On Becoming More Liberal

Here is an interesting study of the blogosphere. Liberal blogs are more open than conservative ones – more audience involvement, more contributions from the general public, less distinction between “articles” and “letters to the editor,” so to speak.  Hmmm, I can only wish we were more liberal around here! Which is to say: we welcome unsolicited posts from the general public. Consider yourself invited.

If you have a lot to say, we’d really prefer that you email it in and we’ll think about putting it up as a post. Please don’t use two or three commboxes in a row to make your point. Some of you will be glad to hear that we’re thinking about upping the commbox size. Stay tuned.

I’m not the only one who has noticed that PrayTell discussions lately have become nicely civil, respectful, and constructive. I’d like to take credit, but the credit really goes to all you. (Who knows, maybe the church situation – you know what I mean – has helped put some things in perspective and reminded us of how much unites us??)



  1. Great points, Father Anthony; I have wanted to submit a post or two. Can you answer two practical questions? (1) How do people get their photos next to their replies when they reply? (2) Is there an html problem is using two or three commboxes in a row?

    1. I can field #1 – go to gravatar.com and set up an account there. The email address(es) you associate with your gravatar account will make your icon appear on this blog, as well as many others.

    2. ad secundum: not an html problem, I’m speaking only of our editorial preferences.

  2. I find it best not to place myself on the liberal-conservative spectrum, but I have an interesting observation on Catholic blogs.

    For many years now Conservative (some might say fundamentalist) Catholic blogs have controlled the Catholic internet. They have used the technology extremely well and linked themselves together in a very well organised way which has increased their traffic and their profile.

    Love them or hate them, you have to say that they have organised and projected themselves extremely well.

    I run a modest website which I hope is respecting of all Catholics. We have discussions about worship music alongside discussions about Latin Mass!

    Interestingly, over the last year or so the liberal Catholic internet seems to be catching up. Some good sites are springing up that are not being scared away.

    I think we are entering some interesting times for the Catholic internet.

  3. Maybe it’s just me, but what’s so great about this supposed civility? As long as it doesn’t degrade into profanity or outright slander….what’s wrong with pointing out that others are squarely wrong about some things? I think that’s why some individuals are very comfortable with “conservative” blogs…not to mention “conservative” radio or “conservative” news channels…unless of course you buy into the idea that there is no right or wrong.

    1. I would agree with Paul that civility promotes dialogue and insight. But I’ll also point out that on two internet forums I know you are associated with, Jeffrey, my minority viewpoint from the progressive side is treated with disdain and personal insult. To your own credit, you and I have had vigorous and respectful discussions on your blog–that is appreciated.

      So when you ask what’s wrong with pointing out that you and your friends may be “squarely wrong,” it’s a curious question in my view, given the intolerance of dissent on some reform2 sites. Some, but clearly not all conservatives, are very uncomfortable with being on the receiving end of confrontation, no matter how gently it may be delivered.

  4. Jeffrey, it’s very simple: civility promotes dialogue; pointing out to others that (you think) they are wrong and refusing to listen to why (they think) they might be right stifles dialogue. And dialogue is the only way in which we all learn from each other. Of course, anyone who thinks they have nothing to learn doesn’t care anyway.

    I find one of the hardest things about the world we live in today is the difficulty of dialoguing with people who think they have the fullness of the truth. Another of the hardest things is knowing how to respond (or even whether to respond) to people whose only mode of communication appears to be name-calling or simply condemning those whose views differ from their own.

    And yes, we are allowed to have different interpretations of doctrine; it’s not all black and white, otherwise the Church would never have grown and developed and changed and speculative theologians would not exist.

  5. Jeffrey,

    Civility does not preclude attacking another person’s arguments, but it surely does preclude attacking their character or intentions, etc. It’s probably also helpful if we exhibit a modicum of restraint in claiming that this or that is an absolute, unquestionable fact, unless there is some clear evidence to support the contention. Even then, we can be polite about it.

    Still, there’s an awful lot of preference, bias, and opinion that gets paraded about as eternal, unalterable TRUTH, when it’s nothing of the sort. To offer one example, my preference for a particular type of music does not mean that it’s necessarily suitable, or unsuitable, for use during worship. Likewise the reverse. That’s a matter of my taste in music, not a valid assessment of suitability to any purpose. It’s a tricky thing to set aside one’s personal bias but it’s not impossible. I think we see an awful lot of incivility when folks lose that distinction.

  6. Two phrases from Worship in the initial announcement attracted me to this blog. “Our general aim is develop a better understanding of the spiritual import of the liturgy.” and “ Many and varied interests meet in the liturgy” My hope was to hear from as many and varied people across the country about their experiences and hopes for the liturgy. I think that diversity can be achieved better through posts than through comments.

