Saturday, November 8, 2008

Internet Censorship - Australia says 'WTF, no way!'.

Those who have known me for a long time have known of my long-time hatred of internet censorship - ever since 1998, in fact, I've researched and opposed internet censorship at every turn. Not based on performance or anything like that - based purely on the principle of freedoms of speech and information.

I've mellowed since then. There are things that should be censored. I fail to see any benefit in allowing, for example, child pornography and bestiality to be shown. I don't exactly think I'm alone in my revulsion.
In short, there is a definite line that should not be crossed. We may not know where that line is, but we can tell when something has unquestionably leapt over it.

As I make no attempts to hide, I'm an Orthodox Christian, and that does govern a lot of my own thoughts and actions; I also choose to live in a liberal democratic society, the upshot of this is that I do not believe that government should legislate for all morality and believe that everyone is accountable for their own actions (and, FWIW, I would be shocked if someone could come up with evidence that Orthodox theology says anything else).

So, there is one problem - where is the line to be drawn. I would draw it where over 90% of the Australian population agrees that a thing is wrong. Gonna be hard to achieve that kind of consensus? Damn right, and that's the way it should be. Our constitution, to function, necessitates our freedom of speech (termed 'implied rights'), and that's the way it should be, and that's the kind of freedom we need to have to gain knowledge to elect good leaders - never mind take part in the world and resurrect the economy.

That doesn't take care of the second problem: how is the line to be drawn. Well, there's really no good answers. But, no computer program can do it. None. All have false negatives and false positives at unacceptable levels (even taking aside the certainty of decreased performance).
Rather: employ someone to basically add sites to a filter. A moral philosopher, a trained ethicist - someone with a good head on their shoulders for that 90% consensus - whose job it is to manually go through and add sites to the blacklist.

These are sites constructed by humans, and - if they are to be blocked - they deserve to be blocked by humans.

The third problem of censorship is, of course, performance. Australian internet performance is currently sub-par, at best. We want to slow it down further? Sorry, that's just dumb.

(more travelblogging coming soon)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

An article caught my eye - it's listed on the OrthodoxMissions group on Yahoo!. I'll be happy to link it to the original article...if it's still existing.



The Church is called by our Lord to evangelize. Unfortunately, this is an area in which all of us has fallen short. Admittedly, active evangelism is difficult, and most of us are not called to be preachers or teachers. However, there is much that all of us, and all of our parishes, can do that is relatively easy, that falls in the class that I call "Passive Evangelism".

First of all, we must live our faith to the best of our abilities, and be both an example of a good Christian and of a good Orthodox Christian. We must make Orthodoxy attractive by what we are and what we do. In addition, we must acknowledge publicly that we are Orthodox - this does not mean preaching, but rather, things like explaining when asked that the Church we attend is the Orthodox Church , and (again, when asked) that we are abstaining from certain foods because we are Orthodox and the Orthodox Church has made this time a period of fasting and penitence.

Likewise, when we are asked about the Orthodox Faith and Orthodox practice, we should answer without apology. Of course this means that we must ourselves know what the Orthodox Church teaches, why the practice is the way it is, and what the meaning of the practice is. Providing a pamphlet (oriented toward the inquirer rather than the student) is also appropriate, but saying that you will get them a pamphlet that explains things better and then giving it to them later smacks less of "proseletyzing" and is less threatening than pulling one out right away. In addition, this provides a second opportunity to discuss Orthodoxy.

There is passive evangelism for the parish as well. Most of these things are obvious, but think back on how many times they are not done and how annoyed you as an Orthodox were. Then think about the impact on someone who would like to know more about Orthodoxy.

The Parish must be discoverable. This means that its existence must be public. As a minimum there should be an entry in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book. Along with this should be an answering machine that gives time and place of the Sunday and other major services and directions to the Church (but don't clutter up the message with every service and activity!). If the local ministerium publishes a directory of churches, get in it. If a local Internet provider has a Churches section get in it. Other Church Directories can be effective, such as listings in local newspapers and Motel/Airport directories - after all, when someone is waiting in an airport, he or she will read almost anything to pass the time. Likewise, prepare a sheet with a listing of services, phone numbers, and directions to the Church (8 x 11, pre-punched) and distribute to all the motels, college and hospital chaplains, etc.

Consider advertising, but make sure that what you do is effective - a small notice stuck in the middle of a whole page of larger ads for Christmas services may be unnoticeable, where a medium size ad for Pascha may stick out, especially if Latin Easter precedes Pascha. A few large ads with bold type and lots of white space are much more effective than many small ads that get lost in the clutter. And keep the message simple - you want to make the Orthodox Church known and invite others to learn more, rather than inform members about your activities. As a practical note, a two column ad is more visible than a one column ad of the same size.

