Religious Language and the Web

You can see how important Benedict thought the right use of speech by looking at today’s section of the Rule, RB 7. 60 to 61. The eleventh step of humility is concerned with speaking little but making every word count. It might have been written with Twitter in mind! The things Benedict condemns, either outright or by implication — harshness, mockery, the obscenity and cruelty we discussed yesterday, vapidity  and mere clamour — are temptations at any time but especially when we go online. Our nearest and dearest may long ago have given up listening to us, but online it’s another matter. We can express our opinions, however outrageous, to our heart’s content; but with that freedom comes responsibility, and it’s worth thinking about how we exercise it.

One of the things that has always interested me is how much religious language is used online. Does familiarity with such language in an online context cheapen our understanding of it elsewhere? I refuse to have ‘followers’ on Twitter, for example, because I’m a follower of Christ and of Him alone. But I think some people actually enjoy the messianic overtones and are for ever calculating how many followers they have, as though that conferred validity on what they say. We regularly use words like ‘authority’ in connection with anything from search engines to blogs; we have ‘communities’ for every interest under the sun; even the most blatantly commercial web site will have a ‘mission statement’; and we devoted (note the word) Apple products users are usually described as subscribing to the ‘cult’ of Apple.

Which brings me back to Benedict. He urges that when we do speak, we should do so gently, humbly, seriously, in a few well-chosen words. There is a quietness about his approach that is immediately attractive. I wonder what his voice was like. Judging by his Rule, I imagine he spoke gently, in a low tone of voice for the most part, but with immense authority, the kind that is innate rather than cultivated. Perhaps today we might think about our own voice on the web. Shrill? Frivolous? Or a voice which allows the Word to speak in and through us?

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5 thoughts on “Religious Language and the Web”

  1. Icons, Avatars, Gurus..

    Thank you for these reflections on the Rule of St Benedict; for sharing both your scholarship and lived experience.

    I often find myself using the tags to read other relevant posts and only wish the older blog Colophon, were easier to search.
    On my computer at least it is extremely slow to load and searching is a real exercise in patience. Some months ago you wrote about a possible anthology of blog posts. Sensing that your life is already full to bursting, I hesitate to suggest a collection of reflections on the Rule, but I for one would find it inspiring.

  2. Thank you, Patricia. It was because Colophon was becoming too big and slow to load that we archived it and started iBenedictines. As to the anthology, I do wonder whether that will ever happen. The need to earn a living to pay our bills takes up several hours each day, on top of our commitment to prayer, study and the various forms of charitable outreach we undertake. Perhaps I could ask you to redouble your prayers for our fundraising: a bigger house than the one we rent would enable us to grow the community AND do some of those things we have long dreamed of doing as a service to others.

  3. “I refuse to have ‘followers’ on Twitter, for example, because I’m a follower of Christ and of Him alone. ”
    Good point but why then do you bother with having the Wikio Top Blog league table ?

  4. Phil, I think you misunderstand me slightly. I use the word ‘follow’ as a noun (very American!) for people on Twitter because I reserve ‘followers’ for disciples of Christ. The Wikio badge is on the blog because a fellow blogger entered us and it would be ungracious not to acknowledge her kindness. It may also indicate to others, since I rarely comment on other people’s blogs, that we get some really thoughtful insights from people like you on these pages.

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