Friday, June 20, 2008

Editorial: The Wikicreedia Project

Due to the flurry of questions Curious Monk has received about last week's proposal, it seems appropriate to publicly answer a few of the more commonly asked questions. This should alleviate any concerns about the aims and methods of the project. Curious Monk appreciates your interest.

Q: What is Wikicreedia?
A: The Wikicreedia Project is an idea whose time has come. Wikicreedia is a concise, on-line formulation of the common beliefs of 21st century Christians. Clergy and laity alike will collaborate to produce this document via the same interactive technology that allows Wikicreedia- its more famous cousin- to grow with its audience. Wikicreedia is entirely user-generated, meaning that it depends on no one authority for its content: only you. Over a period of four years- the same period of the original Nicean council, and with equally thorough and informed debate- willing Christians of every stripe will articulate the beliefs they hold against the deceptions and distortions of our time. At the close of four years, discussions will culminate with the rolling out of a creed written for our age- and hopefully many ages to come.

Q: What's wrong with the creeds that we already have?
A: There are no errors in our current creeds. However, nearly 2000 years of history have substantially changed the world and its people: believers and non-believers alike. It makes sense that the intellectual vessels of Christian faith- the dogmas and doctrines that we agree to- will have changed as well. To endlessly repreat the precise words, no matter how wise, that those before us spoke is to fail to grow as a body and to be potentially unprepared for the return of Christ. Our growing concerns for human rights and for the world we inhabit are but a few of the situations the church fathers could not have anticipated. It is our task to address them, for ourselves and future generations.

Q: So you want to replace the creeds?
A: Not at all. The body of believers, having formulated the new creed, will makes whatever use of it we choose, including possibly none whatsoever. As an article of faith, the new creed would be intended to stand alongside those that have come before.

Q: But isn't this heretical?
A: The original creeds were written to unite the original communities of Christians across fervent divisions of belief. It seems difficult to imagine how a testament to this first venture would produce very different results. But no matter the creedal content produced, the full body of believers cannot witness against itself. By affirming what we actually have in common, the new creed would in fact illuminate as such the many distortions currently mascarading as traditional belief.

Q: So where is this?
A: Wikicreedia as such does not exist yet. Curious Monk will be certain that you know when and where it does. But the larger project- the discussion about the lies of our age, the yearning to mutually discover and share the truth of the times- that is already in the hearts and minds of many believers.

Q: So how would this all happen?
A: Much has yet to be decided, and the Wikicreedia Project needs all the help and life you can give it. But all change starts locally, and religous transformation is no exception. A committee of commited Episcopal clergy and laity might do well to get Wikicreedia off its feet by formulating the key issues to be address. Then Wikicreedia might roll out across local Protestant denominations in its early formulation, then tap into regional and national conversations as its audience- and authorship- grows until finally joining with international Catholic and Orthodox concerns. Obviously, the task is large. But we can start quite small.

Q: Cmon, could all this actually happen?
A: As said before, the time for Wikicreedia has come. Christianity is undergoing stress and strain probably not felt since the Reformation. The Christian faith will change whether or not we want it to. But if we want it to change in this particular way, toward unity and common feeling and common ground and common hope, there's quite possibly nothing that could stop it.

Thank you.


Monica said...

I assume when you describe Wikicreedia a concise you mean in the end result, not in the process.

How might decisions be made as to what to roll out as a creed at the end? During the 4 years, how would we interact regarding agreements, disagreements, clarifications and questions? (Maybe I need to find out more about how Wikipedia actually works)

If it depends on no authority for its content & is entirely user generated, a group could get it off its feet by formulating key issues to be addressed as a jumping off point, however the project could not be limited or defined by those issues.

I'm curious about what we would come up with as all having in common and what conflicts and consternation would erupt in the process. I suspect we will not attain agreement on many things. How would we handle this? I don't know much about the Nicean council, but I take it there was a lot more established authority to be wielded there than is proposed or desired for Wikicreedia.

Would the creed be a statement of rebuttal to problems of our time, or a positive statement of belief aside from the question of problems? Would it address the question of what we believe related to the existing creeds, or simply address the question of what we believe period? I realize these aren't either or questions and that it is really impossible to completely separate these issues. However at some point the focus may be good to clarify (or let the process clarify). I would suggest that while it should address issues of the times, it should not be a heavily defensive, apologetic type of document.

Perhaps some smaller scale pilot projects to work out processes, identify bugs, etc. would be in order. Eventually the big project would of course have a life of its own...but some experimenting with smaller versions might help to set up the larger project with a better chance for a healthy productive life.

Curious Monk said...

Well, sorry it's taken me a while (I couldn't see it for some reason-weird) but i would say that it is my hope that we would not agree on many things.

the longer i'm a christian, and especially since coming to gethsemane, the more i think,

"you know, i have a destination: God. And I have way: Jesus Christ and I have a companion: Spirit. Everything else I have is really just a notion.

