How Has the Bloggernacle Changed Your Experience of Church?

Since a number of my siblings and co-bloggers are involved in more exciting activities than I am (going on vacations, attending Sunstone without me!) or more exhausting activities than I am (packing and moving in the blistering heat), I’ll take it upon myself to keep the blog afloat.

A few months ago I was sitting in Relief Society paying minimal attention to a discussion of Adam and the Fall, when two or three statements were thrown out that made me sit up mentally and disagree, which in itself is nothing unusual. But what was unusual was that I caught myself thinking,”That claim would never fly on the Bloggernacle!” I realized that day that several years of Bloggernaccling have subtly altered my expectations of Mormonism. It’s not that discussions or comments on the Bloggernacle are, on the whole, more intelligent or thoughtful than those at church, nor that I agree with what’s said on here more frequently than I do with what’s said at church (on the whole, I find more to agree with at church than I do online). But the differences are stark nonetheless.

I count on the Bloggernacle to provide a kind of challenge–and at its best, a rigor–that just isn’t available at church. The Bloggernaccle’s sometimes wide-open wackiness and exhaustive rehashing of topics and debating points is part of its withering charm. Much of what we bloggers produce is undeniably dross, and repetitive dross at that. Much of it is worthwhile but doesn’t interest me personally. And of course there are the inevitable drawbacks to the big-tent model of Internet discourse: trolls, drive-bys, and endless fights. It’s just a lot easier to misunderstand one another, form rigid views of one another’s positions and personalities, and generally get all hot under the collar in the relative anonymity of cyberspace.

But now that my discourse has been irreversibly masculinized by online norms, it’s hard not to find church conversation insufficiently provocative. Too many statements just lie there, unchallenged; Relief Society in particular can start to feel bland and squishy and full of vague self- and other-affirmation, sentimentally empty of content. (We have no idea who the people we’re affirming are when well-meaning attempts to produce complete concord of view prevail, and people who don’t agree with whatever’s being propagated retreat into self-censorship and silence). But there are also very good reasons for this dynamic, chief among them that we all have to live with each other, and as the Bloggernacle and the Internet more generally so eloquently attest, disagreement often doesn’t lead to the communal connections that sustain us as a congregation.

One thing the Bloggernacle has done for me is increase my resolution to disagree well, in humility, meekness, and forbearance, instead of resorting to combativeness on the one hand or self-censorship on the other. It’s a difficult art, but one I think is desperately needed at church, if we’re ever to really know one another, and really love another.

How has the Bloggernacle changed church for you?

38 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I got gently reprimanded by my Elders Quorum Pres for being overly contentious in Sunday School and EQ lessons. He was right. Not everyone likes a good debate. But almost everyone who ends up online does.

  2. Yes, I’d agree B’nacle experience — especially running a weblog and monitoring a wide variety of comments — is an education in the good, the bad, and the ugly of online discussion. Where else can one get regular experience discussing serious religious topics with those who disagree or hold different beliefs?

  3. I agree with just about everything you said, Eve. How has the B’nacle changed my church experience? First, during talks or GD lessons, I find myself thinking, “how would the Bloggernacle community respond to that?” or yes, “that comment would never fly in the bloggernacle!” or just thinking critically (as in critical thinking) about something people say, whereas prior to my online experience I wouldn’t have given it a second thought.

    I would like to note that the Bloggernacle has strengthened me and affirmed me in many ways — just not feeling weird for thinking deeper thoughts or intellectually playing with doctrine is one; however, I think that the ‘nacle can be a temptation (for me) to be a substitute for the community of Saints at church, which it really isn’t.

  4. Get a calling where you’re doing nothing but “working” on Sundays, and the Bloggernacle is a lifeline.

    At the same time, this statement caught my eye:

    I count on the Bloggernacle to provide a kind of challenge–and at its best, a rigor–that just isn’t available at church.

    I would flip this around.

    I do count on Church to provide a kind of challenge — and its best, a rigor — that just isn’t available on the Bloggernacle.

    At Church, we’re dealing with actual people and actual problems that aren’t on the other end of a screen. We also have our faith tested and we get an opportunity to exercise faith in ways the Bloggernacle can’t reach.

    The Bloggernacle is a good tool for study and learning and understanding, but it can’t replace the act of worship that Church is intended to be. It can’t pass me the sacrament, can’t bear me a SIMPLE testimony, and can’t replace sweet counsel from a bishop.

  5. It’s just a lot easier to misunderstand one another, form rigid views of one another’s positions and personalities, and generally get all hot under the collar in the relative anonymity of cyberspace.

