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Democracy of “Blogic” and the Right to Speak the Absurd

5 November, 2009

img_1327One of my favorite modern-day thinkers is Carl Trueman. His penetrating analysis of  theology and contemporary issues causes me to pause for self-reflection. In his essay, “The Theater of the Absurd” found in his book Minority Report: Unpopular Thoughts on Everything from Ancient Christianity and Zen-Calvinism, Trueman https://i0.wp.com/www.dennyburk.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/112508-0711-carltrueman17.pngdiscusses what he sees as a deficit in the blog-world. In the wake of the second amendment and the democratization of knowledge, the web has proliferated our sense that we have a right to speak whatever we want. The result is that many people believe that they have expertise on stuff that even scholars with actual PhDs struggle to grasp. In some ways, this is nothing new under an American sun. Americans usually become deeply religious and zealous when their right to speak is threatened, even if blatant ignorance gets in the way of it. Rights are genetically hardwired into our DNA.

Our right to speak is a good thing. It protects us against religious tyrants, and since I fall on the libertarian side of the spectrum politically, I especially sympathize with this concern. But like Trueman always warns, a good thing is not always good. As proof of the bad in the good and that the blog-world is more often full of blogic (Trueman’s term) than robust and thoughtful logic, Trueman anecdotally presents this story of his encounter with an “email” scholar. This “scholar” wanted to argue with him as if he had a PhD. Read for yourself,

There was the case of a young guy who wanted to engage in e-mail banter about something I’d written. What fascinated me was the way this person referred to himself at one point in our exchange as a scholar. Yet he had no higher degree, no track record of publications which had passed muster with his peers in the field. In fact, he’s still a student, not yet beginning a doctoral program. Indeed, he’s a long way from possessing even the most basic  of academic union cards: a PhD. Now, I guess I’m old-fashioned, but the category of scholar is one which should be reserved for those who have established themselves in their chosen field by actual scholarly achievement, not by simply talking a good game (MR, p.174).

Trueman says that this is basically like him hanging out at poll stations and thinking that he is now qualified to become president. There is a lesson here for blogmeisters (Trueman’s term) and those who read and comment on blogs. Do not pretend like you are a scholar when you are not, and do not perpetuate the democratization of ignorance. If you do, do not expect anybody to listen to your blogic. Be humble. Think twice (no thrice) before you type.  Just because you have the right to spehttps://i1.wp.com/static.briansolis.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/love.350_closed_ears.jpgak, does not mean that you have a right to be heard. And yes, I am preaching to the choir and engaging in some level of hypocrisy (I am only a student). That is one of the reasons why I prefer to reflect on what other scholars have said instead of trying to create ideas de novo.

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13 Comments
  1. 5 November, 2009 6:30 am

    Thanks for posting this. I blogged some of my thoughts on this.

    • 5 November, 2009 9:05 pm

      Nathan,

      Thanks. I looked at what you had to say, and I like it.

      Joshua

  2. 5 November, 2009 7:05 am

    Blogging is totally a postmodern phenomenon. The postmodernists have argued for the release of knowledge from the academic tyrants and the right of everyone, not just the elitist in their ivory towers, to formulate opinions that can shape the world. Trueman (and others) has clearly shown that this is a bad idea.

    My approach to blogging is that it is a way for me to learn (I learn about things when I write about them), and it is a way for me to flesh out my thoughts. If someone is edified by it, God be praised. Yes, sometimes I rant on my blog; I see that as therapy. 🙂

    • 5 November, 2009 9:03 pm

      Steven,

      Is blogging inherently post-modern? I don’t disagree. I just never linked blogging directly to post-modernism. I’d be interested in the sources that have argued this case. I am definitely ready to say that I can see how postmodernists have a field-day with the blogosphere.

      I commend your attitude towards blogs. They aren’t really conducive to serious academic study or interaction, but I too find bogs to be a helpful way to share the treasures of the faith–in my “own” voice–as well as encourage others to do the same.

  3. 5 November, 2009 1:47 pm

    Thanks for the post. As with Nathan, I’m posting some thoughts (with regard to pulpit preaching, most especially) with link back to your article. Thanks again and Lord’s blessings to you.

  4. 5 November, 2009 8:43 pm

    Jon,

    I appreciate that you found this post helpful. I tried to find where you specifically linked my post. Let me know where to look!

    Joshua

  5. Richard L. Lindberg permalink
    6 November, 2009 3:58 pm

    I think Carl is right. Some of the comments from readers on the blogs I follow rank right up there with what we used to call bull sessions. Most bloggers would flunk any seminary class with the lack of substance in their comments.

  6. 6 November, 2009 4:06 pm

    Someone should take the other side of this issue, and I will try. I do not think we should dismiss the efforts and arguments of lay bloggers just because they may wrongly call themself a “scholar”. It is too easy for those in that private circle of “scholars” to belittle or not engage others based on the lack of comparable education rather than to patiently and gently teach. This is often done subtly. “The scholar” will pull out words of art from his bag that only those within his circle know, rather than “breaking down” those words to make it more understandable to the lay person. “The scholar” may also ignore the main point of contention to pontificate on some minor point, slipping and sliding around, to avoid acknowledging the good points that the lay blogger may raise.

    The lay blogger may also be more willing to tackle difficult subjects that the scholar has ulterior pressures and motivations for not addressing. Financial and reputation pressures motivations may also put undue pressure on the scholar to form an answer that will acommodate such pressures or motivations, rather than to simply best answer the points on the strength of the ideas alone.

    “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.: Ephesians 4:1-3.

  7. 6 November, 2009 5:03 pm

    These needn’t be in opposition. In fact, I think the best position is to combine Josh’s points with Bill’s (and I’ll be surprised if Josh disagrees).

    ~B

  8. 6 November, 2009 8:20 pm

    Thank you Brandon! That is true (that these need not be in opposition)! Josh did raise good points as proven by the quantity and the content of the comments. Although I discussed some possible dangers on the other side or other extreme, my points are just cumulative and should not tarnish his points. Thank you for preserving the bond of peace. God bless you all!

    • 7 November, 2009 12:34 am

      Bill,

      Brannan is right. Trueman’s main problem and mine as well is with bloggers, who pretend to be an authority on a subject, when in reality, they have very little training. There is a real difference between an informed layperson and an ignorant and unteachable one. Blogging has a place, but as you mentioned, it is a different medium and form of communication than serious academic scholarship. In my view, people should be careful to distinguish them. That doesn’t mean that blogs shouldn’t be serious and well-informed. The problem is that so many are lacking in both.

      Joshua

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