By Anthony Manousos
Are blogs and social networking Quakerly, and if so, why? This is a question which practitioners of most religions probably don’t bother asking, but Quakers like to question everything, so I felt it might be helpful to explain why I think blogging is a quintessential Quaker form. Second, I would like to address the question: what is the purpose of our Quaker universalist blog?
First, blogging and social networks are Quakerly because they are essentially online journals or diaries, recording thoughts and insights that come from daily experience. Journals, or spiritual autobiographies, were and continue to be a distinctively Quaker genre because Quakerism is based on religious experience, not dogma or creeds. As Howard Brinton once observed, for Quakers, biography and autobiography often take the place of theology.
Like Quaker meetings for worship, social networks are open and interactive. Anyone can take part and share a message. This can be scary to those who like to be in control, but our Quaker process is based on radical trust in the goodness of each human being. Social networks are likewise based on the belief that the benefits of openness outweigh the risks (such as being hacked, or having one’s privacy invaded—problems which will be addressed later).
Second, social networks are egalitarian. Facebook and blogs are free. Anyone can take part, even someone who doesn’t own a computer. To start a blog, all you have to do is go to a public library, sign up at a free site like wordpress or blogger, and voila! you’re a blogger! What other means of communication better embodies our Quaker testimony on equality?
Third, blogging is public, and open to everyone. Theoretically, Quaker magazines are available to everyone, but the vast majority of readers are doubtless Quakers. Social networks are much more inclusive. They are like the market places where early Friends used to go to share their message, often at great risk, since the message of Quakerism was often seen as subversive and threatening to the powers-that-be.
During a recent meeting, several Friends explained that they avoid Facebook and blogging because of security risks from hackers and identity thieves. These risks are real, but relatively minor compared to the risks faced by early Friends, such as the Valiant Sixty. Early Friends who spoke out in the market place were beaten, arrested, and thrown into dungeons where many lost their lives. Such persecution didn’t daunt early Friends, however; it may have even helped the movement to grow. If Quakerism is going to continue as a spiritual movement, we must be public and we must take risks.
Finally, blogs and social networks are Quakerly because they help build community. Because social networks are interactive, they help people stay in touch who are separated geographically. They bring various social circles together in radically new ways we are just beginning to understand. For instance, we have learned that social networks can even help bring about social revolutions, as we have seen recently in the Middle East.
Social networks are not panaceas of course. They are not a replacement for but a supplement to face-to-face interaction. But they have become an essential part of modern life. To make a difference in today’s world, Friends need to understand and use social networks effectively.
The purpose of the Quaker Universalist blog is to connect Friends interested in Universalism and in interfaith cooperation. Ours is an open forum where Friends can share their insights and experiences with others. We hope that over time, we can help build a new interfaith religious community that embodies our Quaker belief in the universality of the Light.
Please feel free to contact me at interfaithquaker.org if you have a posting you’d like included on this blog. And please feel free to comment on our posts. We value your thoughts and ideas!
I would like to end today’s reflection on blogging with my review of Liz Oppenheimer’s excellent book on Quaker blogging—a “must-read” for anyone interested in this topic.
Writing Cheerfully on the Web: A Quaker Blog Reader. Edited by Elizabeth A. Oppenheimer. 2009. pp. 273. $19.95. For those who prefer books to the internet, this is an excellent intro to Quaker blogging (for those totally unfamiliar with the internet: a blog is a web journal, a personal op ed, similar to a column in a newspaper). This compendium is also useful for those who haven’t had time to keep up with Quaker blogs and are curious about what’s been happening in the Quaker blogosphere over the past few years. The voices of Quaker bloggers like Liz Oppenheimer, Martin Kelley, Peggy Parson, Peterson Toscano et al carry a vibrancy and freshness that is sometimes lacking in the more carefully vetted print versions of Quakerism. Blogs tend to be short, personal, and pithy, and sometimes irreverent. Take the opening of Peterson Toscano’s essay on ministry called the “M Word”: “No, this is not a reference to a TV show about meterosexual men. The M word as in Ministry.” A great way for a stand up comic to talk about discovering that comedy can be a form of ministry. The section on “Convergent Friends” helps clarify this much discussed term describing an internet-inspired “movement” of Conservative and liberal Friends who have been meeting virtually and face-to-face to have dialogue and build connections. Ranters, pagans, non-theists, and Christ-centered Friends of all flavors share their stories in real time via blogs. Like Spirit Rising, this is essential reading for anyone interested in the vitality and diversity of contemporary Quakerism.