Let’s take a more intentional reflection through the big to-do I stirred up over at the Orthosphere. If you’d like to see, check it out here. I am not going to respond to any more comments there, consider this the redirect for anyone who would like to continue the discussion. It’s a topic I write about a lot so I am sure you won’t have to wait long for more on the same theme.
First off, let me say, if you are a new reader as a result of the guest-post, welcome! This post will include some more introduction to what kind of things you can expect here. If you are an old reader, thank you for sticking with me. If you are a reader who comes here to check out “what that big dumb idiot is up to” then I appreciate that you take the time to visit and read and I hope our disagreement can be a fruitful inspiration for your own writing.
My first note here after thinking about the guest post is that the experience was deeply humbling and a little frightening. Of course, stepping on to a bigger stage is always a scary thing, and the Orthosphere has an order of magnitude more subscribers than I have here, to say nothing of casual non-subscribed readership which I am confident exceeds my own in several orders of magnitude. I wrote the guest post not because I wanted to check out the big stage, but because the topic is one I am passionate about, and I felt there had been a lot of ink spilled over there that had not reflected the POV I have come to. I felt my POV was one that the readership of the Orthosphere needed to see. I am satisfied that my intention was good and my message was sound, even the deliverer of the message was faulty or the structure of the argument unsound.
So the humbling aspect comes in two ways: First, in showing me that I am not prepared for the big show. However good I think my ideas are, there are many many more people, much much more smarter than I am, who will vivisect my writing, examining it with a fine-toothed comb. Second, in showing me that the blog-o-sphere is bigger and more interconnected than I thought. I contented myself to write in my space and poke my head over into neighboring blogs to see what they are up to. It’s hard to tell who else is visiting on the internet, because browsing is an activity we undertake alone. So we build this picture in our minds of “what’s out there” and it overlaps with other folks’ picture of “what’s out there” and sometimes their picture is much much bigger than ours.
The frightening aspect came when I realized the conversation my guest post started had spilled the banks of one blog and flowed over into other conversations in other spaces. Scores of people were talking about my ideas and even about me and I was not even part of the conversation, my ideas had ceased to be my own the second I published them and the discourses began. They took on a life of their own, for other people to interact with and examine and criticize and discard and adapt. It was frightening because I felt like I had made a mistake. I had mis-stepped, I am not ready for this level of critique and cross examination. I want my idea back, I promise to keep it to myself. That kind of thing.
The humiliation and fright taught me that I need to be much more careful, much more thoughtful. My blog is my safe haven, my house, people who come here must play by my rules. When I step outside, I must play by theirs, and there is no obligation that they understand me the way I understand me. It also taught me that I need to be much more deliberate with forming my intention when venturing out. I do not want people to look at me and think of me as credible or incredible on my own merits. I want people to look at me and see someone pointing them to God, and to Truth, and trying to understand reality. A fellow prodigal son, not a rogue preacher, not a wise man. A peasant, in other words. A nobody. If I venture forth and try to speak with my own authority, I will fail 100% of the time. If I venture forth and try to lead people to God, I may succeed. So if I am not deliberately thinking “How will my comment, my article, my content lead people to God” then I am allowing worldliness to sneak into my writing. That’s a bad thing.
More than once I have contemplated whether or not I should shut down this blog, for my spiritual good. Let me keep my ideas in the safety of privacy, in the humility of silence. After this guest post I wondered whether I was letting pride get the better of me. I am still praying about this. Please do pray for me.
What is there to say about the topic itself? Blessed little remains. In talking over the hubbub with Hambone, we agreed that we framed the idea poorly, especially in leaving open so many vectors for disagreement. One way we suggested we could have approached it is thus:
We are atoms, molecules of water in the sea. When big things happen in the world, like a tsunami, there is no one atom who is responsible. Tsunamis are things that happen to the atoms. The atom cannot stand triumphantly at the crest of the wave and say “fear me and my mighty tsunami!”–the atom is the recipient of the tsunami. We are atoms. We like to think we have power, we like to think we matter, but we do not. These ideas are all about aligning our concern to our influence.
Hambone put it this way: It’s World War 2. Some given American is removed from history. Is the outcome of World War 2 different? The number of individual persons who’s presence actually influenced the progress of World War 2 is extraordinarily small.
