The relationship of word and flesh is important to me as a Christian. Our understanding of it, that the Word became uniquely Flesh once in the human experience, is probably the single thing we believe that is most offensive to my Jewish and Muslim colleagues, friends, and neighbors. I don't urge it on them. It is the most unbelievable thing that we believe, an offense to the sensibility of most other monotheists. My secular colleagues must think it quite bizarre, indeed. To know that what I believe is bizarre and offensive to others helps to curb my impulse to Christian triumphalism. There was a time, when I was quite taken with blogospheric triumphalism, represented in its own way by Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit and, quite differently, expounded in Adam Kotsko's memorable"There is Nothing Outside the Blog."
I don't want to write here about the Incarnation or triumphalisms of either sort, however; that can await another time and place. I was interested in two different engagements with word and flesh by my colleagues, Hugo Schwyzer and Tim Burke. Hugo has been having serious discussions with Men's Rights advocates on the west coast. He's written here about his related experience of appearing on a Men's Rights radio program in Los Angeles. He's been under severe personal attack from Men's Rights activists. Among other things, they posted photographs of Hugo, from his website to theirs, with mocking subtitles. Oddly, I had posted links to those same photographs of Hugo, but with an observation about his being perhaps the least inhibited of the Cliopatriarchs. I've felt a certain kinship with Hugo the last few days. It isn't just that we are the two most publicly Christian of the Cliopatriarchs, but also that we've both been under siege. If his critics mocked his flesh, mine mocked my name, my word. The context for flesh and of words makes all the difference.
I'm deeply disappointed by what became of the discussion of Tom Reeves's blogging and his articles at HNN. There really were reasonably interesting questions that might have been considered. First, was Tim Burke's question about proportionality. Was whatever Reeves had done worth much attention, at all; and, if he made mistakes, wouldn't they best be handled quietly and courteously? That would have been a fair point to make. Second, as Julie Kemp asked, in disgust with the barfight that had occurred, is it reasonable to extend questions about a scholar's credibility in one sphere into a question about his credibility in another? The example of Joe Ellis, best explicated so far, I think, by Peter Charles Hoffer, suggests that, while there may be a rather complicated relationship between the spheres, one can't assume that there's a simple carryover. That would be an important point to make. Thirdly, as she suggested, are blogs to be held to the same standards of accountability that print scholarship is? That, it seems to me, is clearly worth discussing. My own inclination is to say that they are, but then I have to start qualifying that because livejournaling is clearly not intended as scholarship and there needs to be room for public airing of half-baked ideas that might become something. Those are serious questions, worth serious discussion, but all the interesting questions got short-circuited by half-baked accusations.
Still, I have hope for the blogosphere and one of the reasons I do is that historians like Tim Burke, Sharon Howard, and Mark Grimsley see it as a new step in scholarship. The virtual words may not yet be quite ready for print/flesh, but they can be a step in that direction. Burke's most recent piece at Easily Distracted,"Burke's Home for Imaginary Friends", grows from a presentation he gave to Swarthmore's faculty members about blogging. I ignore it that my reference to the fact that the Cliopatriarchs gathered in Seattle all had beards gets a"Geez" from him. This is flesh we are talking about here, Burke; not an index to the superficiality of my mind. Of the things we talked of in Seattle, the bearding was the least. More important, even most important, I think, was the enfleshment of virtual friendships and virtual words. I'd been reading Tim Burke for about two years before I met him in person and, apart from a question about his subtle sense of humor, I think the first thing I said to him was something like:"Tim, what you do on the net is so mature that it begs to be in print." The virtual word becomes flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth.