The results of quantitative analysis show that users with a more negative symbiosis inclination, with strong self-assertion and self-righteousness, post more often to BBSs. The statistically detected characteristics of the active posters to the BBS imply that in spiritual communication, having dialogues on BBSs is difficult, whereas posting monologues on weblogs is easier. Additionally, this supports the potential value of our system portfolio, which integrates a dialogue (BBS) and monologue (weblogs) organically in order to implement a Goffman-like (1967) ritual or Habermas-like (1992) discourse ethics. In this section, I first introduce an example showing the difficulty of a spiritual dialogue and then provide an illustration of the effect of ritual implementation.
Users Who Abandons Dialogue
A remarkable phenomenon illustrating the difficulty of dialogues regarding value-oriented domains such as spirituality is that some users who posted very eagerly about spirituality on the BBS suddenly stopped posting at a certain point in time. Equally remarkable, most of these users then continued to post to their own weblogs. This could be interpreted to suggest that spiritual dialogues on BBSs are too difficult to continue, while monologues on weblogs are easier or more comfortable. Users’ actions might then reflect a shift from something that is difficult to something that is easier.
In Spinavi, posts such as flames, trolls, and the like are deleted in keeping with the contract the user agreed to at the time of registration; this may be responsible for the very low incidence of flames, trolls, defamation, etc. As a result, other major sites and major newspapers have introduced Spinavi as a serious, well-intentioned spiritual website. Nevertheless, the fact that some of the most eager users abandon their dialogues suggests that spiritual or religious dialogue involves difficulties too great to be resolved by the users’ good will alone.
In what follows, I provide examples of users (and their tendencies) who have expressed difficulty in participating in dialogue, as well as unusual examples of users who have stopped posting altogether. First, there is the case of the user who sees the beliefs of others as fanaticism and as an attempt to dominate, causing that user to feel uncomfortable. For example, a certain Christian User A posted:
It is said that a variety of phantoms appear before those who practice Zen [religious meditation of Buddhism]. It is also said that they often have the experience of floating in the air, of being wrapped in a golden light, or of their bodies becoming transparent. However, true spiritual enlightenment should be the attitude to recognize the ordinary in an ordinary way. It is never obtained by being intoxicated with power.
To counter this, another Christian User B quoted a description of Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17) and pointed out that, given this account, the posting by User A profaned Jesus.
Then, User C posted a comment to User B who quoted a Biblical miracle, and wrote:
First let me say that I don’t want to argue about contents. You can believe anything as you like. But, your manner of speaking seems to me one-sided and domineering. Your manner turns the context into criticism, and I felt hurt and deflated. It depressed me. Although you may think that your comment was not directed at me, people are hurt by people’s attitudes towards others.
Following this post, User C stopped using the BBS.
The second example is one wherein criticism and/or non-agreement with a user’s opinion engenders emotional conflict. One pattern is that a user sometimes stays angry regarding a reaction to the user’s most sincere thoughts, only to receive a response that is something other than praise or is an overly naive question. For instance, User D asked how to deal with a series of unexpected and unlucky results, such as being served dishes at a restaurant that were not to his or her liking. User E gave User D concrete and detailed advice, such as ordering a delicious dessert and so on. User D replied, writing innocently, “Your advice is too concrete. Would you give me more general and spiritual ideas?” User E then wrote back: “I am sorry to say this but I now really regret replying to you.” Following this exchange, User E stopped using the system entirely. Similarly, there are cases where a logical counterargument is regarded as a denial of character and/or as an insult and thus causes anger. For example, when a logical inconsistency in a posting to the BBS was pointed out to User F, he responded in a weblog entry: “There are increasing amounts of indirect slander and blame on the Spinavi Forum, and the atmosphere has gotten a lot darker. From now on, I’ll write my own thoughts in MySpinavi.” Even after User F stopped using the BBS, he continued to use the weblog.
