Giving up blogging for Lent

February 27, 2009

I've decided to give up blogging for Lent this year. Not blogs themselves so much as "blogging"—let me explain.

Back when Lewis Lapham was at Harper's,
I read his monthly "Notebook" with delight and frustration. His writing
was incisive, hilarious and scornful—with much of the scorn aimed at
Christians. I once wrote to the editors lambasting Lapham for "alarmist
screeds like May's Notebook, with its familiar formula of smug elitism,
crude hyperbole, and triadic lists culminating in caustic punch lines." I
was proud of my style-aping sentence but at the same time alarmed that I
was taking so much pleasure in clever ridicule—Lapham's own

Lapham's moved on, but Notebook's biases and tone—now in the hands of a large stable of writers—as often as not remain. This month Mark Slouka focuses on the ignorance of the U.S. electorate, especially conservative Christians (subscription required):

percent of us believe God created all things in their present form
sometime during the last 10,000 years. Nearly the same number—not
coincidentally, perhaps—are functionally illiterate.

Then there's this sarcastic creed, aimed at former President Bush as well as the people who voted for him:

Belief and knowledge are separate and unequal. Belief is higher, nobler; it comes from the heart; it feels like truth.

And Slouka blames both Bush and the ignorance of the faithful for what he calls an "unpleasant fact":

significant number of our fellow citizens are now as greedy and
gullible as a boxful of puppies; they'll believe anything; they'll
attack the empty glove; they'll follow the plastic bone right off the

I began this post intending to quarrel with Slouka's
ideas about belief and knowledge, as well as to call him out for
hypocritically labeling as ignorant people he clearly doesn't understand
too well. But that's about as far as I got before a more repentant mode
took over. Every solid point and clever turn of phrase I came up with
seemed to implicate me, not Slouka, as condescending and
snarky—transforming my corrective into just another step in an
escalation of hypocrisy, a vicious cycle driven by the myth of
redemptive blogging.

Last week I was blogging elsewhere and
attracted some negative feedback. I ended up in a comments-field
skirmish—in this case with my religious-right flank, not my secular-left
one—which I soon moved to email. I crafted a couple lengthy and
thoughtful responses to my commenter but then found myself frustrated
that no one else would read them. I had to admit that my real desire was
not to broaden my perspective and his through a thoughtful exchange,
but to outdo him publicly, so that others would think I'm smart and
funny and right.

So I'm giving up blogging for Lent. To be clear,
I'm using "blogging" as shorthand for a style of communication that's
particularly tempting in an unfiltered and interactive environment. I'm
not avoiding the blog medium itself; I'll keep writing posts and
commenting on others. But I won't sarcastically put down people's ideas,
on a blog or anywhere else. Come Easter, I hope to have grown in my
preference for edifying dialogue over entertaining bomb-throwing.