Sunday, August 21, 2011

Catholics in the Combox: Introductory Post

Sometimes the combox is like one giant pillow fight, and every now and then a fist lands in someone's kisser
Source: Pillow Fight in New York

I don't know about some of you, but it just seems like we Catholics in the new media and social media are always in one big pillow fight (or mosh pit).   I began to reflect on how we engage one another online and landed in the Summa for the first time in my life (here are some pretty good notes on how to read the Summa).  I got hooked.  I also got humbled.  Perhaps some day I'll be a Thomist; today I'm merely a new fan of the Angelic Doctor.  For now, I'd like to encourage you to join me on a journey to see what we can apply from his teachings, and the teachings of other saints and theologians, to our online activity.

I'd like to attribute this useful photo, so if someone knows the origin
please let me know.

This post series is not just for comboxers.  It's for bloggers, Facebookers, Tweeters, podcasters, vidcasters, and whatever else becomes popular in the next few minutes.  This is the first post in the, "Catholics in the Combox" series.  I hope to do one per week and I hope you will follow along and perhaps even share it with others.

Focus on behaviors  - not people, groups, sub-cultures, or organizations!

I want to spark discussion, but not just any kind of discussion.  I think one of the things that really gets us going is that we have lost the art of debating points and principles and are debating people.  We are getting quite personal in the process, expecting everyone to understand why we feel the way we do.   For that reason, this new post series I am doing will not point to people -  not even veiled.  The post series is strictly about behaviors.  Every one of us probably engages in these at various times without even realizing it, so there is no need to attach something to someone else.  Look inward as good Christians are suppose to do.   Therefore, in the combox for this series, I will not accept any comment which discusses people, groups, organizations or sub-cultures (trad, charismatic, progressive).  We aren't going to talk about specific events, news, or topics (liturgy, private revelations, etc.).  Rather, the focus must be on behaviors in general. 

Are we violating the 5th and 8th Commandments?

Many would agree that online, and perhaps offline, the 8th Commandment is being violated quite frequently.  I don't think it's willful as much as it is a manifestation of the lack of depth in our understanding of these things.  I wonder how many realize that there may also be violations of the 5th Commandment (see an Examination of Conscience based on the 10 Commandments here)?

Each post will feature a topic.  Here are just a few topics out of probably well over a dozen that are forthcoming:

  • Catholics in the Combox: Anger and Righteous Anger
  • Catholics in the Combox: Rash Judgment
  • Catholics in the Combox: Detraction

We will look closer at some other things that are applicable, as well, mainly in the area of the virtues which I think are not well understood.

Practicing the virtues moderates effects of our fallen nature

For those of us born after a certain year, we weren't really taught about the virtues and what kind of role they play in countering vices.  For those born prior to a certain year, those things may have been taught, but then not reinforced for the past 40 or 50 years.  They were further eroded within our culture which seems to value irreverence towards fellow humans amidst conflict than virtue.  Snark draws cheers and it becomes a contest to see who can tell someone else off the best.  We've lost them, and we cannot divorce our zeal for truth from them.  Catholicism is not just about facts and drilling them into others.  It's about passing along those facts in ways that others will best receive them.  This means knowing something about the various audiences.  Without practicing all of the virtues, we are somewhat feeble in our attempts to win the hearts of others to Christ.  Unchecked zeal is like a washing machine with all the clothes on one side.  It rocks and knocks out of control until you stop it and if you don't get there in time it will "walk" far enough away from the wall to yank the hoses off leaving behind one big mess.

If we truly believe that God's grace working in us is what changes hearts, then we must work towards a level of purity in ourselves that will maximize the graces we have to use in winning others.  Often times, changing hearts is like growing crops.  You prepare the soil, plant the seed, you water, and you wait.  There are many other stages that come before we get to see it all come to fruition.  Agitate the soil to aggresively and you kill the seedling.  Fail to water it and you get the same result.  It's a balancing act.  The most important thing is - patience.

I must admit that in the past few weeks that I've had my nose in the Summa, I've been quite humbled.  I've also been prompted to hit the confessional, perhaps more than once as I began to understand  certain things that have been largely hidden from my understanding.   This whole blogpost series is an attempt to get each of us to look inward, not at all those other people. We can't change them; we can only change ourselves. We can influence others in good ways or bad ways.  How we communicate our position has everything to do with how others will receive it.  I once had a math teacher who thought everyone who asked her questions wasn't paying attention.  I liked math, but her constant condescension whenever I asked for help or struggled with something made me hate it.   Years later, figuring I could never do algebra, I got a good teacher who was patient and if I didn't understand it one way, would find several other ways to explain the same thing.  He did not presume to judge my lack of understanding in the worst possible light and his patience payed off.  I discovered I was pretty good at math and enjoyed it.

Your Help Needed

I don't have all the answers.  I'm as prone to human fallen nature as the rest of you.  I want to learn and that is part of what this is about.  I need all of you to contribute to the discussion. When I discuss a certain topic I hope you will share your favorite quotes from various saints and theologians who have something to offer on the subject.  I'll bring St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ambrose, St. Alphonsus, St. Francis de Sales, Fr. John Hardon, SJ and a few others to the party.  I'm hoping you will be able to find other quotes from these and others so that when people find this post series, they will have much more to feed on from the combox than in the body of my post. 

I'm looking forward to putting our heads together and appealing to the saints to help us raise the bar in how we discuss all things Catholic on the web, and in person.   I'm hoping to hear from lay people, as well as from clerics, religious, philosophers, theologians and others.  For those who are not into commenting, you can send me an email and specify if it is just for me (leads, points, etc.) or if it is ok to post and how you want it signed. Send it to

The ultimate goal is to raise the bar in how we interact with one another online.  As Catholics, we are on display for the world to see.  Will they see us engaging in discourse in ways that are mindful of everyone's dignity?

Does this sound like a worthy pursuit to you?

I'll try to get my first post ready for next week. I'm not going to pre-announce the topic. I'll let that be a surprise (read that, I'm still thinking about what should come first). 

EDIT: Here is the first topic post:  01 Rash Judgment

This Combox

For now, in this combox, perhaps you can tell me what behaviors you find problematic in new media and social media.  Ah-ah-ah... but describe behaviors without referring to any person, group, sub-culture or organization!  That's the challenge!!!  Humor is welcome, labels and name-calling are not.  Let's not open rabbit holes up by bringing in side topics that are prone to side-track the whole discussion.  If you don't see your comment posted within a few hours, you can email me and ask about it. 

One more thing.  Don't just think before you post; pray before you post.  Really! Say a Hail Mary or some other appropriate prayer.


I am opening up the anonymous option because not everyone wants to use an Open ID.  Please note, that if you use the anonymous option, the first thing you should do is sign your post with your name or a pseudonym, then proceed above that, to write your thoughts (this way you won't forget).  Hopefully, you can appreciate how difficult it is to respond to 15 different people all using "Anonymous". 

UPDATE: Here are my guidelines and rules for posting in the series.  Please read the post before contributing in future, Catholics in the Combox, series.

For interesting news items I don't have time to blog on, check out my Twitter Feed: @TeDeumBlog

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!
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Nick Childers said...

Pride is a terrible sin, the cause of anger, lust, envy, and many other sins. I have suffered from it, and so have unfortunately come to experience (partially) some of its symptoms.

One of the worst qualities of the sin of pride (besides blindness to sin, your will being set in evil, being lead to other sins, and not receiving Divine Grace) is that the proud don't listen to others.

Common sins that pride leads to are sins against truth (comic exaggeration, hypocrisy, rash judgment, oath breaking, etc.), sins against love (pornography, cohabitation, lust, adult jokes, etc.), and sins against justice (omission of acts of religion, unjust war, insults, gossip, etc.).

Pray for all who suffer pride, that we may become meek and humble of heart like unto Christ Jesus the Lord.

Raymond of Monmouth said...

