Liberal religion on the Web: year-end reflections

Unitarian Universalist blogs remain a tiny presence on the Web. According to UUpdater, a news aggregator which casts a pretty wide net, there are around 205 Unitarian Universalist blogs — 205 out of some 55 million total blogs. According to Technorati, a Web site that tracks and ranks blogs, the most popular Unitarian Universalist blog currently is undoubtedly Philocrites, which Technorati ranks at 24,382nd out of all blogs. Forget the top hundred — Unitarian Universalist blogs don’t even make the top twenty thousand. (We used to have one blog in the top twenty thousand, before Shawn Anthony, of Lo Fi Tribe, stomped angrily and suddenly out of Unitarian Universalism into mainstream Christianity this past fall.)

Beyond the narrow confines of Unitarian Universalist blogs, I suspect that liberal religion doesn’t fare much better on the Web. My service provider tells me that he hosts “hundreds” of Bible-thumping Christian sites, conservative Islamic sites, and other religious conservative Web sites. Mine is one of the only liberal religious sites he hosts.

Brian Maclaren, an evangelical Christian best known for his work on what’s called “Emergent Church,” has said that that mainline Protestants and religious liberals are theologically liberal and methodologically rigid. I feel that captures us pretty well. I am continually surprised at how many Unitarian Universalists dismiss the Web as, well, frivolous. I led a workshop on creating great content for church Web sites at our annual denominational meeting back in June, and quite a few of the participants spoke to me later about their frustration as they tried to convince their congregations to spend any time or energy (let alone money) on the church Web site. Yet it is becoming clear that as many as half of all newcomers find out about our churches through the Web.

Beyond simple marketing, I get the strong feeling that Unitarian Universalists, and religious liberals more generally, simply do not understand how a strong presence on the Web can serve us well. We are such a tiny presence in the national dialogue (let alone the world) that we simply must use all the means at our disposal to make sure our message is heard — and that it is heard clearly, accurately, and without distortion. Everyone knows what the conservative Christians believe about the Bible, about evolution, about same-sex marriage — but how many people know that there are other (religiously liberal) ways of looking at those same issues?

Since we don’t get our message out, we have people like Richard Dawkins trash-talking religion. Sure, he’s an idiot for equating all religion with conservative doctrinaire Christianity. But it’s not like we give him the opportunity to learn about Unitarian Universalism, or any other liberal religion. How is Dawkins going to find out about us?

One thing we can and should do immediately: take it upon ourselves to make sure that our congregation’s Web sites, and our personal liberal religious Web sites, are useable and easy to find. Get Steve Krug’s book on Web usability, Don’t Make Me Think, read it, and apply what’s in that book to your church’s Web site (I spent half a day applying some of Krug’s principles to my congregation’s Web site, and traffic quadrupled in a year). Read Google’s advice to Webmasters on how to optimize your Web site’s ranking on Google (I’ve been paying attention to this on my own site, so that now if you enter “Dan Harper” in Google, my site comes up in the top ten listings rather than buried two pages back).

A second thing we can all work on together: find, encourage, and support liberal religious writers who could present our message to a national audience. For that matter, find, encourage, and support filmmakers, singer-songwriters, and other artists who could do the same thing.

Let’s make a resolution for 2007: that we religious liberals will be, not just theologically liberal, but methodologically liberal too.

2 thoughts on “Liberal religion on the Web: year-end reflections

  1. Bill Baar

    Thanks for getting the comment box fixed on this.

    Methodically rigid is an understatement I fear.

    I haven’t read it yet, by E J Dionne wrote a review of David S. Brown’s “Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography”.

    Dionne notes Liberalism wrong turn and describes it,

    …there was something dismissive about Hofstadter’s analysis that blinded liberals to the legitimate grievances of the populists, the progressives and, yes, the right wing.

    The late Christopher Lasch, one of Hofstadter’s students and an admiring critic, noted that by conducting “political criticism in psychiatric categories,” Hofstadter and his intellectual allies excused themselves “from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation.”

    Lasch added archly: “Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.”

    There is a good deal of that among UUs today and I think it explains the lack of blogging. It’s easier just to dismiss people as bamboozled by the evangelicals, bamboozled by Bush, bamboozled by whomever. Instead of the difficult work of judgment and argumentation, we just get these frankly appalling arguments that our Family life is simply better, we have lower divorce rates.

    This sermon gets served up to our framing the issues talk and I said it made UU’s look like perfect prigs to talk this way of divorced people.

    Evangelicals have a message they feel compelled to tell. I sit in the bible study at the homeless shelter and hear people make testimonials about incredibly broken lives. Most UU’s I think don’t like to sit in on a study group like this because they don’t have a clue what to say to a person who talks about their screwed up life. Evangelicals sure do. If all we have to hold up is Doug’s family sermon, I’m not sure we have much to say… and that may explain why so few of us blog.

  2. Administrator

    Hi Bill — There’s a lot in what you say. The use of psychology to silence dissent is widespread in liberal religion, e.g., the people who use James Fowler’s theory of faith development to say that anyone who doesn’t agree with us must be in a lower stage of faith development. (You can find my short critique of Fowler on this page: .) And yes, it does make Unitarian Universalists and other religious liberals look like perfect prigs.

    You also write: “Evangelicals have a message they feel compelled to tell.” A few of us religious lbierals do feel as if we have a message to tell — I do, in a very minor way — more to the point, people like Bishop Spong and John Dominc Crossan are religious liberals who feel compelled to tell their message to the world (and yes I guess even the Da Vinci Code guy could be considered a religious liveral, even though he uses scholarship that’s 30 years out of date). And for goodness sakes, read what Tim Berners-Lee has written here: — he really has an interesting take on UUism — think about the World Wide Web as an expression of liberal religion (even if religious lbierals refuse to use it effectively)….

Comments are closed.