Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blogging as Pamphleteering

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press around 1450. Thus, pre-blogging was born. The 16th Century Protestant reformation rode the wave of pamphleteering (the mass printing and distribution of documents usually critical of the “establishment” church). The early pamphlets came from within the church. Erasmus had some real zingers, even though he never left the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the most famous pamphlet was Luther’s 95 theses on the indulgences that some enterprising hot-head copied and distributed far and wide courtesy of the printing press. This two was a criticism of the church from within the church, but it began the discussion that led to the schism.

Someone at Band of Bloggers compared blogging to pamphleteering. Perhaps the masses today can be influenced by the written word on blogs like Europe was taught by pamphlets in the 16th Century?

In my last post I considered some limitations and pitfalls associated with blogging. I’m posting this separately because the topic of blogging as pamphleteering intrigues me. Can blogging be this kind of a cultural force? I have my doubts. There are many significant differences between Europe in the 16th Century and North America in the 21st Century.

  • The masses are distracted. Reformation and counter-reformation debates were big news because there was far less competition for the attention of the populace. How many reading / viewing / playing options do we have in our information age?

  • The masses are atomized. There are about five million sub-cultures in Western culture today on ethnic, economic, geographical, religious, age and countless other grounds. The light and ethereal nature of the ‘net only compounds this atomization. Gospel blogging is mostly preaching to the choir, I’m afraid.

  • The masses are divided. Until relatively recent times, churches were established on the parish principle. In the early days of the Reformation, there was one church in a community. Pamphlets charging The Church with error were big news in a unitary society. Today, there is a tremendous smorgasbord of spiritual “options.” What D.A. Carson calls philosophical pluralism has really flattened out all of this diversity, marginalizing and individualizing truth claims to the point that the individual blog-reader will yawn at what he considers useless controversy.

I hate to be a spoil-sport, but I really don’t hold out a lot of hope for blogging as an agent of cultural change. I do not think that the comparison with pamphleteering in the past holds much water. I would love to be proven wrong, but that’s my two cents worth.

In my next post, I would like to write on some of the positive aspects of blogging and the opportunities available to good bloggers.  However, let me leave this grumpy post on a positive note. I do think that within the Christian community, Gospel centered blogging can have a positive influence and serve as an encouragement to like-minded believers.

Stay tuned …


BugBlaster said...

I agree Terry. I don't think blogging can be nearly as effective at gaining and holding attention as that old pamphleteering was. Too many distractions and short attention spans.

Two possible uses of writing Christian blogs:
- Edification of brothers and sisters in Christ.
- Sowing seed (maybe) in the hearts of unbelievers that flit in for a brief visit

Ian said...

The Oilers were pretty sweet again last night! Who knows, maybe Lord Stanley'll make his way to the oil patch this year?

stauf46 said...

Thanks, Neil. Stay tuned for part 2. I'll post a hymn for Sunday, but I don't know if I'll get to "creative blogging" for a day or two - church and family responsibilities have to come first.

They've played better games, Ian, but they won, which is what counts! We're trying to keep our hopes realistic, but I do believe they have a good chance to make it!