Maggi Dawn, a college chaplain in Cambridge, recently met the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and had the opportunity to discuss blogging with them. Thanks to Dave Walker at the Church Times blog for the tip, and a great cartoon to go with it. Here is the part about blogging of Maggi’s conversation with Archbishops Rowan Williams and John Sentamu:
I began by asking them how much they knew about the blog-world, and what kind of effect – positive or negative – they thought blogging, facebook and similar media are having on Church life and spiritual concerns.
“They are clearly part of the whole knowledge economy”, said Archbishop Rowan. “They have encouraged people not to take in passively what’s produced – it has opened up a more interactive environment for the sharing of knowledge – a democratisation of knowledge. And clearly that is bound to affect the Church at every level.”
Is the democratisation of knowledge always a good thing, though, I asked him? Does it flatten a desirable level of expertise?
“It can certainly flatten expertise,” he replied. “But perhaps the more worrying issue is that in can in some ways encourage unreflective expression – it’s possible simply to think it, and say it, without any thought. When that happens in personal conversation, there is a humanising effect. But on the screen, it’s less human.”
Then the Archbishop of York chipped in: “On the other hand, people have found real friendships through blogs, who would never have otherwise met each other – it’s a worldwide connection, people really do “meet” you on your blog. When I cut up my collar the response online was enormous – that’s when I realised just how many boundaries can be crossed with blogs.”
He thought for a minute, and then added, “But you know, when people write without thinking, it can get very difficult; it can be offensive and troublesome. The best of what’s there on the blogs is from those who take a little time to reflect before they publish. But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!”
Well, considering how negatively the blog world, including myself, reacted to Archbishop Rowan’s comments about sharia law, I might have expected him to have a less positive attitude. It is good that he welcomes, if with some reservations, the democratisation of knowledge, thereby distancing himself from the intellectual arrogance he has been accused of. But both Archbishops are right that there is a tendency for bloggers, including myself, to write without thinking first.
Yes, indeed the Church of England has to engage with these new media, if it is not to fade away into irrelevance, even more than arguably it already has. But, practically, in what ways will it engage? There are some great Christian initiatives in this area, but they tend to be from individuals or small groups rather than being sponsored by the Church of England in any formal way. In some ways this is the nature of these new media. But the central and diocesan authorities need to engage with them as well. And first they need to understand them, in ways that judging by the sharia law controversy they have failed to understand the more traditional media.
Maggi promises more from her chat with the Archbishops tomorrow. I will be watching out for it – although I may not have time to post more for a few days.