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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Internet - Friend or Foe

A few weeks ago, I commented on a piece by Jonathan Last entitled God and the Internet within one of my Catholic:Under The Hood podcasts. In that capacity I have been mentioned by First Things within the context of a debate over the article and the article's conclusions regarding whether or not the Internet [particularly Internet blogging] should be seen more as something dangerous to Catholic community or something beneficial to the same. Even though my comments appeared on my podcast, I am speaking about this here as I think it will be easier for those who wish to comment and respond to do so.

Many of those mentioned in Last's article are justifiably upset with the way that Last presents them in the article. I did not address that issue in the podcast primarily because of the quick reading I made of the article. For just some of the negative responses, one can look at Amy Welborne's post and its comments.

I come at this issue both as someone fascinated with the possible applications of new Catholic media - as can be quite obvious with the fact that I blog and podcast. As a teacher I am interested in seeing how this new media can be used as a real tool for learning. I am also a Franciscan and so see the promoting of authentic human relationship as part of my religious charism.

My current thoughts:

The Internet is a tool for good and for ill. There is a lot of information available on the Internet much of it beneficial and much of it detrimental. In terms of the faith, there are indeed many good blogs, podcasts, videocasts available to present the faith in terms of sermons, apologetics, and other means which were unthinkable just a few years ago. The new media is definitely a great tool for evangelization and is being used in wondrous ways particularly by the Catholic laity.

However, the I have found that blogging can also be uncomfortable and I often wrestle with the question of whether my blogs or podcasts or whatever are more about making myself feel important [leave comments! say that you like me!] and less about promoting the glory of God. I find that there can indeed be something narcisistic about all of this. This is not to say that all [or any] blogger is acting only or primarily out of ego, just that this is a danger. I wonder whether the postings I choose for posting are designed to promote a real educated Catholicism or are more appropriate in some sort of "Catholic Weekly World News". It's easy for me to find things to complain about, it's much more difficult [though necessary] to put forward a constructive response.

As a blog reader/podcast listener - I find that there is much good out there that I certainly would not have been aware of if these media forms were not available. But I also feel the danger of "Internet Addiction" - of moving from blog to blog to blog seeking out the newest interesting post, concern that there may be something important that I might be missing.

As for the issue of community and the media - there are certainly good communities available for those involved in this new evangelization - St. Blogs for Catholic bloggers and Disciples With Microphones for Catholic podcasters, for example. Prolonged reading of a particular bloggers posts or listening to a particular podcaster can indeed give some insight into a person's character. I think also of the large number of comments on the blogsite of seminarian Matty Molnar after his tragic death as a sign of the many connections that can be made in cyberspace. But I find that there are limits - I can respond to a particular post/podcast with comments or e-mail but relationship building seeks more than that. It seeks an authentically human interaction of the human face, the human voice, the human body.

Catholic blogs/podcasts can introduce people to the faith, educate people about the faith but the source and summit of our faith is found in the celebration of the Eucharist. This is why I felt the need to ask whether or not my work was directing people toward Christ or toward myself. That is why, especially as an educator and a priest, I need to ask whether I am helping people to use the tools of the Internet wisely.

I guess the best way to put it is that I am excited about the possibilities of the Internet but I am also cautious. However, I will also say that I am happy to see the many posts and comments on other blogs about this issue - whether they specifically agree with my view or not. It means that as a faith community we recognize the importance of this question and are willing to take it seriously.

Comments?

3 Comments:

Blogger Jonathan St.Andre, T.O.R. said...

You and I have talked about the tensions involved in blogging. As a baby blogger I'm still learning and trying to develop a perspective on it. I think its also a mixed bag. I sometimes could see the temptation to put my "blogger community" over the actual guys I live with. Franciscan fraternity has taught me much about the person to person encounters that are community in Christ.

Blogging can only go so far. But perhaps it can connect us in new ways and give us new opportunities for community in Christ!

A double "Amen" to your words on the Eucharist.

2:22 PM  
Anonymous TheresaMF said...

I've been blogging since 2002, and, although I haven't stopped yet, I am continually aware of the dangers involved. My blog is all about me, even when I post *my* reflections on something godly, so there is the temptation to pride--and when some important person notices and says I'm smart, so much the worse.

Then I take lots of time I don't have to read all the cool and interesting things other Catholic bloggers have to say about everything from the latest cultural insanity, Church politics event, or deep reflection on the writings of some saint. Occasionally this is edifying, when a blogger talks in a particularily inspiring way about following God's will, or elucidates some aspect of theology, but mostly it is a HUGE WASTE OF TIME. All the good stuff can much more profitably be found A) the Holy Scripture, or B) those huge stacks of spiritual reading books collecting dust upstairs. You mention internet addiction--well, I am addicted.

It is a plus side that I "know" a lot of interesting, devout Catholics from all over the country because I read their blogs--but then your point about human relationships needing to be tangible is true. I mean, I read these peoples' blogs, and some of them read mine. Sometimes we even exchange comments. But what is that compared to spending an evening by the fire telling stories with someone? In highschool we used to talk about how much better the internet was, because we could get over all sorts of barriers such a looks or circumstances, and meet with a pure intellectual meeting of minds over the internet. This is true in a sense: it is easier to get a reading on someone's intellectual positions when you have meet that person only in typed form, whereas if you meet them over the refreshment booth somewhere you might only mention the weather. But the purely cyber experience isn't a substitute for human relationships "in real life," and shouldn't be allowed to take precedence over them, although this often happens, especially if you're also addicted to the technology. It can be easier to flit from blog to blog than to attend a party and persevere in conversation from "the weather" to something more intellectually engaging.

However, I agree that although the internet does lend itself readily to evil, it can also be a tool for good. My best friend found her vocation on the internet. So did I (God willing--pray for me). We need Catholics providing witness to the Faith on the 'net as much as anywhere else, so all those with blogs and podcasts are doing good work.

In the end I suppose it comes down to an individual prudential judgment: should I blog? should I blog now? what should I blog? how should I blog (or read blogs, or whatever)? Details like that are the hard part, but the important thing is to keep the end in mind: AMDG

9:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this web site is an excellent example of how the internet is our friend, Online Blessings.

11:07 PM  

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