Use your activities to publicize the Church. People will notice an ad or an article about a Pirogi or Baklava sale when they pass over a notice about the Church itself. A booth at a local shopping mall will provide greater exposure than the same activity in the Church hall. Although it may be more expensive at the mall, remember that each new family represents $500 or more in contributions. Ethnic festivals will also attract people, but be careful to insure that the festival does not suggest that the Church is only for Greeks, Arabs, Russians, Serbs, or Romanians.

Use snow day announcements, even if all your members know whether you will be open or closed. This is probably the one media offering that people listen carefully to, and it's free.

Make sure that the Church is identifiable from the street. Architecture can help, but a sign is essential, and the sign should at least provide the time of Sunday Liturgy and a phone number.

The Church must be findable. This can often be difficult because the Church is where it is, frequently in what had been an immigrant neighborhood or where land was affordable. If there is a choice of location, look for a street or road that is well known. A "prime" location isn't necessary, but local people must be know where the street is. In any case, prepare directions from a major convenient landmark. Don't look for the fastest or shortest way - look for the simplest, most foolproof way. Have someone who is only slightly familiar with the area check it out (a visiting cousin is good). You want people to be able to find you the first time; when they start coming back they will find the way that is most convenient for them.

Use signs. The Church should have a sign visible from the street that is large enough and bold enough that anyone looking for it can easily say "There it is!". Make sure that there are standard street signs at each appropriate intersection and that they are readable. If you can, put up directional signs at any significant turnings, especially onto secondary streets.

Once people can find the Church, make sure they know when services are (at least the Sunday Liturgy - if they come to Liturgy you can tell them then about Vespers, Bible Study, the Ladies Society, etc). This is information that should be on an obvious sign, by the street or at the main entrance.

The Church must be welcoming. The Liturgy is solemn, but it is also joyous. The congregation should act as though they were glad to be there. The greatest single inducement for others to join us is that we want to be there.

Welcome newcomers, give them a service book and a bulletin, and show them where in the service book the Liturgy is (it's sometimes hard to find, even when you know what to look for). If they appear to be non-Orthodox, tell them where in the service you now are. If your neighbors seem confused, help them find their place. If you are in Matins or Hours, tell them that a preliminary service is in process and that Liturgy will start at 10, and then tell them when Liturgy starts. Realize that even other Orthodox have different specific practices and signs of devotion and that non-Orthodox p probably have very little understanding of what we are doing and why. Let the visitor sit, and perhaps even tell them that although the Orthodox commonly stand for most of the Liturgy, they are welcome to sit whenever they want. Any visitor who is not intending to show disrespect will be respectful by his standards and try to make a reasonable accommodation to our standards.

Invite newcomers to coffee hour, and then talk with them, finding out where they are from, answering any questions, and if appropriate giving them one or two pamphlets. Don't overload them, and select pamphlets oriented to the newcomer rather than texts for the old member who wants to learn in detail. You want the newcomer to come back and learn more about Orthodoxy and your church, not convert them on the spot. You may organize teams of greeters, but have several people talk with them, and especially members who have things in common with the visitors.

Have a meaningful and attractive bulletin. Include not only the special events, but also the times of all regular services. The bulletin is probably the only reminder that the newcomer will keep that has this information. After all, you want to make it as easy as possible for the visitor to return.

Appropriate pamphlets must be available. The goal is to induce the visitor to come back and to want to learn more about Orthodoxy. An attractive small booklet that provides a short description of the parish, a brief introduction to Orthodoxy, and a short explanation of icons in Orthodoxy, together with a tour of the Church, identifying the various icons (and giving their significance), and a listing of services can be very popular. Whenever you have an open house, group visitors, etc, make sure that something like this is available

The Church must take advantage of curiosity. Encourage college Christian Clubs, Sunday Schools, college classes in Religion or History, and other churches to visit. When they come, make sure that each person has an attractive reminder to take home - an Icon card with the schedule of services on the reverse, the tour booklet, etc.

The Church must have attractive programs. This is a sign of an active parish, and whether we like it or not, people are attracted by programs. Examples are a good church school (an hour on Sunday, not a full elementary school), a youth group, adult Bible study, etc. As appropriate, establish special interest groups such as a Widows/Widowers group or a single parent group.

The Church must reach out to the local community. Major programs like a homeless shelter may well be beyond the capability of a small parish, but any parish can do a used clothing drive, toys for the orphanage, hospital/nursing home/hospice visiting, etc., and can cooperate with other organizations on major activities.

The Church must reach out beyond the local community. As a minimum, it must support the usual appeals - the Seminaries fund, the Diocesan and national Charities funds, the Earthquake Relief funds, etc. Beyond this, any parish, regardless of how small, can adopt an orphan or help support a mission priest (especially a native in Africa or Asia). Likewise, cooperate with the other Orthodox parishes in the region, supporting their activities and requesting them to support yours.

These things are not substitutes for active evangelism, but they are all steps to making it as easy as possible for an Orthodox person to become associated with an Orthodox Church when moving or traveling, and as easy as possible for a receptive non-Orthodox to become Orthodox. This is the minimum we are bound to do.