Online vs Face-to-Face Community: The #mypolytheism Question

John Beckett recently voiced some doubts about the #mypolytheism website and project. There was a huge number of comments in response, mostly expressing disappointment, and sometimes anger, at John’s lack of support. As I mentioned already, I am a contributor and fan of the project. I love hearing from a variety of polytheists presenting their religious perspective in a non-judgmental platform.

John’s main criticisms were that he questioned the “no debate” format and felt like it would squelch potentially fruitful discussions. More to the point of what I want to address here, he felt that to form a community, people must come together face-to-face via groups or events. An online forum, especially one so diverse, is not going to manifest a real Polytheist community.

 

To address my thought on this, I have to break a convention, in a way, and talk about this blog. I have been blogging for over three years here. I think the habit of writing regularly has improved the quality of writing. I would like to think that the level of writing and thoughtfulness is on a par with most of the “Pagan blogosphere”, although I would not claim to be among the best. I have certain posts which seem to show up in search engines and get somewhat regular clicks. I occasionally catch the attention of a high profile blogger who comments or shares a particular post, which means extra clicks.

But let’s be honest, I have a low readership. As a gay pagan vegan writing reflective posts, I don’t exactly expect to be a viral sensation. But honestly, I do wonder why I am still relatively obscure within the world of pagan bloggers. For example, when The Wild Hunt does a compilation of commenters and the subject is something I write about frequently, they would never think to ask for my contribution. I am even toward the top of the list of “Fall Funders” (it’s alphabetical), so my name appears prominently on their web page. Yet, I am not on the radar.

Part of my lower profile is that I don’t court controversy. I don’t make outrageous assertions just to get clicks. I don’t write rants or screeds. I don’t jump online and respond in a heated way to something I just read. I usually think about and balance various perspectives before writing on a subject.

 

But to take John’s point and turn it on its head, I am beginning to suspect that a lot of people don’t pay attention to writers in the Pagan blogosphere unless they’ve physically met the blogger or seen them talk. It’s like the online presence isn’t acknowledged or deemed worthy of attention when there’s no physical presence at events.

I don’t show up at the big national conventions. I have never been to PantheaCon or Many Gods West. I have never gone to any of the major camping festivals. I haven’t even been to more regional conferences like Paganicon or ConVocation. I just have not had the time or money to play along, to “show up”. I also feel like flying across the country several times each year is not compatible with an environmentally responsible ethic.

I belong to my own local group, which is very small. Many of them do read my blog. It’s rare that the content is so tradition-specific that they would be the only ones to appreciate it. I have gone to our local Pagan Pride, and I will again. I have met some other Pagans and Polytheists in this context. I have even been on a local esoteric radio program and made presentations to local groups. I am still far from a well-known person, even within the local Pagan community.

 

So, sadly, unless I am overestimating the quality of or audience for my writing. I think that there’s a kind of harsh validity to John’s point. An online voice is probably an unheard voice – unless it has been backed up with some other presence, particularly a physical presence at the right events. The online Pagan community is basically a way to amplify the voices of people who already have a voice via books, public speaking or group leadership.

 

Judging from what I’ve read from many of the contributors to #mypolytheism, many will never have those other platforms. Many will have difficulty attending large events to get the attention of the right people. Many of them are not likely to lead groups, even at a local level. This isn’t me criticizing these contributors. This is simply meant to be an honest observation.

Can #mypolytheism be a true community that brings unheard voices to a larger audience? That is certainly a part of its aim, and I hope it can achieve that goal. We’ll have to see if it works out that way, if it can sustain this initial flush of new and unique contributions, or if it ends up sliding into being a platform for voices that are already represented in the Pagan and Polytheist online world.

 

6 comments on “Online vs Face-to-Face Community: The #mypolytheism Question

  1. Woods Wizard says:

    Hi Adrian,

    I find many of your posts thoughtful and enjoy them. We will likely never meet, just like I am unlikely to meet many of the “Big Name Pagans” of the blogosphere. It desn’t matter to me.

    I don’t see visibility as Beckett’s major objection however. It is the lack of commentary that he seems to find unfortunate. I do see this as a flaw as well, as there is no opportunity to question or to seek further understanding. It is, if you will, more like preaching than communicating. It may be that the site admins don’t have the time for monitoring the site and removing any objectionable material, but it would make for a strong site for the on-line community.

    • Adrian says:

      I was actually thinking of you as an exception to what I was describing. As always, I thank you for reading and for your comment.

  2. Erin says:

    Hi Adrian. I am enjoying the contributions to #mypolytheism. Just wanted to note that I enjoy reading many polytheist bloggers, none of whom I rarely meet, and certainly not before I began reading them. I’ve met John Beckett a couple brief times at MGW, the first and only such conference I’ve ever attended, because it is in my home state and only 90 minutes away from me. I suspect many blog readers are similar; many of us are not wealthy or able to travel to all the events to meet all the names. Blog-reading, and commenting, is how I ‘get around’ on the polytheist scene (and blog-writing, when I can find time for it). 😉

    • Adrian says:

      Thanks, Erin. I’m someone who reads a variety of Pagan and Polytheist bloggers, too, even though many I have not met and don’t know through other media. We are out there.

  3. John Beckett says:

    Adrian, thanks for continuing the conversation.

    Jason Mankey, who has one of the largest readerships of all Pagan bloggers, says bloggers have little real influence because so few Pagans actually read blogs. Once you get off the internet, he’s probably right.

    As I said in my post, I’m glad #mypolytheism is giving a voice to some people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. But the lack of debate concerns me, and it represents a significant difference in approaches to religion.

    I want to debate. I want to talk about ideas, concepts, and practices. I want to talk about what works, what doesn’t work, and what we should try next. If people think I’ve got something wrong, I want them to tell me they think I’m wrong. Not with “you have no right to say this” but with “I think this point is mistaken” and “I think you’re overlooking this” and “OK, but here’s something even better”.

    I want my polytheism to be as robust as possible, and I can’t do that alone.

    Others, though, including many of those associated with #mypolytheism, don’t want debate. They just want to be heard and affirmed. As I said in my post, they’re not wrong for wanting what they want. But that approach leads to a different end result than my approach.

    Whether we engage in vigorous debate or simply affirm each other, we will end up with different polytheisms – that’s the nature of polytheism. Different Gods call different people to honor Them in different ways. I’m done with debating about debating. I’m going to do what I’ve been called to do, with those who want to join me.

    I wish the #mypolytheism folks nothing but the best.

    • Adrian says:

      Thank you, John. I didn’t really take up the debate criticism because my site here is open to comments and respectful dialog. I’m open to people talking about suggestions and additional perspectives. I am open to people challenging a hidden bias I may have, a fact I got wrong, or a concept I have misunderstood. I also know that the internet is full of people who don’t know how to conduct respectful debate.

      I also don’t think personal experience or identity are up for debate, unless these things are being used to assert power over others. (I may have to expand my thoughts on that in a separate blog post).

      I am all for conversation, though.

      If I can gently tease you a bit, you realize you followed up your advocacy for debate with a declaration that you won’t debate – right? I understand that you want to move onto other topics, and I appreciate so much of your writing, I’ll follow you where you are going, at least in the three times each week you post on Patheos.

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