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From Slacktivism to Activism…at Wheat & Tares

August 15, 2012


I finally published a post that I’ve sat on for at least two weeks at Wheat & Tares — From Slacktivism to Activism: Can Blogs Be Relevant?

Samuel the Lamanite Preaching to Zarahemla

This post culminates from several different conversations I’ve had online or been a part of offline.

Firstly, I’ve been thinking about what the best way is to create a more inclusive environment at Wheat & Tares. I regret that discussions can so easily become lopsided — with more critical voices. At Sunstone, I believe Jack remarked that when one has a space where voices from all parts of the Mormon belief map can speak, it so often is the case that the critical voices will overrun the faithful voices.

Our challenge with Wheat & Tares has been to offer a place where people can feel comfortable commenting…but that includes the following: critics, questioning members, faithful members. If we only create a space for one group or another, we are just going to get some of the echo chamber effect or the dogpiling that happens at many of the other sites.

…so that was the ideal. The thing was, one of my co-bloggers, Bonnie, pointed out that many faithful members find the blogging thing to be an irrelevant distraction. Talking about controversial issues doesn’t help their faith…and that’s not because faith has no arguments in favor of it, but rather that their faith is borne and exercised by action. The discussion and debate that so thrills us…making us think we’re getting closer to “truth”…well, other people would rather help someone on the ground. You know, in a tangible way.

At Sunstone, I went with Jon Adams (if I say he is now merely an emeritus blogger at USU Reason, maybe that will guilt him into starting a new blog or something?) to a session entitled: Confronting Romney In the Streets: Grassroots Resistance to Capitalism and the Mormon 1%.

After the first few minutes of the session, when Ashley and Tristan and Joshua made it abundantly clear that the plan was to develop action items by the end of the hour-and-a-half session…I felt a bit antsy. I’m not that politically involved a person. And I certainly don’t know anything about activism.

The discussion made me rethink blogging and activism — especially on Mormon issues or from a Mormon perspective. Without even getting to huge world issues like imperialism, economic injustice or whatever, let’s just look at the church. We blog so much about liberal/progressive/uncorrelated/unorthodox Mormonism — or at least blog to evoke a liberal, progressive, uncorrelated, or unorthodox style — but how do we take this back into the offline world…either through our wards or elsewhere?

I need to write a follow-up post for a place like Main Street Plaza, I think. Because for ex-, post-, and former Mormons, the question is similar. How do we leverage the experiences that we have and the knowledge that we have with the offline world?


  1. Seth R. permalink

    I went through a phase of criticizing the LDS Church when I first discovered the bloggernacle. All this opinion I didn’t have an outlet for earlier could suddenly find voice. For about 3 years, I was a heavy participant and often critical about the LDS status quo.

    But eventually, I got it out of my system and made a realization –

    It’s always more fun to criticize than to defend something. Even if your criticisms are full of crap.

    In a debate, the attacker always has the automatic advantage. Because he gets to set the terms of the argument, get all his desired soundbites out, and rig the game in his favor. Also, people are generally vicious –

    As such, they naturally like to see something attacked an torn down. It’s the same mentality that drives TV ratings for Jerry Springer and “reality” TV shows, and why the term “realism” in books and entertainment almost always is actually a euphemism for “morbid fascination with shit in life.” Like the Roman spectators in the Colosseum – eager to see gladiators draw blood – people in generally love to see something respected attacked and pulled down.

    That means these online experiments will ALWAYS have a natural, inborn tendency to gravitate toward criticism and hostility. Being a critic is easy, and everyone views it as a simple way to turn themselves into a respected hero. “Oh look at that brave ‘little guy’ speaking truth to power!” It’s the same thing with martyr narratives and sob stories as people leverage their personal histories for short term currency on the Internet.

    Also, human brains seem to actually be biologically wired to be biased in favor of “new” information – no matter how flawed that new information may be. An illustrative quote:

    “Social psychologists have indeed documented that when people forget the source of their knowledge, beliefs can be unduly influenced by the statements of people who lack credibility. Suppose, for example, that Professor Jones, a self-professed memory expert, tells you that it is possible to remember events that occur during the first weeks of life. But you also learn that Jones’s Ph.D. is a fake and that he has never had any formal training in memory research. You will be inclined to dismiss his claims about memories of infancy, but a week later you are more likely to accept them because you may have forgotten that he is a noncredible source. Such findings are particularly worrisome because social psychologists have also demonstrated convincingly that people are generally biased in the direction of believing new information.”

    [Daniel L. Schacter, Searching For Memory: The Brain, The Mind, And The Past (p. 117)]

    This means that even when we encounter new information that is discredited and unreliable – we tend to forget how stupid the source of that information was and enshrine it in our psyches anyway. I can only guess that this is why John Dehlin repeatedly mentions the word “steel” in the Book of Mormon as being a “damaging” anachronism – even though this objection is one of the stupidest, most thoroughly refuted, trivial, and obviously misguided criticisms made against the book.

    His brain won’t let him let go of how “shocking” and “new” and “exciting” that information was when he first encountered it. And now it’s enshrined in his brain as one of those unquestionable “facts” about the Book of Mormon.

    We’re just wired this way. It’s always easier to destroy and knock down, than to create and maintain.

  2. Seth,

    your comment is great at knocking down too. I guess the one fact of the matter is that John Dehlin is creating and maintaining…and that is something that many people find to be problematic. (E.g., anyone who suggests that John is creating his own schismatic church has this problem.)

  3. Seth R. permalink

    Well it gets more complex than that I think. Every organization contains a mixture of creation and destruction. Joseph Smith was unquestionably creating something. But he was also unquestionably attacking something in the process (the old sectarian system).

    Likewise, John Dehlin is attempting to create a community – but his attempts are absolutely laced with relentless negativity about the church as well. My overwhelming sense of John Dehlin is that he never met a critic he didn’t like. I’ve never gotten the sense that it ever occurred to him that critics of the LDS Church could ever be wrong, dishonest, or simply misguided.

  4. I wouldn’t say that JD’s attempts are absolutely laced with relentless negativity about the church — but more of a disappointment at the church not reaching its potential.

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