MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Imagine the Pope, dressed in his white robes and wearing his half-moon glasses, hunched over a laptop blogging, probably not gonna happen, although Benedict XVI does have a Facebook page.
But in a recent message, he called on priests to proclaim the Gospel through blogs, videos and Web sites.
NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty reports.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: The call to blog took a lot of people by surprise. After all, the 82-year-old pope from Bavaria is better known for his conservative doctrine and revival of the Latin Mass than for his computer savvy.
At first, Father James Martin was startled as well. He's author of "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything" and blogs each day for the Catholic magazine America. But then Martin thought: Surely Jesus would blog if he were on the Earth today. He didn't sit at home and wait for people to come to him.
The Reverend JAMES MARTIN (Author, "The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything"): He went out and he met people, you know, by the Sea of Galilee who were fishing. He went into tax collectors' booths. He went into synagogues. He went all over the place. And so we need to, sort of figuratively speaking, go out to the ends of the Earth, which includes right now the blogosphere.
HAGERTY: Now, the Pope has not announced his own blog, but if he does, he might be wise to listen to the experts.
Ms. ELIZABETH SCALIA (Blogger, The Anchoress): As a blogger, let me just say, I have some advice for his holiness, the first being now if I link to you, you must link back to me.
HAGERTY: There are rules of reciprocation, says Elizabeth Scalia. Scalia, no relation to the justice, writes a blog called The Anchoress, which appears on the Web site of the Catholic magazine First Things. She adds: The Pope should aim high.
Ms. SCALIA: He should try to get linked by the bigger blogs. He should try to be linked by, for example, Instapundit and the Huffington Post because if he gets the exposure there, then he can up his blog ad rates.
HAGERTY: Presumably, ad revenue is not high on the Pope's list, although there are a few bankrupt dioceses in the United States that could use some money. Scalia says while blogging is not heavy lifting, the Pope should prepare himself for the unrelenting pressure to post.
Ms. SCALIA: You have to blog every day, and he's an 80-something-year-old guy, so maybe he's not always going to want to blog. So he should have some videos, some favorite YouTube videos that he can just slap up there when he's feeling kind of tired, you know, like the parade scene from Ferris Bueller. Slap that up there and that's a day's blogging.
HAGERTY: Of course, a blogging pope would also have to adjust to the style of the Internet. Benedict is a German theologian famous for his long academic treatises peppered with footnotes. How to adapt?
The Rev. MARTIN: Think hot links and not footnotes.
HAGERTY: Father Jim Martin.
The Rev. MARTIN: He can if he wants to, he can write a couple of paragraphs on, say, St. Augustine, or Origen, or St. Athanasius, and instead of having, you know, 50 footnotes, have 50 hot links, and people tend to like that on the blogosphere.
HAGERTY: Martin has another piece of advice: be charitable. The Internet can be vicious, but he must refrain from ad hominem attacks. So should the Pope allow comments?
(Soundbite of laughter)
The Rev. MARTIN: Only if he has a thick skin. I would say there's two kinds of angry people. There's angry people and then there's religiously angry people. And the religiously angry people tend to be angrier than the angry people.
HAGERTY: Still, David Weinberger sees some dangers ahead. Weinberger writes about politics and culture on his Joho the Blog. He says if the Pope wants to spread the Christian message, he might be surprised at the result.
Mr. DAVID WEINBERGER (Blogger, Joho the Blog): Putting a message out over the Internet is exactly the same thing as losing total control of your message. People take it up, they republish it, they make fun of it, they contextualize it. The simple message becomes incredibly complex.
HAGERTY: Which raises the question: Can something as nuanced as God's word be tweeted?
Mr. WEINBERGER: Trying to boil things down into tweetable form has a long history.
HAGERTY: Weinberger cites a theologian of his own tradition - Moses and his 10 Commandments: Don't murder, don't lie, don't steal, et cetera. They easily fit into Twitter's 140 character limit. And what about the Sermon on the Mount? Well, that'll require a hyperlink.
Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.
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