The Inevitable Regrounding

Marshall McLuhan, in his famous 1964 book,  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man declared that “the medium is the message”

”McLuhan proposes that a communication medium itself, not the messages it carries, should be the primary focus of study. He showed that artifacts as media affect any society by their characteristics, or content.” (Wikipedia summation).

Nicholas Carr, in his important book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, starts also with McLuhan in 1964 but has the advantage of applying all that we have learned since then about neuro-plasticity )how the human brain swiftly adapts, repairs and is malleable) so that he is able to offer in more alarming insights into how the Internet is literally changing how we think, not just what we think.

Carr, while taking care  to note all the real advantages and pluses that the internet has given people like himself (and I whole-heartedly agree as Google has helped me swiftly unearth vast sources in minutes – which would have – decades ago, taken me days to excavate from library stacks) He notes the reality that not only is the  “medium the message” – it is also changing how we think:

The boons are real. But they come at a price. As McLuhan suggested, media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski. (The Shallows, Chapter One, Kindle edition).

To make it all simple – we have moved aggressively from a “word-based culture (at least the last 500 years) to an “image-based culture” dominated by sight and sound and the lessening of any widespread ability to take in pages of well-crafted words beyond just a very few without being distracted.

The Gravitational Reversal

Although we have found the need, in the Church, to make major accommodations to this shift from word to image-based communication of Truth there is an undeniable gravitational pull back to “the Word,” which is inherent in the Faith. God chose, not only to speak the Universe into existence via the Divine Logos (Word) His Son, but then chose to make the transmission of the Faith always find it’s core tether- it’s grounding – in the Word of God.

Thus as far way as we attempt to propel ourselves away and even re-create reality by technology and image (A postmodern Babel) we are always brought back to Earth by the logos – by the Word of God – both as incarnate Son and as Living Word.

To the extent that we give over to image instead of the subject it as a tool we commit idolatry – however well-meaning (and it can be quite so). But we are also always toying with fantasy.

Jesus was the most real human being who has ever walked this earth. He never entertained a single fantasy – not even in the Garden of Gethsemane when facing death. He asked for an alternative, but he did not suggest one.

The Logos/Word is the Meaning

All poor Marchall McLuhan was cluing in on was that in a world of shared and competing for cultural fictions – the latest technology, or delivery system would define the message – or at least share top-billing. And in the ever-changing fashion of truth in a world of competing fantasies he is correct – except they are all fantasies- each a linguistic and symbolic contrivance that has no inherent solidarity.

But the Word of God either one of them that God has given us- His Son, the Divine logos in whom, through who, and for whom all of creation was made” (Col. 3:15-23) , or what is called the “Living Word” (the scriptures) where Jesus contrasted the worlds of men and His words:

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not [v]act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and its collapse was great.” (Matt. 7:24-27 NASB)

We are inevitably either regrounded in the Word- both in Jesus the living Logos, and in God’s choice to bring us his “Good News” in the Bible, or we are lost and untethered in the conflicting and ever-shifting tides of fictitious sub-cultures of meaning which come and go like passing storms from relevancy to irrelevancy.

Just as the Church thrives when it is counter-cultural (contra-fictional), so it continues to be able to speak with clarity through the massive din and hum and technological image and noise if it elevates to the level of the Word…the inevitable Word.

Comments

  1. 1. All of the parables are stories, fantasies, to illustrate points Jesus was making. To suggest that Jesus never entertained or engaged in narrative creation is completely unsupported by the biblical text, and really kind of a distraction from the main thread of your essay.

    2. We have hymns because Luther needed a catchy way to teach illiterate people theology. Songs are still a medium of communication.

    3. Reading is an intentional discipline, and requires constant exercise, preferrably with things people enjoy reading. However, our schools mostly make kids read things they don’t like, and then overwhelm them with written content in college, so people associate reading with struggle, exhaustion, and duty, and avoid it as a past time, which in turn provides no room for exercise as a discipline.

    4. The pre-frontal cortex is a pattern-finding machine, and much of the focus on reading the word to find God’s will has far more to do with the current state of the brain processing what it reads than it does the bible itself, which is why I will find repeated themes in fiction and articles when the Spirit is communicating something to me. If we make the bible a boring chore that is a tool of denial and judgement, people mostly aren’t going to want to read it anyway.

    • I agree strongly with points 3 and 4. Discipline is the process of accustoming oneself to the sustained doing of a difficult thing, ostensibly because the achieving of that thing is worthwhile. So many times I have heard students say, “But why am I being forced to learn this?” Too often teachers (secular and biblical) dismiss this question as self-evident, irrelevant, or a cover-up for laziness. It is none of those things. Without a clear understanding of why we submit to discipline, we will gain nothing essential from it, and all our sweat and tears will be wasted.

      Why read? Why study the scriptures? Why pray, or sing, or give, or serve? Why submit, either to other humans or to God?

      It isn’t enough to say, “Because I said so,” or “because it’s good for you”, or “because if you don’t unspecified bad things will happen”. All of those answers are a cowardly flinching away from the core dilemma of human learning, human growing, and the making of human meaning.

      If it is good for me to be human, why is it so hard?

      I read the Bible to seek answers to this question. Jesus gives many, but answers can be found outside his words too. Psalm 23 is one such answer. The Book of Job is another, as is the Book of Ruth. Pain, submission, and loss are not forever: freedom, joy, peace, and love are our heritage and our inheritance. The death in the valley is real, and it is horrible; but a table laden with an abundant feast awaits on the other side, and we do not have to walk there alone.

    • Todd, I’ll have to re-read carefully to see if I suggested that the parables are anything more than suggestive fictions meant to be somewhat subversive (in the fullest sense of that term0. I am sure that you are correct about how most are forced to read. I was lucky- I read comics pretty much up until and through High School – then cracked the Bible with no prior knowledge one way or the other. What a shock.

      I am no the norm. I went from dumb-ass to pattern-seeking missile over-night and then spent th next 48 years utterly curious and possessing zero patience for any author who was muddy-headed or would not get to the point.

      And I read like a terror- not just the bible and doing so via exegesis, but literature- burning through Russian lit, French lit, some African and Japanese and Latin authors. Not that much use for Americans except Hemingway, Faulkner, Percy and Steinbeck – and even less for the English (W.S. bores me).

      But all these words are not like the inevitable Word- the Logos through Whom the world was spoken and is right now held together. And it was God’s choice – as much as it was the timing of Rome to have all roads open and Grek the lingua franca – that w not be subject to the tyranny of our Towers of Babel (Today, cell towers and the delivery of high-speed madness).

      If the Bible is boring it is because we no longer explore it but treat it as the antithesis of what it is; a rule book. It repudiates this at every turn- but by then we have stopped reading it so how could we be challenged by Jesus’ enigmatic statements? How could we be left in mystery? How could whole areas of deep theology be left ignored century after century (Like find me five great books over the last 2,000 years on the glory of Jesus Christ- just five – you would think there would be 500! I mean it is “Christianity!” But no.

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