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The Bible and Culture

Doubtless most of us have been there. You are stuck in an airport waiting for a flight, and at least four or five private conversations are going on around you. Now its one thing when the other person is there and you are talking to them. That’s all fine. But suppose you are in a quiet space, like some airports have set up for laptop users and the like— and someone breaks out the cellphone and begins talking at the top of his or her voice? This is having a private conversation in public, in a manner that is rude and obnoxious, ignoring and being oblivious to the fact that there are others around who might not want to hear what is being said. Though we have all endured this in one form or another, we now have a new form of public rudeness of this sort– on blogs.

Weblogs can be a wonderful form of having a dialogue or discussion on something that matters, though too often they are used just to vent. But what is really amazing is how many people are prepared to ask personal questions and make private remarks on a blog, when they could have sent an email to the person in question. Sometimes we even have people airing their dirty laundry for all to see on the internet. This unfortunately is another example of the narcissism of our culture, where people do not care or are oblivious to the effect of what they are doing on others who use the same public space. There need to be some suggested rules for bloggers. Here is a rudimentary set as a starter:

1) Nothing strictly private should be posted on a blog. One should confine such comments to an email message or a private phone call or better yet a conversation in person. If you want to have a one on one private discussion with either the blogger or someone else who is commenting then do it appropriately.

2) Blogs should not be used for pure exhibitionism. The rule should be– if this is something you would be embarrassed to say in front of a loved one, say for example your mother, you have no business saying it in public. Just because the internet gives a person the freedom to hide behind a computer and be braver than you would be in person, doesn’t mean you should exercise that liberty without discretion.

3) Before posting anything, consider that blogs, like emails are a ‘cold medium’. By this I mean, you can seldom tell the tenor of a comment on the internet, its emotional freight. It is hard to discern the difference between irony, sarcasm, or withering criticism on the internet. Therefore, it is better not to try to be too clever or subtle in such a sphere. Gestures, tone of voice etc. is all part of communication that is largely missing on blogs. Take this into account before you type something that is likely to be misunderstood.

4) If you are unwilling to be bold in person, don’t be bold in print– otherwise you are a coward not prepared to back up in person your convictions. Let your in-print speech patterns be of the same ilk as your in person ones. That’s just a matter of personal integrity so that it is always the case that you say what you mean and you mean what you say.

5) Be as respectful of other people’s opinions on the blog, as hopefully you would be in person. This is just a matter of Christian ethics. There is nothing wrong with a vigorous debate or discussion on a blog, but pure polemics and ad hominem arguments should be avoided. There is no place for name calling on a Christian blog.

6) Blog about something that is meaningful or important or interesting to you. Don’t blog just for the sake of talking. Read James 3 on the taming of the tongue (or in this case the fingers) before blogging.

7) Re-read what you are going to post, before posting it. If you are really angry, and since shots fired in anger often go awry, it would be better to let what you have typed just sit for a while, and you should reflect— Do I really want to say this? before posting it.

8) If you make a mistake in a comment on a blog, or even sin against someone, then apologize personally (not on the blog but at least in a private email). Accept the consequences of your own actions on the blog.

9) Do not use blogs as a surrogate for developing real, personal relationships– in person. In short, get a life, and stop spending so much time on blogs.

10) Realize that just because you have some freedom to speak in various ways on a blog, this does not give you license to violate copyright privileges, misquote others and the like. Know the rules about quoting other people’s materials before doing it, and ask permission!

I could list more, but this will do for now. We need more civility out there in blog land. Shock jocks on the radio or TV are no models of Christian discourse. Find other people to emulate.

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