Psalm 144:4 Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow.

Message & Media (part 4) – Modern Relics

We live in the ‘post-modern’ age, yet we remain profoundly influenced by the modern age.

As an example, a huge amount of our education system is based on books, reading and writing.

The printed page is possibly the most long-lived relic of the modern age, with the invention of the printing press being perhaps the most profound turning point in post-resurrection history because of the effect it had on the world at the time and the effect is still has.

The onset of printed page immediately gave much greater access to not only dissemination of ideas, thoughts and concepts, but also to the effective ‘privacy of knowledge’. By this I mean the possibility to take a book or printed document away from everyone else and learn it privately, individually, away from community.
Print, the large-scale reproduction of information based on the phonetic alphabet intensified an ability to explore abstract concepts and linear and ‘logical’ thinking. When reading print, the media itself gives you the impression that what is written is rational, it encourages linear thinking as the words follow a linear pattern on the page. The gravity and longevity of an idea are emphasised in a printed document, more so in the early years due to the significant cost of getting anything printed.

This had an impact on faith and Christianity. It led to the introduction of the ‘Faith Train’ model.
Faith train model: Fact-Faith-Feeling
The train can run without the third carriage but it would not run if you tried to pull it by the third carriage!
It leads to people saying things like

“We Christians don’t depend on feelings or emotions but we place our faith in the trustworthiness of God and the promises of his word.”

This model of faith relies on knowledge being used as building blocks –
“All truth is derived from a single foundation
Knowledge is added on top of this foundation
Knowledge builds in one direction from the foundation upwards
It becomes a one-way, sequential metaphor where the foundation determines everything above it.
It also directly mirrors the one-way, line-by-line letter-by-letter printed page.
It is directly derived from the print age or modern age.

The problem in this model emerges when you take one bottom or low down brick out, the whole lot falls down. Rob Bell, in his book ‘Velvet Elvis‘ described this model of faith as ‘Brickianity’.

In 1970, Willard Quine, an American philosopher, introduced a new model of understanding knowledge in a book called ‘The web of belief’.
In the book, Quine described knowledge to be conditioned by truth claims and experience.
Truth claims have multiple interconnections.
The web is bound by but not rooted in experience.
There is no specific foundation but the web is legitimised by its coherence, i.e. the more interconnections there are, the more the coherence of belief and therefore the more rational it is to believe.
Belief shapes experience and belief is shaped by experience.

This mode of thinking was derived from the post-modern electronic age, the age of the telegraph and other information technologies.
Willard Quine's 'Web of belief"

This model is more like the trampoline concept explored also by Bell in ‘Velvet Elvis’: Interconnections between truth claims should be tested, if they fail, there are others to support faith and be strengthened or others can be created that are coherent and cohesive.

I think it is a more robust model of faith, one that can be much more flexible, yet remain much more true and faithful to and serious about the bible overall.

Naturally, there is also a danger in the model:

In the age of post-modern electronica, context is removed, history & context is seen to be largely irrelevant, there is generally no percieved rational basis for valuing one thing over another as, for example, news is presented as equal articles on a news website.
Knowledge can become a purely experiential and relative web and at same time, the sense of metanarrative (organising story that unifies other truths) can be eroded along with the concept of ‘absolute truth’.

Your task for today: Explore the effects of Printing on Christianity. Using the McLuhan analysis method

What does the medium of the printed page extend / enhance?
What does the medium of the printed page reverse into?
What does the medium of the printed page retrieve?
What does the medium of the printed page obsolesce?

Please get stuck in!

5 responses to “Message & Media (part 4) – Modern Relics

  1. Alex Green 19/04/2011 at 12:45

    In the absence of any other comments or attempts at this, let me share What I got:

    What does the medium of the printed page extend / enhance?

    Amplifies the notion of a personal relationship with God. Nurtures individual spiritual practices. Enhances capacity for discerning Scripture through critical reason & analysis.

    What does the medium of the printed page reverse into?

    At the extreme, reducing the gospel to a gospel for one and turn it into a set of abstract propositions to be believed. Also creates the illusion that we can see perfect truth with complete objectivity.

    What does the medium of the printed page retrieve?

    Paul’s letters to the church. Stained glass windows used before print were ill-suited to convey the abstract and highly rational prose of Paul.

    What does the medium of the printed page obsolesce?

    Tendency to obsolesce (or change function of) communal faith. Erodes intuitive aspects of faith, along with our appreciation for mystery.

    • David McHaffie 28/04/2011 at 23:10

      Printing is a good example of something being both good and bad, depending on how it’s used. (Applies to everything.) It can be stimulating or boring (depending as much on who you are as on its inherent quality or otherwise).
      I’m looking forward in the workshop to seeing the good points of the different media we’ll be looking at. At this moment, I remain to be convinced of the value to our church of some aspects – I’m not against any of them, just don’t see can be put to fruitful use.

      • Alex Green 29/04/2011 at 07:06

        Thanks David.
        I can appreciate your concerns and hesitance for certain media types, and It’s quite possible that some are, at this time, currently inappropriate to fruitful use in church. I hope we get to cover it all!

      • Alex Green 11/05/2011 at 11:43

        David, did you find that any of your perceptions changed relating to various media forms?
        I imagine we probably need to dig a little deeper into some of them and possibly, we may find that the relevance of certain media forms for use in church contexts are still yet to be truly discovered or exploited.

  2. Pingback: Message & Media (part 8) – Workshop Summary 1 « [un]conscious-stream[ing]

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