    Why not a call for posts on a particular topic, e.g. Liturgy of Hours, for say the month of June so that people would know that they had a reasonable chance of being posted during that month if they had something to say on the topic, and could begin submitting their posts. It would also let everyone know what our principal topic for the month would be, and all the people who are particularly attuned to that topic and would like to read and comment on the posts would be alerted.
    Of course we would also continue with the general posts we are having now.

  7. “maybe the church situation – you know what I mean – has helped put some things in perspective and reminded us of how much unites us??”

    Wishful thinking, Anthony. You’ve enforced a certain discipline, rather. Let’s give credit where it is due!

  8. I think what I like about this place is that people practice what they preach. There is openness and understanding here, which produces fruit.

  9. Nobody wants everything to be sickeningly nice. Healthy debate is something we can all learn from. Too often though, on ‘Catholic’ sites people are insulted and intimidated. I have suffered this myself, as have many.

    One particular example: a few years ago an agency launched some youth liturgy resources. Some objected to certain aspects of these resources and a healthy debate ensued. On some sites, however, it was less than healthy. It ended up with the man foremost responsible for the resources receiving vile and threatening E-mails and nasty phone calls at his home.

    This sort of thing happens all too often. It is completely inexcusable and wrong, no matter what. What is worse about this case is that when I wrote to the blogger who stirred most of it up and asked him to condemn these actions he flatly refused!

    There are MANY more examples!

    On my site, a number of members recently worked together to produce a code of conduct for Catholics using the web.

    1. Jack, a code of conduct for Catholics posting comments on any site that allow comments would be welcomed. I think this blog is tame compared to some. I think of posted comments on the NCR site, one hopes these don’t characterize so called “spirit of Vatican II Catholics!” Although we should keep in mind that it is easy to misread or read into something what is not intended. Verbal communication is the best form normally. Even on the parish level, we resort to emails in answering people especially if an issue is heated, whereas a simple phone call might have been more productive and your message wouldn’t be emailed to a million more people. It does seem to me that the Catholic blogger has a responsibility to censor and Fr. Anthony does this I think, at least I think it has happened to me a couple of times. But of course he must have misread what I wrote, that can be the only explanation! 🙂

  10. But I’ll also point out that on two internet forums I know you are associated with, Jeffrey, my minority viewpoint from the progressive side is treated with disdain and personal insult.

    Of course it is… it is a progressive viewpoint being put out on a very conservative forum. The personal insults would be out of place and I try to avoid making personal hits on others, particularly those I don’t know…but claiming that someone is wrong or foolish or whatever for believing something isn’t really a personal insult….it’s just an observation about what I think of their views. If you’re going to put your hat into the ring of a very heated argument I think it’s reasonable to expect some flack.

    That being said, there are issues where opinion rules the day…and even I get miffed at the jugheads who insist on trying to find a right and wrong distinction in such cases. Such would be the case regarding which form of the liturgy one prefers to attend (EF or OF)…

    1. “If you’re going to put your hat into the ring of a very heated argument I think it’s reasonable to expect some flack.”

      You know me and the situation well enough to know that’s not the obstacle. It’s a curious and often amusing hypocrisy for people to be critics of civility (as they see it) but then strive to cultivate a serene and unbothered atmosphere on their own territory.

      They have the right, certainly. But they don’t always possess the maturity.

  11. …. If you prefer the OF, then that’s your preference…it’s nobody’s business and there isn’t a “right” form of the liturgy to prefer…they are both equally legitimate after 2007 and I get more than a little tired of some individuals lectures about the EF being the only “legitimate” form of the liturgy or even a more legitimate form. Sorry…it just isn’t a matter for you to decide.

    Ditto for those who insist that the OF is the only legitimate form of the liturgy, or even a more legitimate form.

    I think in many instances, there is a basic difference in what we hope to get out of an online discussion… some look to learn, others to inform, others look to convert, still others work to convince…and some are there to tear down the views of others. I think there’s room for all of these…. you can always log off or hit the “block” button!

  12. Yes and no, Jeffrey. OF and EF are both permitted on purely legal grounds, and of course any personal preferences are permitted. But on a liturgical blog it is certainly fair game to ask whether the EF should be permitted, whether the Second Vatican Council intended that it continue in use, whether its continued use is possibly in according with the teachings and directives of the Second Vatican Council, and whether it serves the mission of the Church and her relationship to the modern world to continue to use a form which V2 so thoroughly critiqued.

  13. One of the benefits of civility, or keeping a cool level of discussion, is that an occasional heated word or strong objection can actually be perceived as noteworthy. If everyone is “screaming” or insulting and sneering all the time, not only is the effect deafening, there’s also no higher “register of sound” for occasions when one might be called for.

