Chris Walton has decided to end his blog Philocrites, and his decision got me thinking about what makes a good Unitarian Universalist blogger.
Until a year or so ago, when Chris drastically reduced the frequency of his posts, Philocrites was the most authoritative and influential Unitarian Universalist blog. Part of the authority and influence of Philocrites was due to its longevity; Chris began writing it in 2002, one of the earliest Unitarian Universalist bloggers, and kept on writing it after many of the other early bloggers dropped their blogs. Yet longevity cannot fully explain the authority and influence of Philocrites; there are other Unitarian Universalist blogs that are nearly as old as Philocrites, but none of them has filled that central role in the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere.
Chris’s solid writing contributed more to the authority and influence of Philocrites. In addition, Chris is also a good editor, and an editor who can successfully edit himself. Chris uses the plain style: his prose is straightforward, not flowery, designed to communicate what he has to say as clearly as possible. As an editor, Chris edited himself for clarity: his posts contained little or no extraneous verbiage and very few typographical errors or other distractions. I was especially grateful for his careful self-editing: very few self-edited blogs (in or out of the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere) live up to such high standards.
For me, good writing also requires good thinking. Here again, Chris excels. He remains one of the more interesting Unitarian Universalist thinkers. He is not an academic, but he is familiar with the academic literature of liberal religion. He is not ordained, but he has a better knowledge of practical theology than many ordained ministers. He was able to connect religion to other areas of life, especially politics. Even when I didn’t agree with Chris, what he wrote at Philocrites consistently helped me to think more carefully, and often more clearly. I wish liberal religion had more public intellectuals like Chris:– not specialists or academics, but intellectual generalists who are able to write intelligently about a wide range of topics.
Chris also exhibited good judgment. There are plenty of Unitarian Universalist bloggers who write well and think well, but do not exhibit the sure and quick judgment that we got in Philocrites. Judgment is a part of being a public intellectual. It is not enough to be smart; it is not enough to write well; a public intellectual must also have good judgment and be willing to make judgments about the current state of things.
Philocrites had good writing, good editing, good thinking, and good judgment; Chris, in his own small way, was (and is) a public intellectual. Thus Philocrites remains one of the few Unitarian Universalist blogs that non-Unitarian Universalists bothered to read. I hope Chris will continue to develop as a public intellectual, and I hope he will seek out a wider audience, beyond the narrow and parochial world of Unitarian Universalism.
Is there a blog that can fill the place of Philocrites? Not right now. The Unitarian Universalist blogosphere, loosely construed, continues to be a lively place: Peter Bowden’s infectious excitement about growth; the quiet musing of Carrots and Ginger; the Chalice Chick cabal; the sometimes manic and telegraphic posts of Will Shetterly (though I’m not sure Will still thinks of himself as a Unitarian Universalist); and many, many others I take delight in reading. But at the moment, I do not see a Unitarian Universalist blogger who combines good writing, good editing, good thinking, and good judgment with the desire and ability to become a public intellectual grounded in Unitarian Universalism.
Not that I aspire to such a thing, and I suspect most Unitarian Uniersalists bloggers are like me in this respect — we are quite happy doing what we do for our somewhat narrow intended audience. I just wish someone else would come along to fill that role of public intellectual within the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere.