Monday, November 25, 2013

N. T. Wright and the Ethics of Blogging

A couple of days ago I was invited by my former student Joel Watts to participate in a conversation with N. T. Wright and a few bloggers.  The event was, in part, to promote Wright’s new book, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. Wright was on his game as usual. He commands an incredible range of material and has an amazingly lively mind. It was a privilege to listen to him reflect on a variety of topics.

One of the topics that came up was, as one might expect at such a gathering, the practice of blogging. If you spend much time on New Testament and/or Christian blog sites, you know that Wright’s work comes up quite often. He is one of the most visible and prolific Christian scholars of our time. At times, he has been harshly criticized by people who find his claims as a New Testament scholar and theologian disagreeable.

Disagreement, of course, can be a good thing. It can be a healthy intellectual practice. There are, however, helpful and unhelpful ways to disagree. Wright stated, “We badly need a new ethic of Christian blogging.” In saying this, he is referring to the kinds of “scorched earth” practices one sometimes encounters in the blogosphere. Bloggers need to represent others’ views accurately.  The practices of engaging in anonymous online “road rage” is neither fair nor productive. If you say something on a blog, you should be happy to say it in a crowded room, face to face. Anonymity in public discourse often gives license to unfair, inaccurate, and inflammatory comments.

I’ve made the case on this blog before that we need to invest ourselves deeply in intellectually virtuous habits of mind. (See the post, “Agreeing to Disagree is Not Enough.") In the blogosphere, writers must be particularly self-conscious of this since there is no peer review prior to publication. Anyone can say basically anything. If our goal, however, is to advance public discourse, then it is imperative that we blog ethically. Many bloggers do this. Some do not. This will likely not change, but the more of us who are conscious of this, the better off our communities of discourse will be. 

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