Great blog so far. I enjoyed the picture of the pillow fight and the analogy. Only I wish it was as simple as a pillow fight but some of what I have seen online is definitely worse. That is why your blog is so great. YOU BEGAN WITH WHAT WE MUST DO FIRST...LOOK INWARD TO OUR OWN LIVES AND CORRECT OUR FAULTS. Once this is done Grace will move us along. Summa is excellent although I am only able to digest a few questions at one sitting. It is a must read. May the Holy Spirit be with you, Lord Raymond of Monmouth.

Ruth said...

Diane, I am very happy you are doing this and I am looking forward to reading the installments and the Summa. I've been frightened of the Summa but hopefully no longer. God bless!

tom b said...

I agree with your comments regarding violations of the Eighth, and maybe the Fifth, commandments. I have reluctantly stopped following one Catholic blogger. That blogger has much good Catholic teaching and I miss reading those posts. However, I got tired of 8th commandment problems toward politicians. I am opposed to much of what those politicians stand for (so I agree with the blogger politically) but everyone deserves respect as a child of God and too many posts were gossip or inappropriate comments, humor, and put-downs. I found it difficult reading such inappropriate posts with the blogger identifying as Catholic. Seemed that Charity was missing.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

I would like to just point out for those who might not have caught it that this is an introductory post for a post series which will go into much deeper detail, with your help, on specific topics. I think once weekly is probably a good pace, but due to some obligations I have, that might stretch.

Ruth says, "I've been frightened of the Summa but hopefully no longer."

That about sums it up for me too, but I would say I was more initimidated by it. I didn't even know how to read it at first and had to ask someone for some help a few weeks ago with one part. That is why I found that link on how to read the Summa good to pass along. Wish I had found it a few weeks ago.

All entry level Summa readers, book mark this: How to Read Aquinas

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Oops - I forgot to open the anonymous option.

Please keep in mind that if I get a bunch of anonymous comments without a name or pseudonym, I'll have to shut that option and go back to Open ID only. I'd like not to have to do that so hit the enter key a couple of times, sign it, then begin writing above.

This is really a practice you should use at any blog that allows anonymous option.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

@tom b

I hadn't really thought about the politicians when i wrote it, but it is a good point.

What we have to keep in mind is that we cannot use evil means (or habits) to achieve a good end.

To my mind, it's not really sufficient to avoid mortal sin. We have to desire to please God by working to avoid venial sins too. This is where holiness really begins to grow and holiness is not just for some people. We are all called to holiness.

What I have found with myself is that it is easier to just say what I want and how I want, especially if what I am after is a good end. However, what we need to ponder is whether we have danced our way into things like rash judgment and detraction.

It is very tempting to follow the lead of a favorite political pundit, on-air personality, or actor who uses derision to make his or her point.

We are called to be counter-cultural and this is not limited to fighting for the lives of the unborn. I think we make that mistake. For some, that is a much easier, counter-cultural position to take, than to not engage in derision or rash judgment when we feel strongly about something.

Suffice it to say that it is probably best that we really keep narrow any discusson of politics lest this whole series get derailed. But, I think it is a valid point: We must practice the virtues in season, and out of season. We must practice them even if it means we will be less popular with our peers. In fact, that is precisely the kind of sacrifice Our Lord is looking for because such a move done out of righteousness is what gets others to stop and think.

"Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

You see, many would take this to the worst possible thing - physical persecution, martyrdom, etc. But if you are derided or made fun of because you choose to take a virtuous path to discussing contentious issues, it will be very pleasing to God, especially when you offer that suffering up (Col 1:24).

Consider then, how God's grace can work through such a person because of the purity with which they proceed.

This is why Mother Teresa, St. Francis and others like Servant of God Fr. John Hardon were so effective. For the most part, they practiced the virtues to heroic levels.

These are the kinds of heros we need today.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

ok - anonymous option is on. Please observe my request to sign with a name or pseudonym.

Wade St. Onge said...

I am so glad you are doing this, Diane. It is so needed.

