When one writes under a pseudonym, or even anonymously, is he showing a lack of courage? Should the content of his writing be disregarded because his identity is hidden? Some, such as Paul McCain, think so. This is certainly a valid opinion. However, I've been pondering the question, lately, and it occurs to me that the practice of writing under an alias merits a defense.
First, let us establish that there are levels of anonymity, or if you wish to see the cup half full, there are levels of clarity regarding a writer's identity. And I admit that when I see a commenter who reveals only a first name, or a blog of which the name of the author is completely unclear, I do find it a tiny bit disturbing. I'm not saying I'm angry, or annoyed. I'm just saying that, personally, if I could have it my way (which might not be best), I would prefer to know those with whom I am conversing. And in such cases, there are a variety of reasons for the lack of full clarity. Some are simply sloppy in their creation of blogs, and forget to make their identity more clear. Some are quite intentionally vague, and that for their own reasons, which I don't necessarily condemn. And after dealing with some of these guys in 'e' discussion for a while, I think that in many cases, we can make pretty good guesses as to who the writer is. Some of us in the Confessional Lutheran blog world, for example, can be fairly sure, I think, who "Peter" is.
Now regarding the utterly anonymous or pseudonymous, you know, the General Scuttlebutts or Priestmans of the world, their hidden identity is certainly intentional. Indeed, with some of this sort, we are dealing with the precise identity they want the world to see. I am perfectly content to hear these writers out, and deal with them on their own terms. In a moment I'll try to explain why.
But first, to be clear, dissociating one's true identity from his writings can be a vehicle for real mischief. It can afford a writer a safe haven from which he might launch unchristian attacks on others. It can enable one to write in ways that he ought not, both in terms of substance and style. This is all patently true. We must immediately admit a couple of things, however. One is that such things are done by writers whose names are known all the time. The other is simply that abuse does not disprove use. In fact, it can be argued that it only confirms the essential validity of the thing in question (Abusus non tollit usum, sed confirmat substantiam).
There are, in fact, times and places, both in the world and in the Church, where it becomes helpful, and needful, for a writer to express what he needs to express under some sort of cover of safety, such as a pen name. Immeasurable good can be accomplished for the Church in such situations.
One example that immediately comes to mind is Matthias Flacius, the true leader of the Gnesio Lutheran movement after Luther's death. The men who had the prestige, the fame, the established position of 'moral authority' after the Reformer died were the Wittenberg theologians, such as Melanchthon and Bugenhagen. This does not mean, however, (God bless their eternal memory) that they were always right. So it could be dicy business to go against them, or to go against the pope or emperor without their approval. This Flacius did, over and over again, on matters such as the Augsburg Interim, and the Leipzig Interim. And he paid bitterly for it. Much of his great work was written under his own name, but sometimes he needed to write under other names, such as Christian Lauterwar, Joannes Waremund, Theodor Henetus, and Carolus Azarias.
We do not live in the complex world of late sixteenth century Europe. Yet our situation has its own complexities. Nor, I would hasten to add, ought we presume to know the complexities of an individual's personal situation, even if our own corner of the Church seems cozy enough at the moment. Lutheran bureaucrats can be nasty, which I guess is my own twist on the adage about what absolute power can do.
Therefore my own response to writers who write from 'underground,' as it were, whether or not I always agree with you, is: right on! and write on!