"Perhaps, therefore, we're fascinated with political reporting, political commentary, and political partisanship in the same way we're attracted to pornography. We enjoy the emotional ups and downs as we think about our candidate winning or losing. We salivate as the political pugilists strike blows. For most of us, this serves no purpose. We already know which side we're on. Yet we still want to pant; we still want to groan. Bloggers engage in mock debates with imaginary adversaries, cheered on and heckled by strings of comments."
So writes R.R. Reno in the editorial of November's First Things magazine. Of course the reference to bloggers gave me pause for thought, and put me in defensive mode.
The stereotype of a blogger being a pasty-faced male sitting in his boxer shorts and spewing out bile through a keyboard is a common one, and perhaps not without some justification. It is one that John Waters (again, I specify, the Irish writer and not the American purveyor of cinematic bad taste) often invokes.
I do my best, on this blog, to avoid conforming with the stereotype. I hope my posts are passionate but bile-free. I try very hard to avoid demonising liberals, liberal Catholics, atheists or anybody else. I try not to use such terms in a derogatory way.
Bloggers are often criticized for hiding behind anonymity. I do feel I can acquit myself of this charge. Whenever I comment in any kind of public forum, I do so under my full name. My photograph, my address, and my place of work are readily discoverable on the internet.
As for the "mock debates with imaginary adversaries", I do also make a real effort to escape this trap, which I don't think is unique to bloggers. Anyone who writes an argument or apologia, of any kind, is tempted to erect straw men so that they can knock them down, and I'm sure I have succumbed to this temptation at times. It's inevitable. But I really do try to put the opposing case fairly, at least some of the time. (It's not always appropriate, of course. If I'm expressing my own emotions and responses, for instance with regard to modern Irish society or some element of Catholic liturgy, I am obviously not even trying to be objective. But that should be plain.)
As for the possible egocentricity or self-importance of having a blog in the first place, all I can say in my defence is that I both enjoy writing and reading the kind of writing that is usually found on blogs. The books I most enjoy reading are books of essays, collections of newspaper columns, treatises, polemics, and in general any book where I am being addressed directly by the author in his own voice. I especially enjoy such writing when the author is not locked into an academic style but is free to digress, joke, tell anecdotes, reminisce, and basically talk to the reader as he might if he was sitting with him over a drink or a cup of tea.
I think it is interesting that Peter Hitchens, one of my favourite writers and a staunch conservative, could well be the most active blogger that I know. He posts long, carefully-written pieces on his blog several times a week, sometimes even several times a day. So blogging, I think, is not necessarily anti-traditional, and not necessarily the preserve of modernizers and progressives. There is nothing inherently anti-conservative about the format.
Finally, as for why I blog...partly because I enjoy writing, partly to challenge the near-monopoly of liberal, left-wing, anti-religious opinion on the Irish internet, and partly as my own effort at evangelization. I'm too shy to go knocking door to door or to buttonhole strangers on the street, but I would dearly love to think that someone out there might come across this blog and that something I write might challenge their prejudices and preconceptions, or even their indifference. I think it's good for Christians to talk about their beliefs, and to bring them into their discussion of non-religious topics, since we never know what might stick in somebody's mind. Perhaps, where a head-on barrage of apologetics would be powerless, an incidental reference to prayer might have a surprising effect. I keep hoping, anyway.