John Allen’s comment about bloggers and my cordial response

Here is my blog entry about Mr. John Allen’s blog entry about his blog entry on bloggers.

Weird, no?

Some time ago my friend John Allen, the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded reporter for the otherwise appalling National Catholic Reporter, that fallen paper’s solitary boast, made a facetious comment about bloggers in one of his own entries.  This apparently created some additional work for him.

He has just written:

To recap, my "All Things Catholic" column two weeks ago was about the next generation of Catholic leaders, meaning priests, sisters, theologians, lay activists and so on. I wrote that I’d recently had some insight on the subject while out on the lecture circuit, and, as an aside, I opined that there’s no substitute for a live audience to gauge what real people are thinking. The blogosphere, I added, often seems populated by what Homer Simpson once described as “alcoholics, the unemployed, angry loners …”

I had thought the reference to Homer Simpson might be enough to flag that line as a joke, but a couple bloggers (so far, I’ve had e-mails from two) obviously didn’t find it funny, demanding that I apologize for the slight to their craft.

For the record, I didn’t really have in mind “bloggers,” in the sense of people who create blogs, feed them with content, and moderate their on-line discussions. As regular readers of mine know, over the years I’ve often cited the work of bloggers such as Rocco Palmo, Amy Welborn, and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, as well as collective endeavors such as the Commonweal blog. They’re all tremendous gifts to Catholic conversation, and if any of them felt slighted, I am sorry.

I remember when Mr. Allen wrote that and a few people urged me to go after him. 

But it never entered my mind that it was aimed at the majority of Catholics who are involved in the blogosphere, much less at me or the others Mr. Allen mentioned

Furthermore, I have a high opinion of Mr. Allen’s analysis and relentless work ethic.  I have known him for years and he is a class act.

Mr. Allen went on to offer this with my emphases and comments:

 The Internet is both the leading symbol of the globalized world as well as one of its primary drivers. In 1995, according to the Web site “Internet World Stats,” there were 16 million Internet users in the world, representing .04 percent of the global population; as of June 2007, there were 1.13 billion users, or 17.2 percent of the world, remarkable growth in little more than a decade. According to the Worldwide Online Population Forecast, by 2011 roughly 1.8 billion people will be logging on, representing 22 percent of the global population – almost one-quarter of all people on earth.

All this can’t help but affect the church. The growth of the Internet, blogs in particular, is aggressively democratizing Catholic conversation – providing an outlet for alternative points of view, [much as talk radio and cable news have changed the main stream established media] and in some cases becoming the meeting place for what are virtually “cyber-parishes,” or at least small Christian communities in cyberspace. We are an ever more global family of faith, and the Internet allows that family to communicate in real time, so that a Catholic concern in remote northeast India can be picked up by bloggers in the Philippines, Argentina, and Dubuque, thereby giving tangible expression to the notion of solidarity.

All that sounds great, and it is. The shadow side, however, is that the polarization and tribalism we all know from other spheres of Catholic life are also being replicated on-line, this time shorn of the natural limits imposed by the conventions of face-to-face communication. In other words, cyberspace can become just another forum for Catholics to yell at each other, with the nastiness turbo-charged by distance and anonymity[Good way to put it.]

The extent to which blogs and the other features of the new digital landscape help to carry the church into the future, rather than keeping the church stuck in its present pattern of division, thus depends upon how Catholics choose to use them – and right now, there are some worrying trends. That observation, I suppose, was the background to my (admittedly sloppy) citation of the Homer Simpson line cited above.

In other words: I come to praise blogs, not to bury them!

And Mr. Allen is an honorable man!

There is no way John Allen would pick a fight with bloggers.  It just doesn’t make sense.  To extend his reference to Shakespeare, bloggers are the "abstract and brief chronicles" of this time.  You would rather have a bad epitaph than our ill report while you live. 

He is a blogger.

And he is absolutely right in what he said. When we use a critical view of some of the things we see on the internet we see what he described.  Can that be denied?

I have been at this interactive internet thing since the early ’90’s and know the potential for good and for harm all too well.

Because of my experience, and the trends I have seen and Mr. Allen talks about, I imposed a registration restriction for those who desire to comment on my entries and engage in discussion.

There are very creepy people out there, folks.

That is one of the reasons why I suggested years ago that people pray before connecting to the internet.

We can take this whole thing as an opportunity to examine our consciences and online habits.