The Christian life isn't about saying my prayers and doing my fasts - Jesus made that clear when he addressed the religious leadership of his day! Rather, it is about "virtue" - and I am sad to say that like many bloggers, I have often prayed my daily rosary but then went on to insult others, get excessively angry, use sarcasm, backbite, detract, etc. And by doing so, I become just like the religious leaders that Christ condemned.

The rules for commenting on my blog, actually, come partly from St. Francis de Sales and his classic on lay spirituality, "Introduction to the Devout Life". In Chapter 3, he goes through the various virtues and vices and gives, what I believe, is the greatest pastoral treatment of them (as a complement to St. Thomas, who gave us the greatest theological treatment of them in the Summa).

Jerald Franklin Archer said...


Thanks for presenting the Summa in the next few weeks, It is a work that I believe all Christians (not just Catholics) would do well to study. It is not all that complex if, like anything worth learning, one just applies some effort. I have just began a personal study of the work myself, so I will be following your posts most attentively.

In regards to comments, I used to be a rather rash and coarse (sometimes scathing) type, often forgetting the virtues of humility and charity. The world is in great need of Catholic Apologists who must possess a cool head and a quick answer. Of course there is only one truth, and those are taught by the Catholic Church, but one must consider that some individuals are actually unteachable and sometimes unreachable. Catholic thought and teachings often make some individuals very angry, of which I know now why, but it is pointless to attempt to spend hours debating with them when that time could be used much more wisely. The ignorance of the general public concerning the Church confounded me at first, but now I have come to accept it as more of a challenge than an insult. Their ignorance has made me a better Catholic who is able to better defend my Faith when called upon to do so.

But any art requires certain honed skills learned through experiences. I have learned to teach more than correct and that being done only in the spirit of charity and always praying for guidance before I post one word. To take a lesson from St. Therese, often the greatest lesson preached is silence (in some cases). I have had to live and learn and have discovered that the best way to educate others is by simply offering reliable references and infallible Church teachings, which are enough said in and of themselves. The offering of a reference will most always prompt the reader to look them up out of sheer curiosity, which is how we learn in the first place. Interest may be fostered and from there more learning, research, etc. We often forget that it could be that one small reference that may help another to seek the path to eternal salvation, which must be trod very carefully. God Bless You.

pilgrim said...

Corinthians 13 : 1-13, says it all.

I don’t do comments on my blog. To do so invites controversy which is not inclusive to receiving the peace the world cannot give.

Two questions I would ask any blogger: “Can you abstain for six months from blogging or accessing other blogs and commenting? If not, why not?”

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...


I don't think avoiding discussion is really the answer; it's learning how to disagree in a way that is mindful of the dignity of others, no?

With regards to your two questions, I think what you are raising are questions about moderation or temperance and mortification. Would you agree those are fitting descriptions for the questions?

I think those would be good areas to hit too.

pilgrim said...

Dianne wrote: “I don't think avoiding discussion is really the answer; it's learning how to disagree in a way that is mindful of the dignity of others, no?”

“In all things love” said Augustine, so disagree away but with love in your heart. Now there’s a challenge for oneself.

I’m just wondering what the reaction of a penitent would be if they confessed that they had been abusive to someone else in a comment box and the priest gave them a penance of abstaining from blogging for six months. I wonder if they would accept the penance with humility? Interestingly, yesterday being the feast of St Bernard of Clairvaux, I came across this quote of his:

Many of those who are humiliated are not humble. Some react to humiliation with anger, others with patience, and others with freedom. The first are culpable, the next harmless, the last just.

I guess there is an inherent danger in all good things becoming gripping and time consuming. Blogging is no exception, hence my question asking if bloggers could do without for six months. Who knows, we could find a sense of real freedom if we did so.

Alyssa said...

I wish the art of rhetoric was something in which more people were educated these days. I include myself in that We would know how to appeal to various audiences and how to argue effectively. I think it would do so much toward explaining and perhaps spreading the Catholic faith. I hope to change that with my children anyway. I always enjoy a good debate in which people argue intelligently without getting personal or taking things personally. I look forward to your future posts, Diane. I hope it leads to the outcome you are looking for.

