A friend alerted me to an article in First Things magazine entitled God and the Internet written by an on-line editor for the Weekly Standard named Jonathan Last. I have never heard of him, but that is beside the point. He took a cheap shot at my website. Here is what he said in his section on “consumerism“:
"A more personal strain of consumerism leads people such as Stephen Ray to hawk their wares on the web. Ray, the author of several religious books, runs a website called Defenders of the Catholic Faith. On it he features a photo album of his family and his travels, conversion testimonials from readers, and even his own blog. But the primary mission of Defenders of the Catholic Faith is to move product. Books, audio tapes, videos, DVDs—it’s all there, mingled with explanations of “Why I’m Catholic” and lessons about St. Mark. There’s also a press kit describing Ray, showing his upcoming speaking schedule, and telling you how to book him at your event for a mere $600, plus expenses. (That’s for local talks; overnight events are $1,800, plus expenses and, as his site explains, “Steve rarely travels without his wife Janet.”)"
I decided to write First Things to inform them of Last's fallacious and slanderous words. I posted my letter here and sent it to First Things. They wrote today and said they would publish my letter in the next issue, but it had to be fresh material — not already posted on my website. So, in light of that I HAD removed my response so they can publish it in their next issue of First Things.
However, I decided to put my response back up since I am not at all confident they intend to handle this situation properly and to date there has been a lot of correspondence but no apology or promise to rectify the very poor and impugning article by Jonathan Last.
Here is my response:
“My name is Steve Ray and my website is Defenders of the Catholic Faith. In your December 2005 issue I was mentioned in Jonathan Last's article God on the Internet. While I was flattered to be mentioned, I was not happy with the misrepresentation.
“Jonathan is completely inaccurate about the purpose of my website. He states that the primary purpose of my site is to "hawk my wares" or as he says, "to push product". If Jonathan had done any research for his piece and contacted folks like me, he could have avoided gross inaccuracies and a disservice to your readers.
It is one thing to make an objective statement but quite another to assert a subjective opinion imputing evil or questionable motives — especially with no proof or verification. How does he know my motives or what the main purpose of my site actually is? He never asked me nor the thousands of people who frequent my site.
“To set the record straight, it costs a lot of money to manage a website the size of mine. Just today I paid my webmaster $2,000 to install upgrades and to make changes so the site remains viable and easy-to-use. I just paid another $1,000 for other expenses like the server, the domain name renewals, security upgrades, band width, etc.
“If Jonathan would have asked I would have told him that I make very little money through my website. What little I do make doesn't even cover the cost of running the site. (If he had any experience in such things, or had taken the time to ask, he would have known that.) Every year I lose money — it costs more to maintain the site than what I actually make from it. I give away almost as much as I sell. My sales all go toward the cost of the web maintenance so that I can keep the website going.
“Let me make it real clear: I am a enthusiastic convert and the main purpose of my site is, and always has been, to help Catholics understand and defend their faith. I had this site LONG before my first book was ever published. I set it up to help defend the faith not to sell stuff.
“My Message Board alone have over 1,000 regular members who are never charged a penny to use the Board. I have spend countless hours and dollars keeping it updated, fighting off hackers, settling squabbles, paying moderators, and more — but I have never required or expected any payment from the members.
“Less than 1/25th of my site involves selling the books I've written and the videos I've produced. All of my articles and studies I've uploaded to my site are given away free of charge. And, the only reason I went through the hassle of setting up the store was because people were asking how to buy my books and videos, especially the videos/DVDs which for some reason are not available on Amazon.com. Managing the store is far more hassle than it is worth — it is a labor of love.
“By the way, does anyone find it ironic, even hypocritical that First Things “hawks“ products on their website with links to their store on every page? Why no criticism from Mr. Last about that?
“In the future it would be nice to make sure your writers do their homework before slandering good folks who are out here trying to serve our Lord. Informing readers that I sell sell my books and videos is one thing, to misrepresent and impute evil or suspicious motives is quite another thing. Jonathan Last was either dishonest, lazy or taking cheap shots simply to make his point. None of these are respectable or worthy of First Things.
“May I suggest that you provide a retraction and an apology for the statements made by Jonathan Last? It will prove to this reader that your magazine still has backbone and strives for honesty and integrity in what it writes.
In Christ and in His Church,