from blogging or messing about on social media (no, I’m not jealous. I’m already pretty full with invites for about one to one and a half years out). They create “impression” of expertise by social media. These are real scenarios. The complaint of the article I read is real even though it speaks with a bit too much negativity against blogging.
We can learn much about the present phenomenon of blogging. In relation to the church, I think we often fault our pastors for not keeping preaching fresh and relevant. The fact is, many pastors, like many bloggers, have run out of ideas because ideas are hard to come by. In order to have fresh ideas, one has to be both intellectually and spiritually rich. Having an opinion and a few good ideas isn’t enough. Having aspiration to be a blogger isn’t enough. I sympathize with the pastor who runs out of ideas. Blogging isn’t easy but at least the blogger can take a break if he wants. Not so the pastor. He still has to speak every week.
I think the article that criticizes those who criticize the church through blogsphere has legitimacy in that blogging can create “impressions” through opinions. Bloggers should be responsible for what they say. Impression can be false and lasting. Sometimes, because of our voluminous output about a problem, we cause many others to have false impressions that this problem is bigger than other problems. More volume shouldn’t be equal to more truth.
As for those who want to get popular via blogsphere, there’s real danger involved. For example, if we are very self-centered in our approach to life and complain about life, we will draw many “likes” and responses. These blogs actually expose all those who “like” the blog for who they are. I saw one example of a single (and often dateless) person who often complain about how modern women are hard to deal with and so on. This blog draws many “likes” but if we look at both sides, dating problem is rarely single-sided. Relationships are complicated. I’m sure the problem may not only be from modern women. Yet, with the writing of the blog, the “likes” expose other similar readers who may be equally self-centered. Of course, the women readers will further notice which readers belong in this single and dateless category and be cautious in their company. Similarly, someone pointed out to me a Facebook update of an American lawyer who seeks exposure for her “expertise” on China that she has “lost her virginity” (her literal terms) to Global Times by giving an interview. I nearly spat out my drink. The very fact she brags about Global Times, a propaganda news machine published by the Chinese government (in the same vein as People’s Daily) shows how little of an expert she really is. She will be scrutinized for this move by those in the know and whatever opinions she holds will lose credibility. To those who are complete ignoramuses on China, she may have just found her place in the sun for 15 minutes of fame. Opinions have consequences. Media also have repercussion. Blog sphere and cyberspace can be cruel places.
The problem of social media is real as it creates easy opportunity for fame without hard work. I would advise those in academia not to be tempted by this contrived fame. This applies especially to the next generation of academics who can blog and write well but often without any hardcore research in their own area in real publications. The fame will backfire. No serious intellectual can have longevity while avoiding hard work. Blogging of course is my hobby. So are Facebook and Instagram. I’m under no illusion that my blogs are all quality writing. They’re but one way to express my reaction and opinions towards so many things related to Christianity and society. My real work remains publication with legitimate publishers to benefit serious readers. I hope people don’t abandon this path in favor of quick fame. Otherwise, we’re just cheap ambulance chasers.
Cyber courage, on top of subjectivity and click baiting, does very little for church and society.