Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Do I "Always" Write Lengthy Papers; Massive Tomes, Interminable Epics?

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And now for a little lighthearted fun.

Do I write lots of long papers? Yes, absolutely. Do I always do so? No. Do I even do so a majority of the time? It may surprise many, but the answer is again "no". And now I have some objective statistics to prove it.

I've been subjected to criticism from not a few people, about the length of my papers. I generally reply that I write whatever is required to refute objections to Catholicism, and to prove our contentions in favor of our beliefs. Sometimes this requires relatively little "ink"; other times (and in particular subjects), quite a bit (more on this below). I do what I think is necessary in each case, in accord with the Pauline principle of "I have become all things to all people." If someone doesn't like the longer stuff, I am the first to tell them not to read it, and to seek what they need and want elsewhere. But if someone wants shorter treatments, I usually have them on my blog too, on any given topic or sub-topic. It just got easier to find them.

The general statement that I "always" write endless material on any given subject is untrue even with regard to my books. Two of my four bestselling books in their field: published by "real" publishers (Sophia Institute Press and Our Sunday Visitor), feature one-page and two-page treatments, respectively, of each topic: The New Catholic Answer Bible (half of the apologetics inserts) and The One-Minute Apologist. My simple pamphlet, Top Ten Questions Catholics Are Asked (also OSV), is also selling like pancakes, and has actually brought me more royalties than any of my books. So this myth can be laid to rest once and for all. Not only am I capable of writing short pieces, which in fact account for the majority of papers on my site, but successfully, in the book market, as well.

Recently, I have been categorizing the papers on my site into "shorter papers" (roughly 2-5 pages) and "longer papers" (often quite a bit longer if it is a "meaty" dialogue). This is long overdue. On my old website, I used to give the lengths in bytes of each paper I wrote, for the convenience of readers (something I rarely if ever saw anywhere else online), but since I've been blogging that became much more difficult. This system allows people to choose papers according to their need at the moment: short, pithy replies or in-depth ones. I wanted to do this especially for the sake of the readers of the CHNI forum, where I moderate. These are mostly young Catholics, so they usually prefer the shorter stuff, and this is quite understandable.

Of the 48 "index" pages that appear near the top of my blog, 31 of them now have this division of papers into "shorter" and "longer". The others were of a nature such that this division was unnecessary or irrelevant. Of these 31, 21 (or a little more than two-thirds) have more "shorter" papers than "longer" papers. The grand total of all the papers tallied from these pages is (drum roll):

820 "shorter" papers (52%)
765 "longer" papers (48%)

Sorry to shock (or "disappoint") those of you (many, anti-Catholics, whose motive is to discourage anyone from reading my writing in the first place) who have been perpetuating this myth about me for years. Facts is facts, and they R stubborn things, ain't they?

The following list presents my papers according to the index pages, from the lowest percentage of "shorter" papers to the highest:
30% "shorter" papers (17 shorter vs. 39 longer): Development of Doctrine38% "shorter" papers (21 shorter vs. 35 longer): Philosophy, Science, & Christianity
40% "shorter" (50 + 74): Luther and Lutheranism
41% "shorter" (19 + 27): The Bible: Sola Scriptura
42% (22 + 31): Catholic "Traditionalists"
43% (42 + 56): Fathers of the Church
43% (23 + 30): Atheism & Agnosticism
45% (22 + 27): Protestantism: Historic Persecution & Intolerance
46% (19 + 22): The Papacy & Infallibility
48% (31 + 34): The Church
+ + + + + + + + + +

50% (23 "shorter" papers vs. 23 "longer" papers): The Eucharist51% (36 shorter + 35 longer): Bible, Church, Tradition, & Canon
51% (44 + 42): Calvin, Calvinism, & General Protestantism
51% (21 + 20): Sexuality, Gender, Feminism, & Divorce
53% (29 + 26): The Blessed Virgin Mary
53% (29 + 26): Jews, Judaism, & the Old Testament
55% (34 + 28): Apologetics: Catholic & General Christian
55% (11 + 9): Inquisition, Crusades, & "Catholic Scandals"
56% (9 + 7): Liberal Theology & Modernism
59% (23 + 16): Trinitarianism & Christology
61% (25 + 16): Political, Ethical, & Moral Issues
61% (38 + 24): Baptism & Sacramentalism
61% (54 + 34): Salvation, Justification, & "Faith Alone"
63% (25 + 15): Ecumenism & Christian Unity
64% (14 + 8): Orthodoxy
65% (35 + 19): Saints, Purgatory, & Penance
65% (30 + 16): Life Issues
65% (11 + 6): Heresies & Comparative Religion
75% (12 + 4): War & Peace
76% (34 + 11): Conversion & Catholic Converts
77% (17 + 5): Hell & the Devil / Eschatology
I even have a fairly sensible theory, I think, as to what causes me to write proportionately more in certain subjects than in others. There is a "method to my madness" -- believe it or not: a rational and practical methodology regarding how much I choose to write. If a topic requires a lot of ink, I provide it. If it doesn't, I don't. Whatever is necessary . . . The main factors, I think, that cause relative lengthiness to occur are the following:
1) Complexity of subject matter.

