I recently bought a collection of Blessed John Henry Newman's sermon notes from after he became a Catholic -- he wrote full sermons as an Anglican, but only notes as a Catholic. In the introduction, there's a fine quotation from him, saying:
'I think that writing is a stimulus to the mental faculties, to originality, to the the power of illustration, to the arrangement of topics, second to none. Till a man begins to put down his thoughts about a subject on paper he will not ascertain what he knows and what he does not know, still less will he be able to express what he does know.'
And that, in essence, is pretty much the main reason -- other than staying in vague contact with friends -- why I blog, and why I used to blog far more frequently once upon a time under a different name. It's not to vent, and it's not to tell the world what I think. It's mainly to get my own thoughts straight.
Why not a diary, then? Or a private blog? Mainly because this way I know that I'm potentially exposing myself to people who can tell me -- if they can be bothered -- that I'm wrong, or not-quite-right. That forces me to write something substantial, that I think capable of holding up in the face of criticism and disagreement, and should critical comments come, it forces me to listen, and to reconsider. I may well still stick to my original view, of course, but only after listening to those of others. There are few things I believe so strongly that we shouldn't read or look to expose ourselves only to opinions and beliefs that validate our own. In this, I suspect, I'm simply channelling the wise observation in Chesterton's Father Brown story, 'The Sign of the Broken Sword', where his priest-detective says:
'When will people understand that it is useless for a man to read his Bible unless he also reads everybody else's Bible? A printer reads a Bible for misprints. A Mormon reads his Bible, and finds polygamy; a Christian Scientist reads his, and finds we have no arms and legs. St. Clare was an old Anglo-Indian Protestant soldier. Now, just think what that might mean; and, for Heaven's sake, don't cant about it. It might mean a man physically formidable living under a tropic sun in an Oriental society, and soaking himself without sense or guidance in an Oriental Book. Of course, he read the Old Testament rather than the New. Of course, he found in the Old Testament anything that he wanted -- lust, tyranny, treason.'
Or, in short, we shouldn't seal ourselves up in our confessional boxes. Christians should listen to what atheists have to say, and atheists whould listen to Christians, not with a view to rebutting but with a view to understanding. Catholics should listen to what Protestants have to say, and Protestants should listen to Catholics, again with a view to understanding, and, one would hope, ultimately re-uniting. British Conservatives should start their days by looking at the Guardian, and left-leaning Britons should make a habit of perusing the Telegraph.
And then, they should try putting their own beliefs and opinions into writing. It's not as easy as it looks.
(Though it's probably best not to spend more than an hour or so on it, especially if you're busy elsewhere.)