What makes a good blogger

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.

8 thoughts on “What makes a good blogger

  1. Jean

    You write: 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

    Dan? What about your blog?

  2. will shetterly

    For the record, I still say I’m a UU, though I feel a little funny being called a UU blogger ’cause I don’t feel representative of UUism. Yet UUism meets the folk definition of home, the place that will take you in when you go there, so I suspect the faith’ll have to disavow me before I disavow it.

  3. Bill Baar

    Good Judgment??? What’s the religious algorithm for making good religious judgments? Many religious stories and parables are of people making unconventional if not down right bad judgments.

    Thumb through a book on Unitarian or Universalist history and note the preachers featured. We’re they typical of their times? Or are they the minority we find useful today, but not judged particularly relevant in their times.

  4. Bill Baar

    Sorry… [i]Were they typical of their times?[/i]

    I’ve been reading Casara’s Universalism. The sermons and writings selected often the exceptions rather than the norms of Universalism at it existed at points in time.

    How would “judgement” at the moment filter out some of these guys.

    My threshold for a “good” UU blogger is are they concerned with the Church. Do they blog something (which could be something besides writing…in fact more video and audio would be a very good thing) that builds and expands the Church.

    My threshold for a “good” UU service is did I leave Church feeling better (not in a narrow sense but better for having attended), and maybe did I take away something useful for living my life.

    I’d put a similar threshold on UU blogging. A tool publishing thought “in the moment” is purely equipped to sort out “judgements” grounded in UUism.

    We’ll see those emerge over time, but the UUism that reflects on those judgements will also have emerged over time.

    It may not look very much like UUism today.

  5. Mickbic

    I will have to sort through Chris Walton’s work at my own leisure, having come to appreciate the UU blogosphere only in the past few months.

    I would hope that something can be said for longevity and sustainability when it comes to blogging. I am a very sporadic blogger, yet I hope to keep it going somewhat for a good long time.

  6. Dan

    Jean @ 1 and Ms. M. @ 4 — Thanks for the flattery, but this blog hasn’t ever had the influence and authority of Philocrites. Besides which, Chris is more widely read than I, certainly a better editor and arguably a better writer; he is better informed about the intersection of politics and religion.

    Will @ 2 — How about “blogger who happens to be UU”? And now that you mention it, in some ways I don’t really consider myself to be a UU blogger either. I produced a science fiction fanzine for several years, and in a bizarre way I think I’ve always thought of this blog as a continuation of that fanzine:– comments = LoCs; I still do the occasional con report; blogs have the same aroma of autodidacticism that fanzines have. I should probably be called “science fiction fanzine writer who wound up writing a religion blog by mistake.”

    Bill @ 3 — I’m using “judgment” more in the sense of sophrosyne, a sort of moral prudence and plain old common sense; if Chris Walton were older, I would say his judgment depends on the kind of knowledge the ancient Greeks called phronesis, the moral sagacity and wisdom that comes with age. By contrast, judgment that depends on algorithms would be linked, I think, to techne, which is a kind of technical knowing.

    It is possible to apply either kind of judgment to religion. Rowan Williams exhibits sophrosyne; Osama bin Laden does not. Both men are religious, and make religious judgments. The one man is characterized by moral sanity and self-knowledge; the other man is characterized by hubris and a kind of moral insanity.

    As far as judgment about religious matters that is linked to techne, I would expect to find such judgment among anthropologists of religion. I am not particularly familiar with this field, but I think my former next-door neighbor Benson Saler would be a fine exemplar of this kind of judgment (see, e.g., his book Understanding Religion.

    Bill @ 5 — I think you may be getting at something interesting here. I really want to see you rewrite this comment into a longer essay.

    Mickbic @ 7 — May I urge you to consider writing regularly while striving for longevity? It’s just that I’ve seen some really good bloggers stop blogging, not because they didn’t have anything to say, and not because they didn’t have a readership, but simply because they lost the habit of writing regularly. jfield of Left Coast Unitarian comes to mind — had he continued blogging regularly, I think he could have filled Chris’s place in the UU blogosphere.

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