The third is a case in which a user is emotionally conflicted regarding opinions that are against his or her religious beliefs. For example, on December 23, the Japanese Emperor’s birthday and two days preceding Christmas, in a thread on the BBS with regard to Christmas, User G posted: “All Japanese should not forget that today is a very special day, because Japan is the land of gods.” In Japan, Shintoism incorporates the idea that Japan is a sacred place created specially by the gods, and that the Emperor is a descendent of the gods, and, as such, came down to Japan from Heaven. This posting was most likely related to this idea. While many Japanese do not necessarily believe in these ideas as strongly as in times past, they retain a certain pride in and respect for the Emperor and continue to accept these as a kind of cultural mainstay.
However, such ideas are strongly opposed by a minority of people, such as Christians who only accept the holy existence of the God of the Trinity and believers of other religious ideas that are opposed to the Emperor system. Some people consider that Emperor worship in Shinto was, in fact, responsible for World War II. Indeed, in response to the above posting in the BBS, User H wrote: “Don’t cover the poverty in your mind by pretending that an outer authority is a part of you for your self-justification.” After awhile, User H expressed regret for this emotional outburst and apologized by writing, “I should be more patient and more thoughtful in the use of my words.”
The fourth is a case that contradicts the third, in which a user feels a lack of spirituality or belief when compared with others, and thus suffers from a loss of self-confidence, thinking that his or her religious capabilities and/or spirituality are insufficient. In many cases, this is caused by an event in which a user lacking confidence is touched by another’s particularly strong beliefs. For example, User I, who at first had been critical of the Emperor and Shinto, was finally influenced by the opinions of User J, who had been admiring the holiness of the Emperor’s spirit. After this, User I apologized to User J on the BBS, saying, “I am sorry that I was a little man.” After that, User I wrote in a weblog:
It was me and not him [User J] that made a mistake. I should leave this website and concentrate on perfecting my spirituality. At the very least, I should convince myself of my own spiritual value from deep in my heart. I must discipline myself so that I can see what is true, and refrain from contacting with society until I accomplish that goal. Talking about spirituality is a great burden for me.
After this post, User I abandoned the use of both systems.
All of the above examples can be interpreted as consistent with the results of the aforementioned quantitative analysis, namely, that the more a user has a negative symbiosis inclination with strong self-assertion and self-righteousness, the more often that user posts to BBSs. In the face of this sort of self-assertion and self-righteousness, when people who are interested in spirituality but do not intend to live with others in long-term relationships discuss their own beliefs, conflicts are inevitable.
Communication Realized as Monologue
By way of contrast, a system in which weblogs and a BBS cooperate organically by intermingling monologues and dialogues acts as a cushion to ease the difficulties inherent in dialogues. For instance, the aforementioned User A, who was told on the BBS that his/her posting profaned Jesus, avoided replying directly to this criticism in dialogue on the BBS. Rather, User A posted a comical diagram aimed at satirizing the “abuse” of User B (the critic of user A) who quoted the Bible to his/her own liking and imitating medical warnings that prohibit the abuse of medications.
User K, who experienced an unpleasant dispute with other BBS users with regard to the doctrines of Christianity, in a posting to his own weblog stated: “I was surprised how people expressed themselves on the Internet.” There, the user wrote:
I have ridiculed the idea of two separate worlds—that of the real world, and that of the Internet, but I may have to change my mind on this. Sometime I am very surprised by such phenomena. Some people write outlandish things on BBSs that they would never say in the real world. Maybe they live in this world, thinking that they can not say things like that to others, and therefore say things like that on the Internet to compensate.
Users may well avoid a direct dialogue regarding a posting on the BBS and rather choose a form of communication whereby a monologue is published that can be read by their critics. In these ways, some users who were criticized on the BBS did not dare to respond in the same BBS, but instead disclosed their opinions on the matter on their own weblogs. This might be an example of an avoidance ritual, in Goffman’s (1967) terms. In many cases, other users did not dare to become involved in the controversy. They might be seen as examples—again, in Goffman’s (1963, pp. 83-88) terms—of what is called “civil inattention” towards an interaction. In any event, most of the time when a third person tries to facilitate the discussion or mediate between two parties, these efforts end in failure.