William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Internet Guidelines From The Rule Of St Benedict — Guest Post by Bob Kurland

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The prophet shows that, for the sake of silence, we are to abstain even from good talk. If this be so, how much more needful is it that we refrain from evil words, on account of the penalty of the sin…

The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up…

The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaketh, he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: “The wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”

—St. Benedict of Nursia, The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapters 6 and 7.

In 2005 I became an Oblate of the Order of St. Benedict. This is a “third order” composed of lay people; one of the requirements to be an oblate is that one studies and follows The Rule of St. Benedict, as it might apply to a non-monastic contemporary situation. Other requirements are laid out in more detail elsewhere. For this post, I’d like to focus on those aspects of The Rule that might apply to behavior on the internet.

A bit of biography and a mea culpa (said in all seriousness) is in order. In my younger days I had a temper and an inability to take criticism. Moreover, I did not suffer fools gladly, but used all the resources of native wit to embarrass them and show them as foolish. Along came the internet, and I served for a while as moderator for the Magis Faith and Reason Facebook webpage. The snarky and vicious comments of evangelical atheists disturbed me greatly. (I recall one comment made by a particularly vicious female on her web page, announcing the new Magis Facebook page: “fresh meat, guys. Let’s go kill them.”) My blood pressure and pulse rate would rise, my stomach would churn, when I read slanderous, nasty, irrational comments about the Church, the Magis Institute and my own articles. So I got out of that kitchen. (“If you can’t take the heat….”)

This was a few years after I had become a Benedictine Oblate, but although I had studied the rules, I had not really taken them to heart. It was only after mentoring prison inmates who were learning to be Benedictine Oblates and seeing how they use The Rule in reacting to unjust treatment, that I began to see that The Rule had to be a way of life, not just an object of study. When the next occasion came to apply The Rule I was, if not altogether ready, more prepared.

Several weeks ago Ben Butera was kind enough to review my third ebook Science versus the Church—Truth Cannot Contradict Truth, in a post, “Four Big Bangs?” A commentator, “Anonymous”, lambasted the book, or rather Chapter 4, in which I discussed the Church’s dogma of Creatio ex Nihilo, creation of the universe by God from nothing, and several cosmological theories about the beginning (or non-beginning) of the universe. In that chapter I tried to follow the proposition set forth in the preface of my book:

That is the theme of this book: nothing that we know about the world from empirically verified scientific theories conflicts with Catholic teaching. Where there does appear to be a conflict, it arises from theories that are not verified by observation and that, in most cases, can never be so tested. As in many cosmology theories, theories about how (and whether) the universe came to be are untestable and lie in the domain of what might be best termed “mathematical metaphysics.” In short, there is no war between science and the Church.

However, according to “Anonymous”, I failed miserably. In attempting (not altogether successfully) to understand his/her criticisms, I tried to see whether I was misunderstood and how I could clarify misunderstandings. When Anonymous insulted me by belittling my status as a Catholic physicist (I’m not sure whether as a physicist, or as a Catholic or as the conjoined entity), I attempted to make a joke of it. This infuriated Anonymous. I guess that reaction validates the point made in the quote above about the 11th degree of humility—that the Benedictine should speak without laughter, something which is very difficult for me to do.

At any rate, toward the end of this exchange it seemed, and I’ll let the reader judge for himself/herself, that the tone of Anonymous’s comments become less heated and more conciliatory, so perhaps acting by the Rules did have some effect. There seemed to be more of a dialogue.

A BENEDICTINE RULE FOR THE INTERNET

To give a general discussion of The Rule of St. Benedict would require much more space than a single post. Much of it pertains to how monks in a community might best behave to follow Christ and to maintain the well-being and order of the community, but even the direction on how the steward best maintains the pantry and how and what the monks should eat and drink has relevance for us. Web references and books are given below for those who would like to learn more.

I’m going to focus on those parts of The Rule that seem to me to be most important in our relations with those with whom we interact by comments on posts, our own and those of others.

1. Be mindful of the wounds of others. We should remember that even the most hateful and spiteful commentator has some reason to behave that way and we should be careful not to hurt them more. We should not try to belittle them, to shame them, or make them seem less, just to win an argument or make ourselves feel superior. To quote Fr. Donald Raila, Director of Oblates at St. Vincent Archabbey:

The Rule of St. Benedict is written for a community of wounded persons. At the end of a series of precepts for dealing with wounded brothers, the abbot is enjoined to ‘realize that he has undertaken care of the sick, not tyranny of the healthy.’ Therefore, ‘he is to imitate the example of The Good Shepherd.’

In my replies to “Anonymous” I did not follow this precept as I should have. In explaining that the physics of the “raisin loaf analogy” for the expanding universe was correct, I made a comment that this explanation followed from first year physics. That was snarky, meant (albeit subconsciously) to belittle “Anonymous” and should not have been made. And, as the first quote says “we are to refrain from evil words.”

2. I interpret the second quotation “on the fourth degree of humility” as telling us to listen to criticisms even though they seem to be not justified or based on false premises. We should learn from them, and if they seem unintelligible, ask the person making that criticism to explain what premises or line of reasoning he/she is following.

