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.