A Nation of Commentators

Some are nice, some are mean. Some are serious, some are funny. Most are intelligent but a few inane. Some are lengthy, complete with reference cites and links for further reading. Many are pithy.

I'm talking about comments at the bottom of blog posts.

All blogging software provides an optional comments feature that allows readers to write their thoughts about a blogger's posts. Some bloggers turn off the feature. Some keep it, but allow registered users only to comment. Others allow everyone to post, either anonymously or by name.

Some think the comments section — the “combox,” for short — is the spice of blogdom. In the comments, a person will find humor and insight from angles that the blogger never considered. It might be an expert in Latin or Italian providing a translation, a lawyer with a legal angle or a doctor with a medical analysis. You just never know who's going to stop by and weigh in. Sure, there are inanities, but, overall, the quality of comments in the Catholic blogosphere is high.

That's not to say that comments always work well. Comboxes require constant monitoring, either by the blogger or a friend who “has the blogger's back.” Challenging comments come from all sides — from inquiring readers to intelligent heretics to obnoxious “flamers” who want to cause trouble. The blogger must constantly be prepared to engage in an online battle of words, which can be time-consuming and may turn nasty.

Something about the electronic medium tends to embolden people, and a blog's comments section is occasionally the site of sharp exchanges. More than one blogger has shut down his blog shortly after a tiring battle with persistent and argumentative commentators.

There's also the problem of spam. Many Internet sites send worms to a blog's combox and leave generic comments (“Great post, sir!”), along with a link, in hopes of driving traffic to their site. It's not unusual for some blogs to get more spam than real comments.

If you're interested in reading a blog with excellent and informative combox discussions, go to Open Book (amywelborn.typepad.com/openbook), the blog of author Amy Welborn. Along with Welborn's incisive analysis, you'll find worthwhile perspectives from scores of commentators — Catholic writers, clergy and ordinary laypersons who are devoted to the Church and well-versed in its teachings.

Also recommended for their smart content and lively comboxes: Dawn Eden's The Dawn Patrol (dawneden.com/blogger.html), Jeff Miller's The Curt Jester (splendoroftruth.com/curtjester) and Mark Shea's Catholic and Enjoying It! (markshea.blogspot.com).

Feel Free to Flag

One hundred thousand new blogs go on-line every day — a new one every second. I can't blanket even just the Catholic region of the realm, so I invite reader recommendations ([email protected]). Please make sure the blog you recommend has been around at least one month and adds content regularly.

Don't throw rocks at me if your recommendation doesn't make it into this column. I have 900 words a month and probably 900 blogs worth visiting. You do the math. I will, however, feature at least one reader recommendation in every column.

Counting Catholics

Ever wondered how many Catholic blogs are out there? I have, and I've made this determination: No one knows.

John Mark Reynolds, the organizer of the first religious-blogger convention, GodblogCon (godblogcon.com), told the journal First Things (firstthings.com) that there are “literally millions” of religious bloggers, but that “if you're talking about people who write for folk other than their immediate church family and their immediate community, there are a couple of thousand serious Godblogs.”

That strikes me as a fair approximation. But how many of them are serious Catholic Godblogs?

It's nearly impossible to say, but a hand-count of Catholic blogs at the former clearinghouse of Catholic blogging, St. Blog's Parish, shows approximately 250 blogs. The thing is, the list is outdated by at least a year — and even last year it didn't contain many Catholic blogs. Since 2004, the total number of blogs worldwide has quadrupled. If Catholic blogs kept pace, they, too, have quadrupled, which means there are at least a thousand.

Such an approach isn't terribly scientific, but I doubt more reliable figures are going to be available for a long time. It's hard to pin down a target that morphs at lightning speed.

Ten-Gallon Blog

Don't be misled by his goofy cowboy hat that he displays on the front page: Jimmy Akin (jimmyakin.org) isn't a doofus. In fact, of the couple of thousand serious Godblogs on the 'Net, his is one of the best.

Akin knows varying degrees of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Spanish, Indonesian and American Sign Language (though the last one doesn't translate well on-line). He's learned in Church teaching and he's got a wonderful sense of humor.

Akin told me of his blog: “It's a place where I answer people's questions about the faith, engage in discussions and generally talk about whatever I find interesting. Fortunately, I find a lot of things interesting, so it's rather topically diverse.” Frequent points of discussion include theology, canon law, biblical interpretation, history, travel, current events, movies, books, TV, music, science, technology and humor.

You might also get a guest blogger, which is rare in the blogosphere, but neat. When the blogger is on vacation or otherwise indisposed, the guest blogger makes sure readers have something new to read every day. Akin's guest bloggers have included Catholic Answers’ Michelle Arnold and Register film critic Steve Greydanus. Akin has also written for Greydanus’ Decent Films website (decentfilms.com), which I believe to be the best Catholic resource for movie reviews on the Web.

Akin's site was named “Best Apologetics Blog 2005” by the Catholic Blog Awards, and with good reason. He defends the Church from insiders, outsiders and those with one foot in and one foot out. When the Church officially issued its controversial directive about homosexually inclined men in the priesthood, Akin penned a compassionate 1,100-word response to a reader with homosexual tendencies who wrote to ask advice about what the directive means.

And to return to the opening section of this column: Akin's blog also gets a lot of high-caliber commentary. Check it out.

See you again next month.

Eric Scheske's blog is

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