3. We should reflect carefully on criticisms, even when they’re worded in a belligerent or belittling way, to determine whether there’s substance to them and, if so, how we can use that criticism to make our points more clearly and correctly.

4. One of the comments made by St. Benedict in the chapter on obedience has to do with accepting orders, just or unjust, without grumbling. And that means both external and internal grumbling. This can be translated to accepting justified criticism without grumbling, either external or internal.

5. Finally, the last of the quotations above, “that he speak gently …with few and sensible words” applies to comments and rebuttals. There’s an implication here that what we say should be instructive, not just empty chatter. I’m not sure about the injunction to abstain from laughter–perhaps St. Benedict meant laughing at someone, rather than with, and I am very often tempted to use humor to defuse anger (not always successfully, as pointed out above).

The rules above are just a few general ones that can be drawn from The Rule. There may well be others, and if the reader can supply others, I’d be most grateful. Also, I must confess that I have just begun to follow these rules, even though I’ve been a Benedictine Oblate for more than 10 years. It takes conscious effort; it’s very tempting to react in kind when someone is particularly nasty. But following these rules and The Rule is an aid, a prosthesis, to help us live as a Christian.

REFERENCES

The Rule of St. Benedict
OSB: About the Rule of St. Benedict
Oblates of St. Benedict
Downtown Monks

15 Comments

  1. What- no comments yet? Quick, round up the usual suspects!

  2. @John Watkins

    What about the strange or unusual suspects?

    Why do we always get left out? πŸ™‚

  3. bob mounger (cistercian oblate)

    September 3, 2016 at 2:55 pm

    I’m going to post a link to this on the benedictine subreddit. I enjoy most of what I read here, but I wish the whole internet would read this one.

  4. As an antidote to the general thrust of the OP I offer Liberalism is a Sin by Dr. Don Felix Sarda Y Salvany, especially chapters 20 to 22.

  5. I am not sure the article is about good manners, or common sense. Everyone needs to understand that nobody ever wins an argument completely. You may be accurate in your facts, but you will not have won the other person to your side by making intemperate statements of jokes. Taking the high road is always the better route to success, whatever that is in Internet discussions.

  6. So long as one follows the Rules in an effort to develop a gentle and contrite spirit, they have deep value. Following them for recognition or obligation, not so much, if at all. The key with rules is coming to know the difference and following the narrow way. All Christians are called to do so.

  7. Holy orders?

    The bible tells people what they need to know about how to treat others.

    “God is love”
    “He who does not love knows not God for God love.”
    1 corinthians also tells of what love is.
    Where does love reside?
    Not in the intellect, I would say.
    Now we must hear of how it IS intellect for an act of love is an act of free will.
    That people, moderns, are confused about the difference between romantic love, affection and true love.

    Love can only be true or it is not love.

    1 Corinthians

    4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

    8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.

    (The spelling is as it appeared on the page.)

  8. Line four should read:
    β€œHe who does not love knows not God for God “IS” Love.” less than and greater than signs were stripped out.
    The bible is clear.

  9. Those are nice rules.

    JMJ

  10. This post reminds me of Allen Spivey, a wonderful colleague who gave me my first job out of graduate school. At the beginning of my first semester, he came to talk to me just to make sure that I know when people are mean to me, it’s their problem not mine. I can never forget his kindness.

    Being a good person through our thoughts, words, and deeds is the main teaching of Confucius. I was required to memorize and study the verses in The Analects in high school, and I still can recite quite a few of them. However, mindfulness is the key to being a good human being and to happiness, I think. It’s not easy. It seems the more content a person is, the easier for him/her to be nice and generous to others. And vice versa.

  11. Joy,

    I love 4, 5, 6, and 7. I love them so much that I am going to repeat them below. πŸ™‚

    Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians __:4-7)

    But some people are unkind, impatient, envious, arrogant, egoistic, and self-seeking. Some people do hold grudges and fail to love.

  12. Heh heh! More of the “grooming” that’s intended to make everyone servile to Relativism.

    You betcha that I’m going to be every bit as unkind and impatient with nonscience as Jesus was with the Lawyers, Scribes and Pharisees.

    It’s one thing to be kind and patient with the suffering, the invincibly ignorant, and the honestly mislead but that tolerance is not to be extended to the morally and intellectually perverse.

    Go ahead! ye relativists! demand that error should be pampered and that Faith and Reason should be excoriated as “judgemental” or “repressive”.

  13. Oldavid: I’m with you on this one.

  14. JH,
    He sounds like a lovely man.

    Oldavid,
    I wish your unkindness were more clear, more targeted, more pointed! Sharpen it before you throw it next time. Then I can know if I have to defend myself or somebody else.

    Do you mean ‘all’s fair in love and war’?
    Or are you making a personal comment in particular wherein you imbue the motive of relativist grooming as the real reason for what has been written?

  15. Hoe does this apply to anonymous postings? Seems there is no way to be (say) mindful of the hurts of other.

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