Why Criticism Belongs in the Christian Blogosphere
We live in a culture that, as Shauna Niequist recently pointed out, constantly invites us to evaluate, rate, and judge our experiences. And yet, paradoxically—and perhaps especially in Christian circles—we seem to be growing more sensitive over expressing criticism.
There are cards in every hotel room and on every restaurant table; e-mails from eBay and Etsy; opportunities for us to comment on every cat video and act of Congress. In the same cultural moment in which millions enjoy tuning into reality TV for Simon Cowell-like slap-downs, "critic" has become a bad word, connoting a figure like Anton Ego, the misanthropic food critic from Disney/Pixar's Ratatouille who takes perverse pleasure in eviscerating chefs' best culinary efforts.
At its best, though, criticism seeks to expand the reader or viewer's understanding of the primary work—whether a book, an album, a film, or a blog post. Good criticism is deeply considered and well-crafted. As blogger Andrew Sullivan wrote: "A great critic can help us to figure out what is going on [in a piece of work] and to appreciate it in a richer way." Think of it as expository preaching for non-sacred texts.
Say what you will about the supposed tolerance of post-modernity, but it requires as much gumption as ever to publicly challenge, critique, or question the book or blog everyone loves at the moment. Why be such a hater?, people demand, sometimes trotting out the line that I use on my own kids, as did my mother before me: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
When, at a conference last year, Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts, walked into a session I attended, and I had an impulse to hide my nametag in case she glanced across the small room. Months earlier, I'd written one of the only negative reviews of her book, which had incited dozens of angry comments from fans accusing me of all manner of vices, including jealousy, ignorance, arrogance, and hard-heartedness toward spiritual things.
Until I published the review, I didn't realize the extent of Voskamp's popularity. I'd seen the book on the bestseller list in the New York Times and, at that time, was interested in the practice of gratitude as a way of combating my lifelong struggle with anxiety and discontentment. I began the book eagerly, hopefully, and attentively. Disappointed, I read it a second time, to make sure my evaluations were not based on cursory reading or hastily formed impressions.
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