    Eve, as a veteran of many church basketball games, I testify that you can throw as many elbows and get into as many fights in real life Mormonism as you can on the Internet.

    One of the most welcome changes for me has been how the bloggernacle has shrunk the church geographically. I’ve really appreciated learning about Wilfried’s experiences, and the perspectives that Ronan and others offer about how the church works outside of the U.S. have been very enlightening. Right now, on the thread at T&S, people from outside North America are simply mystified at the way we Yanks are responding to Women Who Know.

    While it is true that the ‘naccle can’t build community in the same ways you can in real life, I do think it can build community in ways that are every bit as real. I’m thinking of the way the bloggernacle responded to Artemis recently, but there are also other examples. I think it was you (or it may have been somebody else hereabouts) who speculated once about a bloggernacle ward, and who should be bishop or RS president, and who would be the lost sheep that everybody worried about, etc. I have been pleasantly surprised by the sense of fellowship which I feel. And I concur 100% with this:

    I had a great time this year. I heard a lot of wacky things, and plenty that I wouldn’t agree with, but I think that’s part of the fun. I actually had a kind of warm fuzzy moment on Friday evening … I looked around the room, and thought of some of the crazier things I’d heard that day, and just felt a sense of appreciation for a community that made space for such a variety of people.

    I disagree with this, however:

    Much of what we bloggers produce is undeniably dross, and repetitive dross at that.

    Eve, I am so offended. I’ll probably never speak to you again. (See, this can be just like real life!)

  6. Eve, lovely post! As a straightforward answer to your question, rather than a deeper attempt to engage with your more intricate points, how’s this? The Mormon blogging world has changed my experience of real-life church by making sure that I have such an experience. It’s often a very serious challenge for me to attend Sunday meetings; the depth and persistence of my connection with this online Mormon community helps compensate for the sometimes shallower and often less emotionally valuable side the real-life community seems to show me.

  7. I think my participation in the bloggernacle has in some ways made me lose touch with mainstream mormonism. Despite weekly church attendance, I have more interaction with other mormons through the internet than I do in person. I worry that my perception of mormons is actually just a perception of the bloggernacle, which may be quite different from mormonism in general.

  8. SingleSpeed (7) I feel the same way. Sometimes I’ve listened to a speaker say something and look around to see heads nodding, people smiling etc, and been sharply reminded how I’m really not in the mainstream in some ways.

  9. I have just been noticing lately that (I think) I’ve calmed down and grown a lot in my human church interactions because of my many online interactions. I can talk to just about anyone about just about anything and be very zen about it, in a way I never could before.

    I guess because perhaps I’ve had so many of these conversations, so many times, I rarely hear anything anymore from (real or cyber) people that I’ve not already responded to before, so I approach the whole thing with a calm and even a detachment, where I’m not so interested in in proving that I’m right. (though I am right of course).
    I do still get worked up occasionally, but it’s pretty rare, and that’s good.

    I feel like I’ve developed a sense for when listening and talking to someone on difficult topics can move us forward, or when hitting my toe with a hammer would be a more productive use of my time. And I no longer have a problem just walking away from those situations when people start giving off the hammer vibe.

    I also feel like I’ve learned (through much practice) ways to package and present my ideas, and my differences, in ways that slide down easier. And that I’ve developed a deeper, broader, more nuanced understanding of the gospel and the church and my own beliefs, due to the sheer volume of material I’ve been able to read and discuss and dance with on the bloggernacle. The growth and thought are all still necessary, but I feel like the last four years I’ve been on a really sharp learning curve and now maybe the incline has mellowed.

    I guess I feel like I really needed a lot of practice, because I am so interested in these topics, and I did hunger so much to have these conversations, but i didn’t really have the opportunities or venue at church, but the bloggernacle gave me the opportunity to figure it out, to figure myself out, to learn from really smart people like Eve, and now at church, I can be more myself, present myself and my ideas (a little) (to certain people) in a way that doesn’t scare or offend, and I don’t have to hide (mostly) my true self either.

  10. I don’t get so angry or frustrated in Church any more. When someone says something really strange or ignorant, I just sit back and start composing a blog post about it.

  11. Truth is, I spend waay more time on the bloggernacle than most people spend watching TV.

    I’ve found this causes a social disconnect between me and the other people at church with regards to common points of reference. While “normal” people at church want to discuss the latest episode of their favorite TV show, or a new movie, or the recent Denver Broncos game, I find myself wanting to discuss scripture, theology, apologetics, and controversial or unusual pieces of Mormon history. It’s “on the brain” and just keeps working its way back into conversations. Which probably makes me annoying to talk to. It’s hard to just chill in a conversation with me.