I will add that I whole heartedly believe that it is so important that before anything, it is important to make sure one's own life is lived with virtue. It will do so much to win souls to Christ. Speaking need not always be done with the mouth.

Thank you for this endeavor and the link to reading the Summa.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...


OK - you provided some context for the "6 months without blogging".

Quite honestly, I think every blogger, and anyone involved in promoting the faith through any means be it blogging, facebook, podcasting, video, even news portals, should have a regular confessor and go frequently.

Experience is a series of mistakes and over the past 5 years that I have run this blog, I have had my share of regrets that took me into a confessional. I believe many others can attest to the same.

This is the positive side of these efforts, that despite the tensions and disagreements, they provide opportunities to find our weaknesses so we can grow spiritually.

I seriously doubt that any confessor would tell someone to break for a full 6 months.

However, many people give up blogging for Lent.

Part of what you are getting at falls under "attachments".

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

@Alyssa - It's funn you should mention rhetoric. I just mentioned that to a friend in the past couple of days - my regret that I had not studied such subjects.

I think schools need to bring back these kinds of arts. The world would be a better place if we learned such skills.

Louis Bélanger said...

Dear Diane,

You have had a marvellous idea...

My favourite quaestio from the Quaestiones disputatae de veritate:"nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu" [Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses] (De veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19)
It has always accompanied my studies and research in philosophy, theology, and psychology. The complex universe that exists between the data presented to our sensory receptors and the decoding or perception of the said data is a fascinating object of contemplation. Still today, in the study of mystical ecstasy, for instance, one can apply fruitfully that Aristotelian view integrated by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Long live your Blog!



Suburbanbanshee said...

Re: kinds of behavior

Obviously, there's the Insult Direct and the Insult Obscene (or Racist, or otherwise beyond the pale of polite invective). On the whole, one prefers the Insult Direct; but it's a lot easier (if more wearing) to improve discussions by simply deleting the obscene posts.

Probably the most disliked behavior is the person whose comment or argument is always the same thing. A perpetual helping of "everything is X's fault" is really boring and thus annoying. It refuses to admit anything else into the conversation, and tries to shut all others down. Even people who agree with such posters don't like them to be so repetitive about it.

Mentioning a flamewar elsewhere in such terms as to bring other people into it is often a bad idea. Ditto, telling somebody what other people are saying about him elsewhere. One may think one is being helpful, but it never works out that way.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

@Louis - I look forward to your participation and the knowledge you can bring as you seem to be well read. Having spent many years in a university you also have had a good look at learning and how it has changed through the years. I myself feel I should ask for a refund due to a dumbed down curriculum.

richard said...

I'm looking to commenting at this site. Be assured that my comments will be short and to the point.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

To Veronica

Please resubmit a new comment without referencing any persons or cases.

Try to find a way to reframe your thought without introducing a topic that is sure to derail the discussion into talk about that.

shadowlands said...

"For now, in this combox, perhaps you can tell me what behaviors you find problematic in new media and social media."

Taking the rest of your post as a guidline when thinking about your request above, I decided my immediate concern should be my own behaviour, so that is what I will focus on first.

What a truly inspired post! I think this is a much needed reflection for all of us.

God bless the peacemakers.

Fran said...

Hello Diane, thank you for this. It is an issue that troubles me greatly.

I have gotten into my fair share of combox tussles, although that is never my intent. I pray for wisdom and in that I end up saying less and thinking more.

I will be following your posts on this topic with great interest.

Tom said...

I did an informal series of posts on anger, built on my inexpert reading of St. Thomas, some years back.

Morgan said...

Is the behavior problem exclusive to the combox? Often the tone of the blog sets the tone for the combox. There are increasing numbers of blogs in which the M.O. is to create discord in order to ramp up the hits. This usually happens on the magazine-style sites where there are several bloggers, all vying for the attention of the entire readership, and where hits = ad money.

Behaviors I find troublesome are the posts or comments that deliberately bait other blogs, websites or even factions within the Church. Especially problematic are the bloggers who do this and then disappear, allowing the comboxes to blow up into 100+ comments of pure vitriol from all quarters.