To Mr. Allen I send a cyber-tip of my biretta …


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. jbalza007 says:

    Indeed, self-moderation is fast becoming a virtue these days.

  2. Patrick J. says:

    I don’t think for a second that Mr. Allen’s observation:

    ” The blogosphere, I added, often seems populated by what Homer Simpson once described as “alcoholics, the unemployed, angry loners …”

    was devoid of the same old tired condescension for the ‘unwashed, uneducated’ masses that permeates the world of (so-called) ‘intelligentsia’ and other vestiges of elite snobbery that are rampant and certainly inhabit our own Church’s liberal citadels and publishing arms. (We all know these people, they are our friends and family. We don’t always engage them because they are just SO seeped in this. He can’t escape my seeing him in this way. I just don’t ever see in his writings a “flag” in the other direction. Doesn’t mean he is a “bad” person, though I don’t get the idea that he is being honest here).

    He did not misspeak here (I say) – he was caught and tried to equivocate, IMHO. Sure, he has respect for intelligent bloggers, and to be sure, without, perhaps, so much concern about their positions. (After all, they “add to the Catholic conversation,” without which he is irrelevant) Who does not? Big whoop, IOW. It is the aforementioned unwashed with not lives that swarm like bees to these hives of controversy and polemic that he can’t (nor can most other libs) stomach, the same labeling such as “neo-cons” EX-TREME right wingers, super or ultra tads, (Neanderthals, Homer Simpson types) etc.

    Would anyone else here utter such a thing? –?? — (Doh!!) and no, Homer Simpson, iconic symbol of “Joe Average’s” slowness of mind, good hearted though he may be, does not get you a “pass” in my book, Mr. Allen. It is indeed a tipoff, (“flag”) but not for the “joke” you suggest. It punctuates, not diffuses your statement, Mr. Allen.

  3. Patrick J. says:

    I should add that what Mr. Allen has suggested, joke or no, should not, per se, need apologizing for. The internet indeed is rampant with the types he describes. But that reality just makes it that much easier to be dismissive of waves of thought which might, indeed, attract some of those folks. This is the problem with that statement, not for what it says, but for what it leaves out. And, no, I don’t think “live” audiences give you more “real” feedback. They represent a certain cross-section and maybe those who would go listen to an NCR reporter speak are more skewed than many of the internet groupings he seems to be alluding to.

  4. Davidtrad says:

    Yes, there are creepy people on the internet… However, they all seem to be over at Damian Thompson’s blog.

  5. Brian Day says:

    …the polarization and tribalism we all know from other spheres of Catholic life are also being replicated on-line…

    Why would it be any different on-line than in the “real world”? We all self-select. I don’t go to Call to Action or Catholics United because they do not represent my world view. I might wander over to a progressive/heterodox site on a recommendation, but that’s it.

    There is the real danger of such self-selection turning into an echo chamber, but when the topics are Truth and Salvation, I’ll stick to sites that are loyal to the Church.

    P.S. – On the secular side, I do visit a couple sites that would be considered center-left. I do want to get opinions outside of my world view in this area to make sure my views are still valid.

  6. mpm says:


    LOL! When you wrote “Yes, there are creepy people on the internet… However, they all seem to be over at Damian Thompson’s blog”, I had a good laugh.

    The “regulars” at the former “Holy Smoke” remind me of a branch of the “Adams Family”! But, I think they do it on purpose.

    I get a real kick out of the way they seem to know each other quite well, reformulate avatar-names as editorial comments, and really lay into each other!

    I think they have originated a new art form, almost like John Daily and Stephen Colbert have!

  7. Peggy R says:

    I saw Allen’s original comment. I appreciate his apologies. There is no doubt something on the Web for every level of taste, culture and intelligence, including a lack of any or all. But, in my experience most Catholic lay blogging, not just by clergy or professional writers, is fairly informed. Many bloggers or readers educate themselves in the process of entering the discussions. Yes, these blogs are a temptation for rude and inappropriate commenters, but now we can moderate and reject such participants. They can go elsewhere to make their points.

    That is, most (Catholic) bloggers are not uneducated illiterate unemployed drunks watching cable access late at night. That’s not the market for blogs.

    And yes, we all have to learn to moderate ourselves as well. The web has caused lots of us to be a bit too uninhibited and unrestrained in many ways.

  8. Supertradmom says:

    I recently saw an article that the present Pope, Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity, surfs the web. I think his emphasis on the happy marriage of Faith and Reason can be our touchstone for blogging and discussing online.

    I think one reason so many Catholics respond to sites such as yours, Father, is that we simply do not have a voice, either in our parishes, or in the workplace, even if Catholic. Therefore, our online community becomes a touchstone for sanity, not creepiness. God bless us and God bless the freedom of speech and religion we now have. I appreciate Allen’s apology.

  9. maynardus says:

    There’s got to be a joke about a tinfoil biretta in here somewhere!

  10. JayneK says:

    Fr. Rosica touched on this subject during his address to the First Plenary Session of the Social Communications Council October 26, 2009 at the Vatican.

    He made these comments concerning the Internet:

    “Visual and electronic media need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking takes time, needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. Nevertheless these new forms of media have undermined the intellectual discipline that we once had when our main tools of communication were books or print publications. This is not a good development.

    On the Internet there is no accountability, no code of ethics, and no responsibility for one’s words and actions. The use of the Internet for pornography, and other activities, which attack human dignity, is of the utmost concern and calls for constant vigilance and appropriate government regulation.

    One of the challenges for the Church is that the Internet can destroy or confuse the hierarchy of information providing that church agencies have worked so hard to establish. Websites and blogs tend to concentrate on negative messages. Christians are known as the people who are against everything. If anything, we should be known as the people who are for something, something positive that can transform lives and engage and impact the culture.”

  11. MichaelJ says:

    “For the record, I didn’t really have in mind “bloggers,” in the sense of people who create blogs, feed them with content, and moderate their on-line discussions. As regular readers of mine know, over the years I’ve often cited the work of bloggers such as Rocco Palmo, Amy Welborn, and Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, as well as collective endeavors such as the Commonweal blog. They’re all tremendous gifts to Catholic conversation, and if any of them felt slighted, I am sorry.”

    Understood. In other words, leave the thinking, opinion forming and expression of opinion to the professionals

  12. JayneK says:

    Following up on my quote from Fr. Rosica, I think he has identified a serious problem with Catholics who use the Internet to bypass the Church hierarchy. Some bloggers take the unfortunate, but undeniable, existence of some bishops who have failed morally or doctrinally as a justification for presupposing that all bishops are wrong. They therefore set themselves up as alternate sources of doctrine and spiritual guidance.

    I have seen this sort of anti-episcopal attitude in the blogosphere extended to those who support the authority of bishops such as Fr. Rosica. For example, one blog ran a novena for the conversion of Fr. Rosica. For nine days, this blog (which has the word “Catholic” in its name) used a semblance of prayer as a vehicle for attacking a priest whose orthodoxy and morals are not in question.

  13. Patrick J. says:

    I almost forgot:

    Another tipoff to the bias of Mr. Allan, is his, for me, “beyond the pale” description of ardently traditional (I suppose strongly pro-life, pro traditional marriage, liturgy, non-equivocating Catholic teaching [ala Baltimore Catechism]) as “Taliban Catholics.” You know who they are (some readers here, perhaps most, for him, not doubt fit the description). Those “tsk, tsk”-ing finger waggers. Well, I guess there are some of those (but really how many?), but Taliban??? Who here would ever mention the two in the same breath? This, for JA, might be a cute “rhetorical” devise, but for me just, once again, reveals his utter (but somewhat cloaked- after all he is the Catholic “Fox News,” fair-minded and balanced [??]) disdain for “conservative” Catholics. This from a man who says he is desirous, (financially motivated [??]) in seeing the chasm – the unfortunate, sometimes artificial, improperly politically linked (left vs. right) divide – obliterated, or at least mitigated. Talk about forked tongue. He wants to do this by calling one side the “Taliban” of Catholicism. Sheesh. Why not just call the “Catholic Nazis?

    Who here would decide to work for the NCR? Condemned by the Bishop of KS for promoting “heretical” positions. To lend any legitimacy to properly described “fish wrap” (actually too kind and an insult to fish) is atrocious. John is a good writer. He can and should do better, but let’s not fail to recognize his views and his leanings for what they are.

    John has acknowleged his biases, and has sought bury those in order to be “fair” in his approach. His profession demands this, so no kudos awarded for “doing one’s job.” It is just not that easy to hide bias or not weave it into one’s writings, especially those which walk the line between reporting and commentating, unavoidable, perhaps, in the “reportage” of news about faith matters.

  14. CPKS says:

    Well, Davidtrad, I’m a regular reader of Damian Thompson’s blog as well as this one, and I note what you say about creepy people. Thanks for that.

    Just mind how you go.

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