Tuesday, 18 May 2010

In praise of orthodoxy and anonymity: Cath News again

Cath News is at it again, this time seeking to improve the civility of posts by requiring posters to identify themselves by real name and location (and provide a verifiable email address).

Orthodoxy and civility

Such a requirement is not altogether unreasonable if you are concerned about publishing potentially defamatory material (although I really doubt the publisher can escape liability) - but I would suggest it is pretty unlikely to have the desired effect of improving civility.  Firstly, many people are perfectly prepared to say outrageous things and be identified as saying them (though they may not be the people you actually want commenting on your discussion board).  And secondly, faking an identity to meet these requirements would be pretty easy.

More fundamentally, a better way to induce civility would be simply to require posters to keep their postings in line with the teaching of the Catholic Church, or in the form of genuine inquiry as to the basis for that teaching.  Instead, its pages are filled with people getting outraged at the Church's position on homosexual acts and other teachings, which not unnaturally generates in turn an outraged response by those who see the words 'Cath' on the 'Cath News' website and think it does or should mean something.  After all, canon law prohibits the use of the word Catholic by organizations unless they are approved by the relevant bishop or bishops.

Instead Cath News continues to walk ever further away from any adherence to the Church.  Its latest disclaimer on blog entries is "CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate among the subscribers to CathNews and the readers of the website. The opinions expressed in CathBlog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the members of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference or of Church Resources."  Its previous one (still attached to previous blog articles advocating clearly erroneous positions), went "CathBlog is an extension of CathNews story feedback. It is intended to promote discussion and debate. Our bloggers express opinions which may be at variance from Church Teaching and the views of Church Resources."

Perhaps Cath News should change its name or put a clearer disclaimer up on its site - saying that it is 'intended to provide news and debate about the Catholic Church and and its teachings'.  And going on to make it clear that it does not attempt to do this from within the parameters the Church itself accepts for such debate, viz accepting the guidance of the Magisterium.

Of course, taking this path would make it clear that it is an entirely secular organisation with the objectives of secular society, viz the destruction of the Church.  But really, its Board really needs to take a hard look at what the orgaization is supposed to be about.

In praise of anonymity

Above all though, I have to admit that I completely fail to understand this fettish, repeated in Ms Hogan's blog post, about the evils of anonymity.  We live in a culture that Annabel Crabb has so aptly described as a culture of unrestrained nosiness.

Yet as Christians, it is surely not who we are that is important, but what we actually think, say and do (and by the way, not what we are rumoured to have thought, said or done).

St Benedict for example, urged the abbot to listen to the youngest members of his community, and to visiting pilgrim monks, in case God gave them some special message.

And there is a long history of monks and nuns publishing as 'a monk of x' etc. 

There is a reason why we know so few of the names of the composers of Gregorian chant, and of many prayers and devotions.

Why there are so many thousands, perhaps millions of anonymous saints.

There are many good reasons people choose to post anonymously - not least that it might affect their future employment prospects, or draw past enemies out of the woodwork (internet searches are a powerful thing).

We shouldn't misrepresent ourselves - a priest pretending to be their own parishioner in order to defend themselves for example or such like behaviour is of course clearly wrong.

But I really don't see that a person cannot have an opinion without having to tell us everything about themselves.  A name may or may not be meaningful.  So the pressure is inevitably to go further.  Someone has to justify their opinion by claiming to have 'four degrees'.  Someone else tells us everything down to what they had for dinner and what birds they see when they look out the window in order to reassure the reader that they are dealing with a 'real' person.  Frankly, cults of personality are dangerous; distraction from truth through trivia is one of the worst features of our society; and the impulse to tell all on facebook is something we should be resisting not encouraging.

So in my opinion, if people make inappropriate comments on a blog, simply delete or reject the comment, or ban them. And if someone chooses to blog anonymously, decide whether to read it or not on its merits.

Above all though, it would be nice if Cath News actually tried a little harder to operate within the parameters appropriate for a Church sponsored organization.

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