    Which makes me feel somewhat socially inept. I’m just too intense for a lot of polite conversation, and I don’t share any of the usual common social reference points with others. In fact, I even tend to hold some of their common reference points in a bit of contempt (this often arises in reference to TV). It annoys the heck out of my media-savvy mother and siblings. They love movies and will constantly quote lines from their favorites – whereas I always want to talk about polygamy, or biblical innerancy, or some fool thing like that.

  12. Actually, and this will not be popular here, it has made me more appreciate the run-of-the mill Mormons I run into at Church every week.

    The blogernacle has led me to love the average Mormons who I see at church every Sunday. Mormons who do a marginal job at their calling, who teach my children lessons, who take time off their jobs to take my kids camping, who will come over and help me paint my house, who expect me to come over and help them paint their house, and who are just good, imperfect folks are not so proud as to pretend to know more than the governing authorities of the Church. Folks who do not have to sit around staring at their navel, parsing doctrine and trying to recast it into a form that is easier for them to live.

    The Blogernacle’s driving force is pride… many who post know more than the prophet, the brethren, and in some cases, the scriptures.

    I do enjoy reading it though.. much like I enjoy the freakshow at traveling carnival.

    Sorry for baggin on the ‘nacle.. but you asked.

  13. While “normal” people at church want to discuss the latest episode of their favorite TV show, or a new movie, or the recent Denver Broncos game, I find myself wanting to discuss scripture, theology, apologetics, and controversial or unusual pieces of Mormon history.

    ditto. Doesn’t help my already-limited range, since my “work” topics are more or less on the same topic, religion.

  14. “The Blogernacle’s driving force is pride…”

    Perhaps one of the driving forces of some commenters in the Bloggernacle is pride, and certainly pride is more apparent on some blogs than on others, but I have found after a couple of years of reading and commenting that faith is the largest driving force in the Bloggernalce. The vast majority of people who participate really want to have stronger faith and are doing their best to obtain it. That’s the main reason I love it here. I am part of a community of believers who are trying to find strength to overcome their unbelief.

  15. Problem is, if you are looking for stronger faith you are looking in the wrong place. Pray and read scriptures, and exercising faith are the way to do it.. not to dabble in picking apart leaders and policies.. and talking about how family oriented your the gay couple that lives down the street is.. and how aweful it is that the church is picking on them.

    Grow up — call this what it is, a pridefest laced with sophistry.

    BTW, why do I read it? Why for amusement.

  16. Pride? Sure. But most posters & commenters I have “met” are far more interested in learning new things than showing other how smart they are. So maybe it is pride in how open we are to new ideas instead of pride in how much we know. I would think, the latter would get bored online pretty quick.

    Of course there is always pride in how righteous you are. But then I don’t see that online…..much.

  17. Dear Mr. Rockwell,

    We would respectfully ask that you review our comment policy, particularly #2 which prohibits name-calling and questioning others’ righteousness, before making further blanket condemnations of the Bloggernacle.

    We certainly acknowledge that there are legitimate critiques to be made of the Bloggernacle. Why, right there in her very post Eve, that devious little troll who just loves a good pridefest laced with sophistry, says that much of what’s written here is “dross.” I for one can hardly blame Mark IV for being so offended he may never speak to her again.

    However, the purpose of this conversation isn’t to make unverifiable assertions about others’ spiritual states. Further comments in that vein will be summarily deleted. (Thoughtful critiques of Bloggernacle content will, as always, be welcomed with open arms.)

    Now I really must go repair the large rips in my favorite green-and-white striped bloomers so that I can earn my Boy Scout badge in industrial sludge-swimming. (As a metrosexual, I’m particularly eager to win the matching green-and-white parasol.)

    Yours in haste,
    The Bouncer

  18. Back on subject, I get people willing to discuss issues like the Kinderhook plates and Mountain Meadows. I learn about them among people who are sympathetic to my beliefs.
    In my ward, most people fall into two camps.
    1) Don’t ask about that!
    2) I don’t know about that!
    If I took that attitude when my kids had questions about chasity, they would be in trouble.
    On the Bloggernacle, I get to sort through the various opinions and discern through the spirit which is right.

  19. Porter is absolutely right about one thing. There is a lot pf pride involved in thinking anybody is interested in hearing what you have to say. I don’t think any credible counter-argument is possible.