The thesis then is that everything is relational. The widows mite was a profound blessing because those two pennies were all she had. The graces from that contribution come from the two pennies being all she had, not from the aggregated good that comes from the Church’s service to the poor.
I’ve been reflecting on my own reflections and some criticisms as well. One of the most important takeaways is that everything is personal. There is no such thing as disinterestedly discussing abstractions, unless you have a relationship with an individual who enjoys that kind of thing. Everything is personal. People will make abstractions concrete by applying them to their personal lives. People will take an argument personally by taking a criticism of their belief as a criticism of them. Everything is personal.
This is no surprise why the individualists take the stance of having an individualized relationship with God, and see no necessity for the Church qua institution. But it’s also no surprise why poking the hornets nest causes the hornets to sting in self defense. I have assailed a central belief–I have assailed them. This goes back to why I must be much more careful when venturing out.
I’ll add also a note on anonymity. I do not disagree that writing under ones own name takes courage. Everyone must evaluate their own circumstances and the risks and rewards of writing under their own name or a pseudonym. Just because writing under ones own name takes courage does not mean that the opposite is cowardice. I don’t begrudge anonymous writers–eponymous writers can be just as nasty and unsportsmanlike as anonymous ones, so it is better to judge people by behaviors than accidental features like their nom-de-plume.
I write anonymously because I do not want to risk my nascent career, my privacy, my public life. Some may call that cowardice, some may call that prudence–I leave the final Judgement of that to God, may He lead me to the path that makes me Holy. I also write so that I don’t begin trading on my name, as I indicated above. If my name was Two-Bit Billy Buckland (it isn’t), I wouldn’t want people to say “Hey, are you Two-Bit Billy Buckland, from the terrible guest post on the Orthosphere? I love your work! I hate your work! I am nonplussed by your work!” because then the work becomes about me, Two-Bit Billy Buckland, and not about God, not about Truth. “Scoot” as a pseudonym serves me well and is silly enough to not distract people from entering deeper into their faith, God willing. No one will come up to me and say “Aren’t you Scoot?”
I do tell people about the blog in real life sometimes but luckily most of the people I’ve told about it don’t read it, so I am safe, for now.
A final note here about the purpose of this blog. I started this blog as a place for me to chew on ideas publicly. Since my first post in December of 2018, I’ve basically kept that as my purpose. I see something, I’ll write about it, I’ll explore the consequences, I’ll think of objections. I’ll reflect on self improvement, and my own spiritual growth, things that have helped me. Occasionally I’ll make observations about things that strike me as true, good, or beautiful. Over time, a little community has formed and the conversations and engagement with my ideas has spurred more thinking and more ideas to explore. It’s been very rewarding to think that my public ideation has spurred some kind of conversation.
In the future–this place will host more of the same. This blog is for me and I’ve been consistent in pointing out that any benefit you get out of reading here is a happy accident. This attitude is important for my sanity, because it allows me to write freely and creatively. When I become self conscious–when I try to avoid criticism or gain praise, the purpose of this blog will have failed, because it’s not about me exploring ideas anymore, it would be about you. I do have a place that aims to please you–it’s my substack. Click that link, there’s a coupon code that you can use to get a free subscription for life. The coupon is good until the feast of St. Luke in October. My substack is where I do customer-service, trying to produce a product that you can enjoy. Here is where I chew on ideas and you come to see what I’m chewing on. I hope it’s been fruitful, I hope you have enjoyed it, I hope you continue to read here, because I like hearing your thoughts and they really help fill up my plate with ideas to chew on.
If I may express a motif for this post, that connects all these threads–the guest post, anonymity, my blog, etc etc–it’s that nothing we have is ours. By some mystical working of the Holy Spirit, God graces us with ideas. When we write them, they cease to be ours and enter the public consciousness. I do not force anyone to visit my blog either–by some mystical working in your lives, you find yourselves here, reading what I have to write. God has given me ideas, God has sent me you readers, God has blessed me with the means to write and the motivation to write frequently. Nothing we have is ours. All of it, everything we have, everything we want, all our sufferings and all of our successes, come from God.
That is why I end (almost) every post with AMDG: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam: For the greater glory of God. Because that is what I hope my posts do–glorify Him. That you see what I write is a blessing. If you feel my writing glorifies God, I have succeeded.
Thank you for reading, and I look forward to many happy–or humble, or frightened–returns.