One of the slightly unnerving aspects of writing for cyberspace is that one’s readership is very much less well-defined than that for which one is used to writing. How does one focus one’s remarks? A journalist writes for a particular audience. Obviously, if you write for a secular newspaper, you write in a wholly different way from that in which you write for the Catholic press: that goes without saying. And you write for the Sun in a different way from that in which you write for the Mail and for the Mail than for the Sunday Times or the Telegraph (I know, because in different periods of my journalistic career I have written regularly for all of them).
But how do you write a blog for a Catholic paper? The comments show that some pieces one writes (though not others) are being read by people who wouldn’t be seen dead reading the print edition of The Catholic Herald. Anything about sexual morality picks up a huge amount of such comment, which is often very hostile. The fact is that some people are Googling, Googling, Googling all the day long: if their search terms pick you up, they read you, sometimes with incomprehension or extreme hostility.
My recent blog about the Chilean miners, posted while they were still being brought up, picked up some very different responses. I had argued that the real question was how the miners had kept up their spirits and failed to respond to the psychologist’s behavioural stereotype, that men confined in a small space will always end up fighting each other. My answer was that the shrine they had set up, with the crucifix and the statues of Our Lady and the saints, must have had a good deal to do with their spiritual resilience and their solidarity.
One cross Protestant response (from mamasnookems) was: “It was all God that kept them alive and sane! It has nothing to do with praying to an idol or a statue or saint, it was all Jesus! Praise Him and give the glory to Him and Him alone for He is God!” Well, quite, and it’s hardly worth explaining that we don’t actually worship statues or giving tortuous explanations of the Catholic cult of the saints, all of which will fall on stony ground indeed: the best unwitting response to mamasnookems was that made after a long quotation from my piece on an American website called “Priests’ Secretary” (“useful and timely information, news and commentary for Catholic priests”): “I give God thanks for all of those men being spared. I thank our Holy Mother too for her intercession, she always comes to our aid. Thank you my Jesus for answering everyone’s prayers.”
But that would leave mamasnookems thoroughly confused, and probably even crosser than before. The point is that her irruption into the comments is absolutely par for the course. One correspondent protested to her: “What are you doing putting nasty comments on a Catholic blog?”
Well, one thing she’s doing is to demonstrate that there’s no such thing as a blog one can control without unceasing censorship, which would rather defeat the object of the exercise: the blogger proposes; the blogosphere disposes. Anyone can join in: whether or not they are open to changing their mind is another matter. Who knows? Not I.