  14. Asking whether it SHOULD be permitted is a vastly different thing from proclaiming that it SHOULDN’T be permitted though… and I have seen that said a number of times in different venues.

    The first is an academic debate. Let’s have that debate as long as everyone realizes that there is an already undisputable truth… both forms are permitted and legitimate.

    To insist that the EF isn’t REALLY allowed because of X, Y or Z ignores the fact that it IS allowed because…well…because the Pope said so and there are many who believe that is enough. To argue against that, you have to make a pretty strong argument against the Pope having universal and complete authority over the liturgy.

    At that point, many (myself included) begin to get the feeling that the opposing view is simply unable or unwilling to accept authority and it becomes an argument about obedience and submission to authority. That’s an argument nobody wins.

    1. It does seem to me too, Fr. Anthony and Jeffrey, there are many priests and congregations, like mine and me, who want to celebrate both forms of the Mass well and help implement what the Second Vatican Council desired in terms of participation which is both exterior and interior. We’ve had discussions about this in the past, that one could be very vocal during the Mass, but there is no real internal disposition toward what is being celebrated and one could be very internal but indifferent to the external sounds and actions. Apart from language, how do we celebrate both Masses well under current legislation. If this is a liturgy blog, help us who are doing both and trying to be faithful to both forms of the Mass and the ecclessiology of the Church today which still includes obedience to Vatican II and the living teaching authority of the Church and her legislative authority, the Pope and the bishops in union with him. Vatican II is not the last word, but one word in pilgrimage into the paschal mystery.

    2. Jeffrey – exactly, these are the kinds of distinctions I was trying to make. Personally I don’t think we should have the EF any more than necessary to keep some people in the Church. But the Pope has a different judgment, and I accept that he is the legislator. His judgment may turn out to be very good for the Church. Or not. On this there is much to discuss. Perhaps people like me need to make clear(er) our acceptance of the Pope’s authority and not assume that everyone knows this.

  15. With all the discussion of epistemic closure lately (well, certainly not in Catholic blogdom), may I suggest that we Catholic progressives – who in many ways assume that we are not as vulnerable to it as conservatives, while Catholic conservatives usually don’t even consider the issue – model more consciously what might be called epistemic modesty (or even better, epistemic humility!), especially if we want to be credible in the eyes and ears of those from whom we invite the same? As Todd will aver, that’s kinda been my life mission for 15 years on Catholic discussion boards, not that I am at all free of many failures on this point. And this passion arises from my experience within intentional Catholic communities of a strongly progressive bent, where I saw the lack of self-awareness and such epistemic modesty seriously corrode those communities – and that was just internally!

  16. Blogs should be conversations rather than debates. While academic social scientists debate strongly about theory and hypotheses, they are brought together by data. One can admire elegant research even when it supports a different theory. My migration to applied research in the mental health system was also a migration to conversation. A colleague there told me to stick to the facts, and don’t over interpret or sell results. Wise advice. I tried to make the data clear and engage as many people as possible in interpreting it. The data focused people and brought them together despite their different perspectives. Often changes in thinking and behavior occurred at lower levels of organizations without great policy and funding changes and their imperfect implementations.

  17. My hope is that greater posting on this blog by many pastors, musicians, liturgy and religious education ministers, and just plain interested people focusing on smaller parts of the liturgy, and based on practical experience would lead us to more data based and fruitful theoretical discussions, and even encourage innovation on the part of people at the grass roots that is actually useful to people and that does need large policy and funding changes.

  18. Am right behind Jack on this being a place of conversation and an arena for sharing ideas and experience.

    I came to PrayTell on the recommendation of a friend here in the UK because the postings are so much more civil and constructive than one or two other sites I could mention.

    One of the biggest problems of blogging is that one can’t always hear the writer’s voice: An innocent comment can appear derogatory or provocative when that was not the writer’s intention. I have seen other blogs where the most gentle suggestion leads to the rugby team piling in. (And I really wish my Mac had some sort of alarm system which stopped me blogging anywhere after a few glass of vino tinto!)

    But I have been impressed by the level of discussion here. Even those people I have disagreed with have always been positive and courteous.

    Long may this continue!

    (PS Still haven’t worked out how to add a picture. Comments sound rather different when one can see the poster’s face!)

  19. This is a heartening post. I had dinner last night in london with two old schoolmates who are both, like me, reverts to the Church. We disagreed vigorously on the issues people disagree on here. However, face to face, we expressed ourselves differently from how people so often do on blogs. This place is pretty civil – try the comments on Father Z or Damian Thompson for the Wild West or NCR – but I note that even a fairly anodyne place like Deacon’s Bench recently suspended comments. I don’t think we need to downplay vigorous debate – we all just need to act as if others here were at the same table with us.