And so that's kind of the spirit of the thing that could drive this forward- that in disagreement, in the areas not all Christians will ever agree on, that those things aren't actually vital for anyone, including the the people who believe them.

so those things could fall away- the statement would have to be brief- because that's what the first creeds did, got rid of all the garbage. everyone went in there with the intent to ultimately affirm something, so the discussion moved in that direction.

(not that there wasn't underhanded stuff, people are human. but the faith was in crisis and something unitary needed to happen. and it did.)

wikipedia works, as i understand it, when someone proposes a topic and some user writes an entry. then other users come along and modify the content, add or take away from it, and the whole time there are these heated side discussions about what is true in there and what isn't.

and that's precisely how the nicene council went, minus the internet. and plus the bishops. it was a top-down declaration, but the top itself was flat: there wasn't anyone to decree the final answer, except for a joint consensus.

wikicreedia would just replace the bishops with the priesthood of believers- and an amount of clerical influence, because specific education does make some sort of difference.

i think as a bald statement of belief it WOULD address the problems of our times, because so much of our lives do that anyway, but that would be a place for us to start as well as something reflected in the final product.

actually, i too would hope it wouldn't become an apologetic tract- because the original creeds werent- but that like them it would be a polemic, an attack against the prevailing culture- (that it's wrong to equate worth with wealth, or what have you, that the whole faith could agree upon) as well as against more vocal distortions of the faith (that god exists to hand you money, that sort of thing).

but the whole point would be no one person having control, so of course ultimately i wouldn't have much more of a say than anyone else.

i hope that helps. your idea of smaller scale projects would be helpful, though i'd have to take some time to imagine what those would be.

Monica said...

Not to worry about the time...I don't regard your response as slow.

I too find that, when it comes down to it, my own way of defining what it is for someone to be a Christian is very basic and very broad.

There will be those who will claim certain things are vital that others will not agree are vital and will not agree with. Those who continue to see those things as vital will label the rest of us as non-Christians (or false prophets or heretics or anti-Christs and other such things). But I don't know that that need stop the project or stand in the way of a meaningful result, even if not fully accepted.

So when a Wikipedia entry is modified...does the person making the modification just wipe away or permanently alter what the person before them did? Is that what we want or not? Where do these heated side discussions take place? Just where ever they emerge?

I have mixed feelings about a polemic against prevailing culture. I have lots of arguments against prevailing culture. But I also have lots of distaste for some of the forms of Christian polemic against prevailing culture that I've been well exposed to. But as you said, the point is not for one person to have all that would get worked out one way or another in the process.

I agree that specific education does make some sort of difference. I would partially, but not wholly correlate that with a clerical role. This raises interesting issues about how information and education (or lack thereof) fit into religious and spiritual lives and culture....but that's another topic.

As for smaller scale projects, I was thinking of something like setting up whatever tool people would use to interact with (a web site or whatever...I don't know that end of things either) and have a small group of selected people try it out, before making it available to anybody & everybody. See how the process works and what changes to the process (conceptually or technically) may serve the purpose better. Make and try out those changes...repeat until satisfied...then put out "the real thing" on a broad, open basis, probably starting over again from scratch with the content.

Curious Monk said...

well, this is where my actual knowledge of wikipedia (i'm not a registered user) runs out. so far as i've seen, there's a forum section- presumably generated by the wiki-programming itself, or by the moderators, about every alteration that happens in the text.

so that yes, so far as i know, while you actually can and do overwrite the previous text, everone has to explain everything they do.

i should note that there are a few known problems with wikpedia.

one is bias- the people who spend their days writing wikipedia entries are not a fair cross-section of anyone's population. we'd have to take steps to ameliorate this within the church, eventually.

another is vandalism- beyond moderators, there's nothing to prohibit people deliberately falsifying, dominating, or destroying wikpedia's information, and of course, no way to verify its ultimate credibility.

those things being said, if i mentioned this to aron again (he was initially excited by the idea, until i begged off), could i include you as an actually interested party? (love your test-group idea)

Monica said...

All good points in your last comment.

And yes, you certainly could include me as an actually interested party.

brd said...

I am very much in favor of your idea here, both theologically and technologically. A while ago, I did a survey on my blog asking "What do you consider to be an important, primary faith statement, not present in current credal statements that should be included in those statements?"

As I thought about the creeds, I concluded, as you have, that we need a rework. For instance, if I am to choose one word to describe God the Father, out of all the available words, would I choose "Almighty". No I would not. I understand that choice, but that isn't the one descriptor that I would embrace for my personal creed.

Wikipedia has really undone its critics. For all the fears of misinformation being widely disseminated, the power of the enlightened crowd has kept it honest, growing, up-to-date, and free (except for a few minutes at a time) of intellectual vandalism.

I find it very interesting to read the discussions about the development of various entrys in Wiki by clicking on the discussion and revision history by clicking the tabs at the top of the wiki entry pages.