Monday, November 26, 2012

Beware of Geeks bearing glyphs

So I made an offhanded remark about Leah Lebrisco hating football the other day.  I didn't make that up.  I had gone to her site to read about her conversion to Catholicism.  While looking through her various posts on the subject, I stumbled across this post, where she made it clear that her concern about all the concussions in football was not some unbiased observation about a potential danger.  It was something that she felt validated her utter hatred of everything to do with the gridiron.  And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do.

Leah appears to be one of those folks who wears the label 'geek' with pride and honor. More at home discussing the intricacies of an Expelliarmus, or the philosophical underpinnings of Hobbit fare than, say, watching a NASCAR race or being in the backyard with friends improvising some tackle-in-the-mud football.  She doesn't appear to be the only one.

The Blogosphere it typically dominated by people who can write.  To be brutally honest, I'm not one of those, as a perusal of my blog will demonstrate.  Oh, I can write well enough to get a thought down  but it isn't my gift, my talent, my passion   Many who can write, however, are drawn to blogging, and it is because of their talents and gifts that they develop  a readership.

Among those who can write is a certain subsection dedicated to all things nerdy.  I mean, never in history has a medium emerged more conducive to feeding the obsession behind what is typically considered geekdom than the Internet.  Especially the blogosphere.  Across the Web, you can find kindred spirits for almost any pastime  and those who obsess over the anatomical distinctions of Vulcan Ears can suddenly have a following in the hundreds who share their interests.

Leah's own blog often mixes a profound interest in ethics and philosophy with a proud display of unbridled nerdiness.  As such, she receives praises from others who share her particular interests, even if the greater topics of ethics, religion and philosophy were at odds.  Chief among those was Mark Shea, who introduced me and many of his readers to her blog.  And Mark is hardly unique within the Catholic Blogosphere for being one whose interests tend toward the non-athletic/non-jock world of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings or Star Trek   Many of Mark's readers and visitors, some who have their own reputable Catholic blogs, also seem to dwell in the land of make believe, and do so proudly.  Jimmy Akin and Sean Daily are  two examples of those who seem to possess that particular gene.  There are certainly many others as well. Not that all love of Fantasy is incompatible with sports or popularity either.  But there are those who certainly boast of setting the two worlds at odds.

That's all fine and dandy.  To each his own I always say.  But there is something that dawned on me as I kicked this around.  Those who embrace the glories of geekdom seem almost proud of the fact today.  No longer something to hang one's head over, many seem to boast that they were outcasts in school; that while most kids were wasting their time in sports or on this or that team or part of this social club, they were alone with their select circle of friends, set apart by their desire for that ultimate +4 Sword of Dragon Killing.

OK, now we're coming to the point.  It seems that the blogosphere in general has its fair share of such folks. It certainly appears that this particular demographic is well represented in at least a corner of the Catholic blogosphere as well.  I've made the case before that the Catholic blogosphere is dominated by many who are, for want of a better phrase, amateur apologists.  Many have no formal training, or if they have taken classes or even received degrees, they have done so apart from the gristmill of hands-on ministry.  In my ministry days, we could always tell the professors who had served in some form of pastoral ministry, and those for whom it was only an academic endeavor.  Those Catholics who have training often have it on an intellectual basis only, never having to filter it through the trenches of a crumbling marriage or an ICU with a dying child.  And those are the ones with degrees and training.

As such, the same trap that lurks around any minister no matter what the experience, is there for those amateur apologists, only more so   And that trap is being an advocate for The Faith, while at the same time slowly conforming the Faith to my own personal preferences.  One of the hardest parts of being a pastor was making sure the Word Proclaimed was God's Word (at least through whatever particular denominational interpretation), as opposed to my own personal opinion.  It wasn't an easy temptation to overcome.  Sometimes you begin proclaiming the Sacred Opinion of Me without realizing it.  If you were fortunate  you had someone in your congregation, or family, who was loving enough to let you know when you had gone to full-blown opinion mode.

But where so many have little to no training, where it can be an academic exercise in the sealed off world of the Blogosphere, I imagine the temptations to blur the line between Gospel Truth and my opinion are even greater, and subtler.  Some of the temptations may be nothing more than failing to realize that one's own identity may be the bias, the filter through which the Faith is lived out. And so we have bloggers who are proud of their geekdom, and seem to celebrate the fact that they were once the outcasts, they never really belonged, they were never joiners, they scoffed at those folks who sought popularity (or in some cases, obtained popularity) in the halls of high school.  Now, is it possible that this, to an untrained blogger, could end up being the prism through which the light of Gospel reflections is bent?

I thought about this as I reflected on the overwhelming call by some bloggers to just say 'no' during the election cycle.  There were many, and I mean many, who made it clear that fealty to either major party was nothing more than fealty to the devil himself.  Sure, you could technically vote for a major party candidate and not lose your soul, but it better only be because you admitted it was a lost cause and that both parties were the manifestation  of hell itself, all politicians and parties were basted in sinful corruption, and you were just doing it with the knowledge that it was a worthless act no matter what.

OK.  My question, upon reflection, was how much of this was good old Real Catholic Doctrine  and how much of this was because those who were calling down a pox on all party affiliation were, by nature of their own life tendencies, inclined to have adopted that feeling about belonging in general, at least belonging to what most others belong to?  I mean, could it be that they were being a tad bit influenced by a completely extra-Catholic disdain for belonging in the first place, a contempt for those who shuffle along and belong to what the majority belongs to?  Could it be less a serious and penetrating reading of Catholic tradition, and more a resurgence of that memory of sitting in the lunch room, and scoffing at all those losers who think being on the football or baseball team means anything, when they know full well it's pontificating about the best way to read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy?

Just a thought.  Not that there isn't a distinct biblical tradition of being strangers in a strange land for the serious disciple. Not that those who were, by their own accounts, outcasts don't have anything to bring to the table.  Sure they do, and when it comes to criticizing politics, it isn't as if there is no case to be made.  But in all things, I think it's worth remembering that there is what the Church teaches, and there is what it teaches filtered through our own biases and preferences and loyalties - be it blind loyalty to a party or candidate or movement, or even a lifelong tendency to heap scorn on any such loyalties  and therefore being blind to the party affiliation of not-belonging no matter what; conforming to non-conformity as it were.  Just a thought.

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