The Comment Policy: Theology & Epistemology

Dear Reader,

Let me welcome you to my blog Experimental Theology.

One of the things I love about writing and sharing my thoughts here is how much I learn from you, the people who take the time to make comments, post links, or ask questions.

Most of the comments you will find here from other readers are insightful, curious, humble, funny, charitable, and welcoming of difference, even ideological difference. This blog has been blessed with a warm and intelligent readership.

However, from time to time, particularly when I drift too close to political or ideological hot button topics, the comments here might become unproductive. Consequently, I will delete comments that don't contribute to the kind of conversation I'd like to host. Or I might shut down the comments for a post if the conversation has become exhausted or unproductive. At the end of the day, I want both the post and the conversation it sparks to be something we all are proud of when we go to sleep at night. So let me tell you about the kind of conversation I want to host and the kinds of comments I'll keep or remove.

My comment policy is informed by two ideas, one theological the other epistemological.

The theological idea comes from Miroslav Volf's notion of "the will to embrace." Importantly, the will to embrace is a reflection of the kind of person you are. As Volf writes, the will to embrace characterizes the "kind of selves we need to be in order to live in harmony with others." In short, I'm less concerned with the actual content of your comment than the kind of self you are presenting. Which means, and this is very important to know, I'm judging you, not your comment. The problem with anonymous Internet conversation is that it is stripped of its face-to-face humanity. And this is the main reason blog conversations go awry. So what I expect in comments is a degree of humanity. It's this humaneness that I will judge. I don't care if you are right or wrong. I care if you are kind. And Volf describes the critical feature: "the will to give ourselves to others and 'welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them." In short, when I read your comments I'll be trying to read between the lines to determine the kind of person you are, to determine if you are trying to win an argument or if you are trying to welcome and embrace others in their difference. Do you seem willing to readjust who you are to "make space" for those around you? If your comment "makes space" it stays. If it shoves or tries to "win," I'll delete it.

Importantly, if I, as the author of this blog, fail to lead you by example in all this, please call me out. Generally, as you will find, I'm quick to apologize if I treat others badly.

Beyond the will to embrace my comment policy is also informed by the notion of epistemic virtue. Although I'll primarily be judging you (e.g., your tone and willingness to "make room") and not your comment, I will from time to time delete comments on the basis of content alone. The criterion for a content-based deletion depends upon if the comment is epistemically (intellectually) virtuous. As Jay Wood describes:

Epistemology, then, is not (or ought not to be) concerned merely with the piecemeal appraisal of individual beliefs but with what kinds of persons we are becoming: whether we are intellectually humble rather than arrogant, studious rather than merely idly curious, insightful rather than dull, wise and not fools.
In short, the epistemic virtues are those habits of mind, conversation and inquiry that tend to produce truth. The truth cannot be found if we are intellectually lazy, fearful, prideful, or closed to counter-argument. Truth is found, in isolation and in community, when we work hard to listen to each other, consider the strengths in each others arguments, and have the courage to admit when we are wrong.

Here are the virtues I am looking for in comments:
Attentiveness and Care: Did you read everything I or another commenter wrote? Did you read that qualification or caveat? Or did you read too quickly, hear what you wanted to hear, and jump to a conclusion? In sum, if you are not demonstrating sufficient attention and care your comment is ripe for deletion.

Circumspection and Humility: Be warned, I prize this virtue above all the other intellectual virtues. Comments should be humble, tentative, provisional, and open to change. I'm a pretty smart guy and I've come to the conclusion that there are no simple answers to religious, philosophical, political, or moral questions. These things are perennially controversial for a reason: There are no simple answers. The truth is always between you and I. Neither of us owns it. Because if there were simple answers to any of this stuff we wouldn't be arguing about it. Those people on the other side, the people who disagree with you and I, have pretty high IQs. So if you think you know The Answer let me recommend that you take your Answer--be it religious, political, moral, or philosophical--somewhere else. The people who disagree with you or I are not "wrong." They only disagree and, truth be told, they have good reasons for disagreeing. No single ideology can describe the complexity of the world.

Charity: Are you willing to see the very best in the arguments and positions you disagree with? If you consistently try to exploit the weaknesses of arguments, to score quick rhetorical points, your comments are targets for deletion. You are expected to regularly recognize the strong points of everyone's argument before moving on to criticism and disagreement. If you have a habit of beginning your comments with criticism or disagreement I'll begin to delete your comments. Start with charity, and maybe then we'll be open to your critique.

Truthfulness: Does the comment move us toward the truth? If your comment is just a sarcastic remark I'll delete it. That kind of comment might communicate your distaste or displeasure for something I or someone else writes, but it doesn't move us forward.
Unfortunately, I'll not be able to give you my reasons for why I delete a particular comment of yours. If, however, you find I'm regularly removing your comments feel free to send me an e-mail at so I can explain what I'm seeing and thinking on my end.

Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting on the blog. This policy is in place to create and protect a conversation about important topics, a conversation characterized by a spirit of welcome and intellectual virtue. I'll do my best to lead by example.

Warm Regards,

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