    But I think pride is also an almost universal human condition, so the comparison of the prideful, puffed-up bloggernacle with the simple, humble disciples of Christ in his home ward is pretty hilarious. Every bloggernacle participant I know who is in the church has at least one calling, and sometimes more, and they fill them as well as they can. Within the past six months, I have taught lessons in primary and YM, driven the scouts to camp, helped with two different painting projects, one roofing project, and more moves than I want to count. I also take great pride in telling you all about it. Br. Rockwell, are you in my ward?

    In short, people who participate here are no better and no worse than anybody else. Some people like to golf, play bunko, or watch TV. Some people blog. It doesn’t make much sense to assign demerits to any of those activities.

    P.S.: I’ve been dying to ask. Did you really take a pot shot at Governor Boggs? Please give an answer, but I’ll understand completely if your humility compels you to remain silent.

  20. I “discovered” the bloggernacle while living abroad where it really filled the role of a church community as my actual church experience was impacted by language barriers. I’ve noticed that many active commenters are also often living away from traditional wards.

    Ironically, the bloggernacle also helped me through some very traditional wards where, as many have mentioned, it served as a respite from weeks and weeks of repetitive commentary.

    I am dating someone currently who is not “on the bloggernacle”. And I would be lying if I said that this doesn’t give me pause.

  21. Had I shot at Governor Boggs he would have been called to accountability at the judgment bar far sooner than was the case, and we never would have to have pulled those heavy carts up the Rocky Mountains.

    I only compared the folks here with the folks in my ward because of the question asked in this post.. ie how has the bloggernacle changed your church experience. It was relevant.. seeing the incredible sophistry spun here makes me more appreciate the actual heart of Mormondom.. which is humble service towards each other (as opposed to the heart of our Doctirne, which is Christ’s atonement) .

    I agree those here are no better or worse than others.. I myself blog, but I do it anonymously, as it is enjoyable.. but I am not seeking notoriety. The reason I went all troll on this thread is that if you post your opinions for all the world to see.. you should not take offense or be surprised if someone challenges you on it. I thought the nature of this initial post and especially the responses were a bit arrogant… seeming to indicate there was more value in blog reading then attending Church. One is a fine past-time, the other is a commandment..

  22. Ah, but Brother Rockwell, why are you so sure the folks here and the folks in your ward aren’t the very same people? 😉

    I hesitate to speak for Eve, but I’m quite positive she agrees with you that Church attendance is a commandment specifically because it provides space in which to worship God, whereas blogging is a form of navel-gazing that provides space in which to procrastinate activities of more lasting value. And, based on what you’ve each written, I’m guessing you and Eve are equally in agreement that the nature of the medium in which blogging occurs facilitates disagreement of a type that is rare in Church meetings, and as this is a blogging forum I’m sure Eve respects your right to publicly disagree with her (i.e. to expect challenges to her view).

    That said, I don’t think the point of the post is so much to pit the Bloggernacle against a real-life ward so much as it is to reflect on the ways in which, for those of us already committed to both, the dynamic of online interactions influences how we behave and what we expect offline, in our ward interactions, for good or bad. Make sense? (As a thought experiment, would you raise your hand in Gospel Doctrine and call the teacher “arrogant”? If not, why not? Are there ways in which some of the norms of blogging might be helpful in church–respectful disagreement, for example, as Eve suggested–or some of the norms of church might be helpful in blogging–remembering our interlocutors are children of God, perhaps?)

  23. Hermano Rockwell, I continue to think your analysis fails because you are thinking that people are either regular, run-of-the-mill Mormons OR participants in the ‘nacle. I think if Ziff were to create a Venn diagram of the two groups, we would see two circles which overlap almost completely.

    That isn’t to say there may not be some personality differences that annoy. I think the bloggernacle skews towards the bookish types, and they are often very glib and can rattle on and on and on, so it is not unreasonable for you to conclude that they are a bunch of self-important blowhards. But if you think the bloggernacle has cornered the market on self-important blowhardism, you need to come to priesthood meeting in my ward. Or Gospel doctrine. Or Relief Society. Or testimony meeting. Or high council meeting. Or……

  24. Bro. Porter, I simply will repeat my previous comment in summary form:

    There is pride in the Bloggernacle, but there is much more honest seeking of insight and understanding. There are certain sights that are more prideful and contentious in general than others. The irony is that this site is one of the least prideful and contentious in the Bloggernacle, so telling everyone how arrogant they are on this blog is missing the mark a bit, imo.

    I have a VERY rich, active life in the Church – both inside the meetinghouses in our stake and in the discussion forums in the Bloggernacle. I think, Bro. Rockwell, you would be astonished at how many of the arrogant people you are stereotyping without knowing anything else about them are dedicated, passionate, flawed but striving average Joe and Jane members – and Church leaders of one stripe or another.

    That’s the last I will say about this discussion. I care enough to want to contribute to your understanding but not enough to do any more than that.

  25. I bow to my sensai, Ray has done a great job of defending the blogernacle… good points all.

  26. my discourse has been irreversibly masculinized by online norms

    Ironically, I think that mine has been feminized through my exposure to LDS blogging (the docs tell me the procedure might be reversible). Maybe its because blogs are more about community and relationships to me and less about hashing out doctrinal concerns at this stage in my spiritual journey.

    That said, the ‘nacle and Sunstone are really all I have left of the church. The bloggernacle didn’t change church so much for me, but it’s about the only place in Mormonism where I can be authentic and still feel welcomed (and perhaps even valued for my contributions).

  27. Dammit, the bloggernacle just made me read my scriptures…

    (so I could respond intelligently to a comment on another blog)

  28. I heart Porter Rockwell, and promise to repent of my prideful ways. You can call me to repentance anyday as long as you also make me think of something as funny as Rex Kwan Do.

  29. Well, I like to tell people I got run right out of my ward, but that’s not really true. They want me back. Bad.

    On a serious note, blogging made me feel less alone, less of an outlaw. Because others have the same thoughts, opinions, and values that I have. And if you don’t, I’m not drawn and quartered for having an opinion.

  30. Great post, Eve.
    I very humbly admit that I probably am a little prouder for my time on the bloggernacle. I mutter under my breath more at church (or hold my breath, depending on the situation).
    But, I agree with other comments about the benefits of true openness online.
    At Sunstone, we had a session on why church meetings are so boring (ironically, the session itself was pretty boring), but I learned a little about rhetoric. The speaker explained the difference between judicial (rhetoric about the past), ceremonial (repetitious), and deliberative (discussions that can influence behavior in the future) rhetoric.
    He theorized that churches have a lot of ceremonial rhetoric, obviously, but that Sunday School, or RS, which should have real and open debate (or deliberative rhetoric) often has ceremonial rhetoric instead. His analysis explains why I often feel so annoyed in these meetings, when there’s a lot of talking, but nothing really being said.
    Of course, that happens plenty on the ‘nacle, but when it does, I can always just find a more interesting thread to read.

  31. That’s so true! In the Bloggernacle you can pop in and out of discussions, skim them, or read only a selected portion of them; it’s a little harder (i.e. ruder) in church to walk in and out of classes or talks!

    The Bloggernacle has definitely skewed my perception of Mormon norms: what the average member knows about Church history and how much time they devote to contemplating theological issues, for example. There was a time when blogging spurred me to give church attendance a second chance. Since at this point I attend church only rarely, blogging is a way to keep alive my connection to Mormonism without feeling I’m silently assenting to statements to which I’m adamantly opposed. Even when I was a member and a committed attendee, I never felt I had a right to contribute to discussions since my views generally lie so far outside the “ceremonial rhetoric” we’re accustomed to. It’s hard to attend church week after week and feel you have no voice and are obligated to suppress your own opinions, recognizing they’re potentially dangerous to others and thus inappropriate. At its best, blogging provides a less restrictive forum in which to explore religious ideas, although for its own reasons it can make me crazy. 🙂

  32. #24 Br Rockwell, after reading your response I must I say I understand much better what you were trying to say. I found it a useful observation. Thank you.

    btw, I know there was no way you took that pot shot at Governor Boggs. If you had, you would not have missed.

  33. My mom took us to mass every sunday as kids and then I was told to go to sunday school and at my communion my brother just stood there taking the piss and making me laugh and i didn’t have a clue what i was reading out to the whole church and felt such a pratt. My brother punched the teacher and told him he wasn’t going to listen to their fairy tales every sunday morning and I had to stay……then they moved it to saturday and I missed saint and grevsie and when I get back up kilburn high road on the bus he has eaten a big fry up and says “man, you wanna see kenny dauglish’s goal from 30 yards and the fight that broke out at upton park and he has eaten all the eggs and bacon then, i swear it is true my dad started playing around as he earned a bit more and my mom was put through hell and the bloody church blamed her and never helped her at all and it was one of those little sect churches we had never met who bought us a hamper of food because we were so poor after she divorced him. We stopped going after that. The church go on each sunday about how jesus forgives people and forgives their sins and forgives them then they treat my mom like that when she was trying to bring up two boys. One funny thing though, I was an intensly introverted kid who just took everything in around me and one day in mass I shouted out “I want to see God” “I want to see God” and my dad said “you wont find him in here”
    and the whole mass started laughing.


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