Nun Coshed in Facebook Fight

by Digitalnun on December 30, 2013

At the week-end I posted on Facebook a link to Esquire‘s Style Blog which has named Pope Francis the best dressed man of 2013. (You can read the article here.) Little did I realise the storm that would ensue, both on Facebook and even more via email. By Sunday evening I was beginning to feel I had been coshed. What would happen were I to post something SERIOUSLY controversial?

The first thing I noticed was that most people were uninterested in why I had posted the link. Fair enough, but also quite revealing. They either assumed they knew (most of them didn’t), or used the opportunity to put forward their own views on the subject and on others they linked with it (sometimes rather tendentiously). Normally, that can be quite entertaining and sometimes really illuminating, although I do have reservations when the argument turns nasty or personal. What struck me most forcibly, however, was how many people seemed to read the original article selectively and reacted to certain phrases without considering the import of the whole. I think that is becoming more and more noticeable in all forms of online engagement. We talk about ‘surfing’ the web, but increasingly we seem to be skimming through arguments, too. As an advocate of ‘slow reading’ (a.k.a. lectio divina), I’m not very happy about that. If we can’t even absorb the argument of a short piece like that in Esquire, what hope is there for more densely argued pieces?

This morning I posted on Facebook the reply that I gave most of my email correspondents. I said that the article had interested me because of what a secular magazine had to say about clothes and their meaning and the way in which the writer had interpreted papal dress. Without necessarily sharing the writer’s view, I thought it was good for those of us who wear some form of distinctive dress for religious reasons to think about how it appears to those outside the circle of church and monastery. Most people are interested in what we wear and how; they rarely ask why. I found it interesting that a secular magazine had made a stab at trying to understand. In fact, I found it encouraging. What I didn’t find encouraging was the reaction of many (not all) of my fellow Christians, which ranged from the dismissive to the aggressive. In effect, the variety of replies actually confirmed what the Esquire writer had said: dress does matter; it does make statements; but how they are interpreted may not be what the wearer intended.

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15 comments

Unsurprisingly I agree with you, Sister… Keep up the great work you are doing for the God we love and worship together and for the extension of His kingdom…

by Dave Roberts on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 8:36 am. #

I keep well away from Facebook because I don’t think it’s secure (I occasionally arrive on other people’s Facebook pages by accident, courtesy of Google). So what was it that you posted there that caused such a storm? The article in Esquire seems quite unexceptionable.

I hope you had a good Christmas – and best wishes for 2014.

by Frank Cranmer on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 8:42 am. #

I am so sorry that you had such a dreadful verbal ‘coshing’

Wishing you peace, good health and God bless’s blessing for now, 2014 and beyond.

Pax et Bonum

by Sarah Palmer on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 8:54 am. #

I found the article quite simple and not hyper critical, although the comments thread seems a bit more combative.

I just wonder why people react in the way they do as if they have to either attack or to defend something just ‘for the sake of it’, it seems a popular past time and one that I don’t subscribe to.

I thought that your facebook introduction was quite clear and your interest in others views (Esquire etc) was evident. I see no reason for the comments made and particularly for those who email to attack you for a perfectly reasonable post.

I’m disappointed that people jump in without thinking, when your blog posts, twitter posts and facebook posts always seem to me to be thought through, before and have meaningful content.

Not sure of the solution, unless you ban everyone who is abusive on your threads? :(

by UKViewer on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 9:48 am. #

Tbh I thought the Esquire article silly and flawed – yes the subject is in itself interesting but this article certainly had it’s angle. The statement “I remember when John Paul II was buried in those opulent bright red shoes.” is an example of falsehood for JPII also refused the papal red slippers preferring to wear a pair of ordinary brown/reddish Brogues during his years in office.

by Janua on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 9:49 am. #

I do agree that there is an odd attitude on the web, that if you post a thought for perusal many people will assume it is your deepest personal belief rather than something you just thought interesting to open for discussion – and then attack YOU on it.
I too would like to know why this is…..

by Janua on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 9:53 am. #

Thank you for your comments. Just a general reply, if I may. I wasn’t objecting to the way in which some readers reacted to my posting the link to the Esquire article on Facebook but, just as I found I could get something worthwhile to reflect on from an article that is, of its essence, ephemeral and slight, so I thought it worth reflecting on the responses and what they say in their turn. You may disagree with the article itself at points (as I do myself); you may disagree with my reflections and the questions I posed as a consequence; but if it makes you think about how you read online, how you react to religious dress and how those who don’t share your religious views may react to the same religious dress, my purpose in writing will have been fulfilled.

by Digitalnun on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 10:01 am. #

Great response – yes – in an increasingly unthinking world that rather just reacts – it is well worth reminding us to think more about our views and so forth. Thank you Dame Catherine.

by Janua on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 10:13 am. #

I think many Roman Catholics would be surprised by the answers from non-Roman Catholics to questions about how they view the Roman Catholic Church. As a life-long church-going (well, mostly church-going) Presbyterian, when my new, Roman Catholic wife suggested I come with her to her Church, I found I was nervous, almost afraid to enter. I realised that a (long) lifetime of ignorance had built up in me an almost superstitious dread. You’d never believe the tales some other kids told me about nuns! Of course, once I plucked up enough courage to enter, everything changed, I saw sincerity and warmth and a deep un-showy devoutness, which had perhaps been missing from some of my own church-going. But I assure you, my initial feelings were really quite close to fear. It felt so very natural, yet matter-of-fact, once I relaxed and entered into the spirit of the service.

by Stan Firth on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 10:37 am. #

I shared your trepidation upon entering a R.C. Church for my first Mass. I sat at the back, closest to the door lest any statue slobbering or idolatry began, so that I could make a break for it. I grew up hearing the stories you heard, passed on from one generation to the next. Months later I converted.

by Jean on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 5:41 pm. #

I think that’s quite understandable. My lovely Anglican grandmother shared much the same fear. (And I’m very glad you’ve shaken off the horror stories about nuns!)

by Digitalnun on Tuesday, 31 December, 2013 at 9:35 am. #

Onwards, Catherine, onwards and upwards.

Lots of love.

by Kenneth. on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 1:36 pm. #

Over the holidays my husband and I watched a documentary wherein a procession was taking place at the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Opposing the participants was a group of shouting, jeering onlookers carrying placards stating “No Popery”, “Come back” and when interviewed an agitated senior gentleman accused Catholics of belonging to the occult, stating we worship the dead, accused us of idolatry among other things. He clearly had no understanding of doctrine but sadder still was so entrenched in his hatred of Catholicism there would have been no point in trying to explain anything to him. That anti-Catholic sentiment is alive and well should come as no surprise, the facebook coshing an opportunity for some to vent. We may pause and think about how our practices and beliefs are perceived by those who don’t hold our faith but to what end? In an increasingly anti-Christian world persecution makes no distinctions between denominations.

by Jean on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 5:36 pm. #

I’m sorry to say, Jean, that some of the unpleasanter comments on FB come from someone claiming to be a Roman Catholic. I sincerely hope the emails, which are much more unpleasant than the FB comments, don’t come from anyone with any religious beliefs but are the work of misanthropes and nutcases.

by Digitalnun on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 5:44 pm. #

Perhaps the key words are “claiming to be”. I am very sorry for those who are filled with hatred and anger, certainly not precepts of any denomination. Life is short and doesn’t need to be difficult in this regard. If anything, this blogpost raises the need to pray for all who are bound in darkness.

by Jean on Monday, 30 December, 2013 at 6:48 pm. #


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