  20. I personally am very grateful to Fr. Anthony, and the tone and direction of this blog… as others have stated, it is a rare blessing to find such a site, where conversations can take place, withstand different stands on issues, but remaining civil and open to the learning that can take place. I am promoting this blog to many these days – what a blessing and gift, and Fr. Anthony, you are to thank… for me, I am learning so much, and finding this a great forum for deepening both my love and knowledge of the liturgy, as well as getting a sense of the different stances that are out there. Several of you are heroes of mine.. and to be in this conversation is great. Many thanks!

  21. I came here as a recommendation from a more “liberal” colleague whom I adore. Our conversations rarely put us in full agreement, but we always learned from each other. I make no secret that after years of following the “progressive” camp of the church. I burned out of many of its aspects and found myself engaging the “reform of the reform” mvt. . So I was happy to find this blog a healthy place for disagreement and dialogue and I find much of its tone civil and respectful. I appreciate all the points given, even when I heartily disagree. Thanks to all. As one of my dear choir kids says,” we are all still Catholic,aren’t we.”

  22. Even in a civil discussion the fireworks can fly when a person probes another person’s deeper premises (not motives). This can be unsettling since we all tend to be heavily invested in the liturgy arena, both personally and professionally. So I sometimes wonder whether people shy away from exploring more foundational issues.

    For example, Fr. Ruff’s opinion above, that “I don’t think we should have the EF any more than necessary to keep some people in the Church” is at odds with so many premises I consider foundational – theological, cultural, historical – that it’s difficult to know where to begin.* Is it possible to have a constructive conversation about these premises?

    I don’t know. Perhaps it’s a matter of the eternal dualities in the universe (Apollonian – Dionysian, high road – low road, tomayto – tomahto) that will always be with us.

    (*I hasten to add that I have immense respect for Fr. Ruff’s scholarship and work in Gregorian chant.)

  23. Sam,
    Your “premises” are probably what I would call “spiritualities” the most important beliefs, values, sayings, that practically guide our personal lives. There are as many spiritualities in Catholicism as there are religious orders, saints (look had different they are), and maybe Catholics.
    After Ignatius had gone through the events that would become the basis for the Spiritual Exercises, he sought out holy people to discuss the spiritual life with them. He quickly became very frustrated because there was no common language or experiences. He discovered the exercises were a common framework through which he could understand better what was going in their spiritual lives.
    We are probably going to be able to talk easier by focusing upon particular items, and bringing our spiritualities, than discussing the spiritualities.
    Much of the conflict occurring about things in the Church, in my opinion, stems from trying to impose our spirituality on others, or denying theirs.

  24. Is dialogue possible when people’s presuppositions are very divergent? Presuppositions cannot be “proved”, only accepted. Yet they are normally at the basis of one’s world-view.
    For instance, if one holds that beauty is a characteristic of the object and not in the eye of the beholder, then views of liturgical music, for instance, are in sharp contrast to each other. Some can, others cannot, see the innate beauty in its fullness, so we have what in some places is deprecated as elitism. If beauty is given by God in proportion to its being, then we have a hierarchy of beauty, so that for the one who is able to grasp the higher forms of beauty, rock music in the liturgy is blasphemy and the art music of Palestrina fitting, while for the one that does not it is the reverse. Yet you cannot “prove” that beauty is only in the eye of the beholder.
    My world view is so different from many on this blog that it is often hard to participate, not knowing even where to start.

  25. Ted,
    My worldview as a social scientist is pretty different too, and it is difficult to know where to start. One just has to try to make one’s ideas as relevant to the issues as possible without getting draw into other people’s concerns and arguments.
    Fortunately I am in the process of developing a web site for my own interests so I have at least thought through some of the issues. But a thousand characters is a real challenge. Most of my writing for the website is the equivalent of four pages of a word document.
    Later this year the web site will be up so people will see how I integrate leadership, the forms of capital (human, social, cultural, spiritual), aging, spirituality, voluntarism, the bible and prayer into a worldview.
    On my website I’ll have something to say about beauty in the context of the four medieval transcendentals so what you have to say is not without interest even though I won’t try to respond without the website.

  26. If dialogue is not possible, what are you left with? Dialogue is not about changing the other’s mind, that is rhetoric and argument, possibly coercion and manipulation. Dialogue is about sharing your personal insights with another and listening to their personal insights. Hopefully the result is a broadening of world-view and even possibly learning. My personal world-view is not the only one out there, I am not aware of my own blindness, and need to listen.

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