It’s amazing the amount of time and energy we put into commenting or posting on the blog, interacting with people who we’ve never seen. And isn’t this a little like faith? I’m not sure; sometimes I think it is. I’ve never met Jim Faulconer, but I have faith that someone called “Jim Faulconer” exists. Through my internet interaction with “Jim Faulconer,” I get to know his quirks and attributes and ideas. As I see a pattern of posts from “Jim Faulconer” that share the same tone and style, I begin to feel that I know this person, even though we’ve never shaken hands. Other people who I have met (such as Greg Call) add their own testimonies that “Jim Faulconer” exists. I like Greg, and I don’t think that he would lie to me. On the other hand, I’ve never met Jim. Jim’s existence could be a well-orchestrated conspiracy between, say, Nate, Greg, and maybe Dan Peterson, all trying to make me believe that “Jim Faulconer” exists.
And so I exercise my own, Alma 32-like, seed of faith. I plant a seed of belief that Jim exists — that is, I accept word from Greg, Nate (who, by the way, I also hadn’t met in the flesh until recently), and others that Jim exists. I send Jim e-mails — a test of faith in his existence — and he responds. I see his interactions with others. I read his posts. And I arrive at a point where I can say with some certainty that Jim Faulconer exists — despite, once again, a complete lack of any physical or direct sensory confirmation of his existence.
I’m perhaps a little unique among the perma-bloggers in that I’m relatively unconnected to established networks of LDS thought. The only blogger I had ever physically met (until this past week, when I met Nate) was Greg Call. The whole enterprise of blogging becomes an exercise of faith — I accept that people named Nate Oman and Adam Greenwood and Kristine Haglund Harris exist. I’m aware of the possibility for deception or duplication or incomplete information (in fact, at least one commenter has mentioned that he uses various pseudonyms at different times). But I put aside my mistrust, and send out posts like this, knowing that most or all of the people who will read them or reply to them are others who I’ve never actually met — people like “Ethesis” and “Ashleigh” and “Frank” and “John H” and “Rosalynde.” I plant the seed, and sometimes it grows.
And sometimes I later meet people in the flesh, and can physically confirm their existence. I’ve met Nate, and Jared Jensen, and Pete Donaldson — all after I started blogging — and could thus confirm their existence. I’ve spoken with Gordon and Matt on the phone, so I suppose I’ve mostly confirmed their existence; I’ll physically meet Gordon and perhaps Matt next month.
But — to borrow a phrase from Elder McConkie — when I actually shook hands with Nate Oman this past week, did I have any greater confirmation of his existence than I have as we’ve become co-bloggers? Was my faith in the existence of Nate any greater at that time? Did I “not know any better then than I know now” that Nate Oman was real? I did not. At some point over the past year, my faith in Nate’s existence had become knowledge that he existed.
I wish that I could say that my faith in God, or in the Atonement, or in the scriptures, were as strong as my faith in the existence of Nate Oman and Jim Faulconer. But I’m heartened by the positive results in my little exercise of faith. And I also wonder whether or not the internet will become a great tool in allowing people everywhere to exercise greater faith. It suggests a move away from the need for physical confirmation of all facts (think Thomas), and a move towards a more faith-receptive mindset where we can make major decisions based on the flow of zeroes and ones across the ether. People seem ready to embrace this idea. And from that background, new things — such as the consistency of the message, and the way it makes us feel — become more important than the ability to actually, physically touch the hands of Christ. And it will be very interesting to see if one effect of the internet-ization of the world is an increase in humankind’s willingness and ability to have faith in the unseen and untouched reality.