Picking up from yesterday’s conversation on clericalism:

Now an interesting point that I could raise concerns technology. Bloggers and writers like Mark Shea and myself certainly wield much power in the Catholic Blogosphere. People do read our opinions and hold us in some regard. I would hasten to say that the internet is a world of particularity and so factions are even more prominent and one can read a “style of Catholicism” that is more to their liking by searching for that style online. Once they find a trusted source a loyal audience sticks with that source and indeed they are in a powerful position indeed.

Priests are often absent from that culture and lay people have certainly distanced themselves from the fray in this corner of virtual life.

Is this a form of “Technological Clericalism?” Priests, generally older men, will have an upward learning curve when it comes to technology. Does this distance them from communicating with the young? Does this empower younger priests who are tech-saavy?

Lastly, this can also be a tool used to divide and conquer within certain factions. The more traditional elements of the church often use the internet to proclaim orthodoxy, rendering other websites, blogs as un-orthodox. CatholicCulture is the most popular watchdog group that makes these declaration. This can lead to a “my website is more orthodox than your site” argument and even worse can lead to defamation of character within the church.

But there’s also an aspect of how people use the internet that’s at play here. Most people don’t just troll around the internet randomly looking for things. Rather, they collect sites that they have been led to through a search for something specific. Examples:

What time is mass? (for parish websites)
How can I get married in the church? (for young people estranged from the church and now returning for marriage)
What’s the church have to say about X? (for people looking for the church’s response to a world issue or a moral judgment).
I forgot what the church teaches about X…what’s that answer again?

They also find these answers and then they leave quickly! Should they bother to interact, they also do that quickly and expect a response even faster. Community sometimes forms but it’s almost always within a trusted set of blogs, sites or social network connections.

So the real “clerical” power that exists is the power to point a bunch of followers to your own unique brand of Catholicism. In essence you say, “Here look at this! This is REALLY Catholic. Not that other mumbo-jumbo that you read somewhere else.”

And it all happens quickly, where there is not enough time for:

1) Rational argument – Cooler heads almost never prevail in a soundbyte culture–it just takes too long!

2) Critical judgment – There are too many sources out there so I’ll just pick one and stick with it–after all who has the time to read 2 arguments?

3) Reconciliation – The best minds rarely agree, but they often hold each other with deep respect and can often be seen drinking and eating together after slugging it out intellectually. With the internet, often one just moves on from one faceless person to another without regard for them beyond the disagreement.

The medium itself is MEANT to polarize. You want to find EXACTLY what it is you are looking for and that means you want to keep everything that is not that –out of your search. You gather together the places that you trust and only listen to those sources.

The scary thing is that we never have to listen to someone with another point of view again if we don’t want to.

And in that we breed a new kind of clericalism that people give their trust to the sources that they claim speak truth.

However, the democratization of the internet also reveals one certain truth:

Any moron could have a blog. And many do.

Will the “actual” hierarchical clerical culture that we live in try to over-clericalize the internet–giving a virtual imprimatur or mandatum to a set of website that they deem legitimate? How will the faithful react to that if they do?

Or can we, as Catholic faithful, go another route, where we can be media-saavy and remain open to the opinions of others? Can we read America and First Things and not slam one in favor of the other? Can we read Amy Welborn and Grant Gallicho and still see the good points both make and criticize what we disagree with fairly? Can you read a BustedHalo.com and a GodSpy.com with critical eyes to both?

Can we become “friends” with people on facebook who hold other points of view to our own? Or are we content to form the virtual ghetto?

Can we listen without disdain?

Both sides of the aisle are pushing the factions further apart. Young people are already turned off by the divisions within our Catholic Culture. Can we avoid our tendency towards clericalism of all kinds and instead hold on to our Catholic unity. Despite the strength which comes with our diversities, and despite the strength which individual factions can wield and separate themselves from, it is unity that breeds true strength.

And that unity can always be found in the body of Christ–if we all can just bother to stand together.

0 thoughts on “Technological Clericalism”
  1. I just read this. Thought provoking – I love what you say.

    Not to engage in shameless self-promotion, but I recently wrote something in which I say that the future of the church is one another. I hope that you don’t mind that I link to it from here. My essay is the second one down.

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