Any blog that uses snark and sarcasm in order to show up one type of Catholic and praise another is bound to end up with comboxes full of exactly what that kind of writing deserves.

There are as many bullying, disrespectful, cruel, rude and angry bloggers as there are commenters and yet, for all the bloggers who write about the problems of the combox, I've never seen one post regarding the behavior of bloggers themselves. I've also never seen bad behavior in the comboxes of blog authors who keep their eyes on Christ instead of their statcounter or comboxes.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

Ok - I'm on my lunch hour at a Buffalo Wild Wings...

@Morgan - you may have missed this paragraph near the top of my post:

This post is not just for comboxers.  It's for bloggers, Facebookers, Tweeters, podcasters, vidcasters, and whatever else becomes popular in the next few minutes.  This is the first post in the, "Catholics in the Combox" series.  I hope to do one per week and I hope you will follow along and perhaps even share it with others.

I used Catholics in the Combox because it was a catchy title and because many of the mediums used include comboxes. And, an application like Facebook is one big combox, is it not? The majority of blogposts involve commentary by the blog owner, so it was on my mind, as well. It may also apply to news services. Journalistic standards which are in harmony with the Gospel and teachings of the Church should be practiced. But, given the way many secular sources have descended, we need to take care not to imitate or follow those "acceptable" secular standards which are not in harmony with the Gospel or teachings of the Church.

Does this make sense?

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...


There are 3 comments I had to reject.

2 were due to specific topics, and names of people or groups. While they are valid points, please understand why I do not want them in this post series. You may reframe your comment in a way that does not refer to any specific case, news story, person, group, organization or sub-culture. I'll add to that labels.

What do I mean by labels, groups and subcultures? Here are examples:

Progressive, orthodox, liberal, conservative, traditional, charismatic, neo-con, republican, democrat, tree-hugger, etc

Hopefully, everyone understands that we can discuss behaviors in general without attaching them to any person or group. We can also do this without tossing labels around. There is merit in discussing that some groups or subcultures may be more prone to certain behaviors, but not in this series.

I also want to re-iterate that there are valid points concerning specific news stories or events. But you should know that the comboxes for this series will turn into a field of rabbit holes if I allow that.

Fair? This is going to really challenge people to take the high road. It can build skills we sorely need out there. I hope people from the various groups and subcultures will find the discussion informative and helpful, not intimidating and something to avoid.

I had to reject one other comment because it was just too far removed from this discussion.

Morgan said...

Diane, yes it does. The misunderstanding is mine, sorry about that!

I guess I was just reacting to the "combox" term because of the rash of blog posts along the lines of "X Types of Catholic Commenters" that was going around a while back. I was always left wondering where the "X Types of Catholic Bloggers" posts were. But if you wrote that one, or responded in the comboxes with something along those lines, you'd be called a troll, haha.

I dunno...sometimes I think the internet truly is the abomination that causes all desolation, or however that goes.

Diane M. Korzeniewski, OCDS said...

I realize my post is somewhat long. I am
Not gifted with brevity.

I'm would encourage those coming here to read my full post before commenting. It might clear some things up.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, Diane. I posted my comment before I read through completely what you had written. It was then I realized what I had done wrong.

I have to agree with Morgan's comments. It has occurred to me that the internet fora and blogs have done more harm than good. We aren't any holier or virtuous; in fact, I would go so far as to say we are more malicious than ever. How did we ever get this bad?

Not a few outside the Church have been turned away from becoming Catholic on account of our internet behavior. Who can blame them?

Once again, I agree completely with everything Morgan wrote. Often I think that satan has complete control of the internet. We are more divided than ever.


Kevin Symonds said...

Ok, put me down as the occasional referee who throws the ball back into play :)


Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

Have you been reading These Stone Walls? It certainly sounds like it, and I think you should -- Fr. MacRae sounds like your kind of priest.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Of course, the main reason people get mad in comboxes is because they feel they can't speak their minds elsewhere.