Let me encourage you all to read Jim Faulconerâ€™s fine post on keeping it civil. It has the merits of its own excellence, the authority lent by Brother Faulconerâ€™s character, and, having been circulated among us cobloggers* for comments before posting, the quasi-imprimatur of Times and Seasons.
I would like to add some thoughts entirely my own. First, let me bring the â€˜eternal note of sadness in.â€™ Unless human nature changed and I didnâ€™t get the memo, we will never entirely succeed at civility. We will never entirely beat back the devilâ€™s controversy beachhead on our blog because he also has a beachhead in each of us. â€˜The battleline,â€™ as Tolkien says, â€˜of good and evil runs through every human heart.â€™ If we did succeed entirely at civility we would probably do it by conceding too much elsewhere. We could be civil by agreeing to not discuss anything other than what God has revealed, and reducing what he has revealed to the barest minimum. This I reject. My religion is part of everything and everything, even the things that divide us, is part of my religion, even politics, even nationality, even (maybe) football. So it is with you. Alternatively, we could try to discuss things as dispassionate hypotheticals. Would Mormonism were not a meat-and-marrow religion, God a Man, the Word made flesh! but it is, and too much dispassion and too much arguing at a great remove from the question is itself unfaithful. There are also other reasons. Yet we owe it to the Father and the Son to try, and we owe it to the Saints.
Part of the problem we have, as bloggers and commenters, is that we forget what we have in common. The shifting sides we take on controversial issues become the sides we think we belong to. We see our opponents as people who are wrong about p()rn regulation and not as people who are right about God, Christ, the prophets, faith, hope, charity, the Saints, and the sacraments. This goes to an unpleasant but real need for all of us, commenters and bloggers alike, to be continually re-establishing our bona fides. We have to _remind_ people that we are fellow soldiers on the battlements of the kingdom.
Gordon Smith sent me a link to a cougarboard.com discussion yesterday that linked to my BYU-ND post. One fellow actually quoted a line of mine on a jumbotron ad being very Mormon: earnest, touching, and too excessive for â€œexquisite good tasteâ€?. After I got over the warm glow of being quoted, I first thought, Yikes,, do I really write things like â€œexquisite good tasteâ€?? My prose is second-rate Wagner.
More germane to this discussion, my second thought was that my quoted comment was going to irritate people unfamiliar with me. It criticize things Mormon and therefore implicitly the Church, and it do so from a perspective of lofty
superiority, as if to say:
I have zee beeg vocabularie
and I am of taste zee arbiter, wee!
When I originally wrote the post I thought I could get away with offhand criticism because I felt Iâ€™d proven myself as pretty orthodox with my frequent defenses of pro-life and anti-SSM stances, mainstream approaches to the prophetâ€™s and scriptural authority, and so forth. Also, of course, I _know_ that Iâ€™m a good member. I know I pray, go to church, do assignments, and really believe. But readers donâ€™t know any of that because (1) they donâ€™t see me in my daily life and (2) because the internet is a changeable medium where the audience ebbs and flows. People who read my BYU-ND post donâ€™t necessarily know any more about me and my blogging history than people who read the quote on the BYU sports site. All they know is that Iâ€™m criticizing. I conclude that we have to make it clear over and sickeningly over that weâ€™re with the Church and the Saints, that we believe, and we canâ€™t do it pro forma. Like any relationship, as bloggers and commenters our relationship with the other participants and with the readers needs to be affirmed as much or more than it is stretched. In our case the relationship is founded on our mutual faith. Let us affirm it.
Let us also, when weâ€™re divided up into sides on a controversial topic, be sure to police our own sides of the debate. It is there, having already affirmed our mutual relationaship by taking the same side of a question, that we are most likely to be listened to when we counsel a little more courtesy, a little less fire.
*logging cobs is harder than it looks. You got to have more finesse than with timber. The hardest part, though, is when youâ€™re floating the things down the river and youâ€™re trying to keep your balance and you’re poling ‘em down.