Why We Blog: Mormon Internet origins

By Clair Barrus

Published: Saturday, Feb. 26 2011 5:00 a.m. MST

Editor's note: This is one in a series about Mormons who blog and why they do so.

In the beginning was the Internet. And the Internet begat USENET. And USENET begat net.religion — which was the first Internet forum for the discussion of religion.

In 1984 I was able to first access the Internet and witnessed an intriguing discussion of "The Book of Moses" on net.religion.

I was amazed. A place where you could learn, share, and explore the church with intelligent and thoughtful Mormons in a realm without geographic boundaries?! And the fruit was most desirable. By 1986, the character of religious discussion had changed. Attacks on the LDS Church were common, and there were few if any defenders. I, a few co-workers and fellow BYU computer science alumni felt we should come to the church's defense, and we began spending time defending the church on the Internet.

In 1988, the first Internet-accessible e-mail group by and for Mormons was created, called "LDS-L."

It fulfilled my hopes from five years earlier for an intelligent, thoughtful, uncontentious discussion of Mormonism. It seems no topic was left unturned, and this band of nearly 200 Mormons, hungry for more light and knowledge began  feasting from the tree of knowledge. It was, to an extent, an Eden-like environment, not dominated by any agenda. Dogmatism and anti-Mormonism were absent in this hierarchy-free environment. Friendships, and even the first Internet-Mormon-marriage was forged in a community filled with spirituality and inquiry. And we began calling ourselves the Internet First Ward.

At this time the Internet was accessible through universities and engineering firms. Subsequently LDS-L was dominated by scholars and engineers, limiting participants to certain interests and personality types. In 1991, two BYU professors announced the creation of Mormon-L, specifically designated to be a forum for the scholarly discussion of Mormonism. Mormon-L quickly grew in popularity and became the dominant forum.

Several factors converged over the next few years that would change the face of Mormonism on the Internet and set the stage for the future world of the Bloggernacle:

1. Around this time, companies began providing Internet access to the public, noticeably affecting the topics and types of discussion on the Internet. A larger diversity of church members joined Mormon-L, bringing in different values, ideological views and approaches. This diversity expanded the types of opinions and discussions as well as how those discussions unfolded.

2. Like spokes of a wheel, new e-mail groups branched out, discussing specific aspects of Mormonism such as philosophy, scripture, history, feminism, antiquities and ultra-conservative Mormonism. But Mormon-L remained the central hub.

3. During this time frame, tensions had been increasing between feminists, intellectuals and the church leadership culminating in the 1993 excommunications of prominent scholars and feminists known as the September Six. The Internet provided an unprecedented stream of information and analysis as events unfolded. Because it hosted a large audience, Mormon-L played a role in magnifying those tensions.

In 1994, Mormon-L was shut down and removed from BYU computers. At that point, Mormonism on the Internet fractured. Feasting from the Tree of Knowledge was deemed at odds with the Tree of Life, and it was cast from the garden. With its removal, the one-stop shopping center for all things Mormon was gone, and Mormonism on the Internet became decentralized.

With the central hub gone, small, independent communities continued or sprang up over the next 10 years. New technologies opened the way for the Bloggernacle, providing a resurgence of Internet discussion and community.

The Bloggernacle is now the next chapter in the ever-changing world of Mormonism on the Internet.

 

Clair Barrus uses a unique form of automated historical blogging at Today-in-church-history.blogspot.com.

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