2) Proportion of misunderstanding of the topic, from Protestants, atheists, etc. (whomever is the "opponent" in question).

3) Historical topics require a lot of material, because they are factual by nature, and entail documentation (the more the merrier, to prove one's "case").
Additionally, exceptions to the rule are often explained by the presence on a web page of many subcategories, thus allowing papers to be shorter because they deal with a relatively limited sub-topic rather than a large, multi-faceted topic. Let's now apply this analysis to the chart above:

The topic with the least amount, by far (30%) of shorter papers, Development of Doctrine, is easily explained, because it entails all three of the "length-producing" factors above. Nevertheless, even here, there are no less than 17 shorter papers, including seven in the "General & Introductory" section, where a new Catholic or person of any stripe new to the subject would usually begin. Thus the reader seeking briefer material has plenty, even on the page with the lowest proportion of shorter papers.

The "philosophy and science" page (38%) is easily explained by complexity of material, as well as the erroneous widespread perception that philosophy and science are largely antithetical to Christianity, and cause problems for it. That takes time and effort to counteract; hence, lengthiness.

"Luther & Lutheranism" (40%) involves all three factors, too. "The Bible: Sola Scriptura" (41%) is a topic vastly misunderstood (on both sides), is complex, and involves a lot of related historical analysis, so that entails all three "length" factors as well. "Catholic 'Traditionalism'" involves the first two factors; not so much the third, but it substitutes a lot of attention to liturgical issues, which are "legal" and "canonical": an area that requires a lot of documentation and wrangling back and forth; easily accounting for the lengthiness. Two of the remaining five topics are primarily historical. "Atheism & Agnosticism" involves the first two factors in droves, as do the "Papacy" and "Church" topics: which also involve historical argumentation to adequately defend. This easily accounts for all the pages with a majority of "longer" papers.

The most surprising entries in the second section of the chart are the "Mary" and "Salvation" pages, where both complexity and misunderstanding (from Protestants) abound. But they also have many subcategories, so that mitigates against what would otherwise certainly tend to be lengthy papers, based on factors #1 and #2. This explains why they are exceptions to the rule.

Categories on the higher end (high proportion of "shorter" papers) are explained as topics where Catholics and Protestants (or at least the "orthodox" in both camps) largely agree (e.g., hell, war, non-trinitarian heresies and non-Christian religions, the abortion issue). "Saints, Purgatory, & Penance" (65% shorter) is probably the most surprising because it involves factors #1 and #2 to a high degree. My theory there would be that the biblical evidence is relatively less explicit. Therefore, lengthier treatments get into the issue of development of doctrine (the most lengthy topic), which in turn involves a lot of historical documentation. But treatments of saints and purgatory can't always get into that depth, because it goes off in a different direction ("rabbit trail"). Therefore, the papers are shorter overall than we might expect.

Lastly, another factor that clearly adds a great deal of length is the presence within a topic of many dialogues. I have well over 400 dialogues (possibly over 500 by now: I no longer count) posted on my site, and generally I answer my dialogue opponents line-by-line, per my socratic method and understanding of what a true debate is. Obviously, if a post of mine involves citing an entire article from someone else, and answering it, then it will be very long. But roughly half of it isn't my writing at all. I want readers to see both sides, so I cite my opponent in entirety in most cases. Nothing is left to speculation. It's called fairness, and thoroughness. I think those are good things, not bad things.

On a related note, I am accused somewhat often of being difficult to understand, too, in my writing. I've contended for years that, yes, reading my writing does require some education: say, high school level. And I presuppose a certain level of theological understanding. I rarely try to "dumb down" my writing. It is written pretty much as it comes out of my brain: love it or hate it. It is what it is. I have to write the best way I see fit, and I never imagine that everyone will be pleased with the result. But it seems that many people are, judging by the substantial sales of my books (when they are properly advertised). My stuff isn't for dummies. I'll promptly admit to that "shortcoming" (and proudly so!).

A while back, I was delighted to discover that on amazon.com there is actually a scientific sort of vocabulary analysis that is applied to writing, to determine how difficult it is and how educated a reader would have to be to read it. And sure enough, when I applied it to some of my books, the determination came out to (I already guessed it): exactly 12.0 years of education, which is a high school diploma.

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