Using social media and some basic rules to comment on this blog


A recent interview that Jordan Peterson conducted with Dr. Jean Twenge, an eminent social psychologist, as well as a recent article by a Patheos colleague and an eminent theologian, Roger Olsen, compelled me to establish some rules of basis for commenting on this blog. While I’m a huge advocate for freedom of speech and expression and the free flow of ideas, there are serious concerns about how social media affects our ability to have productive and healthy conversations. In fact, as Twenge points out, the use of social media can reinforce certain pathological behaviors. In particular, the use of social media facilitates narcissistic attitudes and dispositions. I therefore feel responsible for setting ground rules for the good of all of us, since we all have (at least according to my worldview) a penchant for narcissism, which is a form of pride, which Augustine considered as the basis of all sin.

A promise and some caveats

Before laying down the ground rules, however, let me make a promise to my readers: I will also hold myself accountable for the rules I present here. Anything else would be hypocritical, since I would be expecting one standard from my reviewers, while sticking to a different standard. This is what we call a “double standard,” and it is something the Bible forbids us to do (Proverbs 20:10, Matthew 23).

Second, however, allow me to offer some general caveats regarding my interaction with commenters:

  1. Because I really have to write this Blog, and because I make the effort to publish about two articles per week (which I don’t always manage to do), I can’t spend an inordinate amount of time replying to comments. I also have a privacy that prevents me from responding to every comment or feedback with the appropriate depth and scope. At some point, I have to stop responding to comments and move on to producing new articles. It is a constraint that cannot be changed.
  2. Due to this constraint, please do not be offended if your comments are not answered or if you feel that I have not answered enough. Time and capacity simply do not allow it. If you’re the type of person who gets offended easily, please refrain from commenting (I don’t want to allow that kind of narcissism). It may be healthier to refrain from commenting.
  3. As I constantly remind commenters who think I’ve “blocked” them unfairly, there is a filter on Disqus that often automatically sends otherwise reasonable comments to the trash. I don’t always see them, because they don’t show up in my notifications. Please realize this fact and, again, don’t get mad about it. Only God is omniscient. I am not God. I am therefore not omniscient. If I later realize that something that is an otherwise acceptable message has been sent to the trash folder by the algorithm, I will post it. Although, if I see it too late, there’s a chance I won’t be able to answer it. Again, this is just an unfortunate constraint.

Okay, now some ground rules for commenting on this blog.

Basic rules for commenting on this blog

Rule #1: Attack ideas, not me. In the still respected language of informal logic, do not use any ad hominem errors when commenting. To learn more about the types of ad hominem, see here. This rule is particularly relevant to commentators who consider themselves “woke” or who adhere to some form of “critical theory”, since these philosophical views specialize in making claims about the character or background of a person, instead of addressing their arguments. If you can make a legitimate point about the epistemology of the point of view, fine, but if you’re just throwing out the fashionable invective of the day, then know in advance that you’ll be stuck.

Rule #2: Do not post your own articles, or article-length comments. These can be links to articles you’ve written elsewhere, or lengthy treatises that are simply impossible to process (due to caveat #1 above). The first paragraph of this post is 140 words, for example. While I don’t want to impose a hard limit on the word count, I strongly suggest that you limit your comments to 300 words or less. Short comments will take priority over longer ones. Again, mainly due to time constraints. Think of reading this blog as attending a conference. When you rise to ask the speaker a question in the Q&A at the end of the presentation, you should keep your comments brief so that other people can also ask their questions.

Rule #3: Be sure to address claims that are explicit in the article. In other words, don’t go off on tangents unrelated to what was written. For example, if I see comments about “Republicans”, or “Donald Trump”, or “MAGA” or “Qanon”, I will assume that you are not serious as a commentator, but that you are trolling. Unless these topics, or others, were mentioned in the article I wrote, please refrain from commenting. In over 100 articles here on Patheos I have never referenced any of these topics, but I have had to delete many such comments. Of course, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t write about them in the future, in which case you’ll be welcome to comment if I do.

Rule #4: Use a real name. If you have an anonymous online name, I strongly suggest that you use your real name when commenting here. This is a problem with the type of online narcissism that Twenge points out in his book. It’s easy to hide behind false names and act like we wouldn’t otherwise. I don’t want to make it easy for commenters to use false names that conceal their true identity. This is socially problematic in that it alienates us all the more from each other as human beings. I don’t want to interact with a troll or a bot. I want to interact with people, especially people who disagree with me on ideas (although it’s nice to interact with those who also agree with me). This does not mean that you must use your full name, but at least an authentic first name or initials.

Rule #5: Don’t say anything in a comment that you wouldn’t say to me face-to-face. This is related to Rule #1, but it is also a pathology of our time. It’s like ranting all alone in your car to other people on the road (something we’ve all done, myself included). Again, I don’t want to facilitate or allow narcissistic behavior. If we were face to face (and I’m not a particularly big or muscular person), would you have the courage, or the decency, to say or refrain from what you post in the comments. If you wouldn’t have the guts to say it, then don’t post it. If you would have the decency to abstain, then don’t post it. Let’s not wear “internet glasses” like the average college kid wears “beer goggles.”

Rule #6: No sexually inappropriate or sexually explicit language (or swear words) is allowed, unless it is immediately related to something in the article in question. Since I often write about sex, gender identity, and sexual relationships, you may need to use sexual language to make your point. However, you should comment on sexual matters appropriately and with decency. If you can’t keep it clean, don’t post it.

Conclusion: a word of appreciation and encouragement

All this to say that I look forward to continued engagement with all of my current (and hopefully future) reviewers. Also, I thank all of you who have consistently engaged in my thoughts and musings here, even as we have disagreed, and often strenuously. In short, thank you all, thank you for reading and I look forward to further interactions. God bless you (even if you don’t believe in Him).

Finally, I want to encourage readers who participate in this blog to leave good comments. There are too few online dialogues that are both substantive and charitable. While I’ll always try to defend my position, that shouldn’t deter anyone from commenting. It’s high time we got back to being able to argue in a reasonable way. That said, if you disagree with me, you’re probably wrong.

That last one was a joke, sort of 😉

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