Pastor’s Post #19: ““LIVING WISELY IN OUR MEDIATED 21ST CENTURY WORLD” ” (05/13’17)

This week we’re continuing our discussion of Media Ecology. The 21st century is and will continue to be a century marked by an environment (an ecology) of technologically mediated communications: Not just radio and television, but hand held radios and televisions – our so-called “smart phones”. And with those, our tablets, I Pads, laptops, and (for those who still use them), desktop computers. And we still have our radios and televisions – televisions whose sounds and images can oh so easily dominate our entire home with immediate access to sports, news, movies, music, photographs, numberless “apps” and on and on – not to mention some of the ugliest forms of perversion.

Like it or not, we are surrounded by a world of media – a whole new world that has taken shape and enveloped us in just a little over two decades.

How do you respond to (or react to) this Brave New World of technological media?

There are, I think, two common and very natural responses.

One is the Luddite Response. Ned Lud was the early 19th century British leader of a rebellion against the developments of the Industrial Revolution. And it was a real rebellion. Machines were beginning to replace human labor. These mechanized replacements for human labor were seen as dehumanizing and dangerous to society. The Luddites went so far as to destroy these machines because of their strong opposition to what they saw as something destructive to society. Today Luddites is a term used to describe similar opponents to modern technological developments. (Although, thankfully, we don’t see people actually destroying cell phones, computers, televisions, and tablets. Let’s hope things don’t get that bad!)

Now I confess that I have fallen into the camp of the Luddites. For some time, I just reacted to the new technology. As an older person, I didn’t take to the modern supposedly “user friendly” devices. I had to learn new skills. I had to cope with new problems. I preferred my books and my fountain pens and my quiet. Technology was a Big Brother watching and trying to control me. I didn’t like it. And I reacted.

Especially if you’re an older person like me you can relate to my reaction.

Now I am a “repenting Luddite”. There were at least two problems with my response to “the new media.”

One: I was avoiding reality. Like it or not, this heavily technologically mediated world in which I now live is – well – it IS the world in which I live. And, as a Christian, I need to learn how to be IN the world even when, in my principles, values, and goals, I am not OF that world.

Second, I was alienating myself from my own children. This world saturated with electronic media IS the world into which they were born, and in which they are to live. Just reacting to that world is not helpful. I need to understand that world so that I can help them learn to be IN the world, without being OF it.

But there is another common and very natural response to all of these new technological developments that are altering our ways of communication. That is to simply uncritically accept them and “go with the flow.”

Now that’s also a wrong response for many reasons.

Modes of communication are simply not neutral. As Neil Postman (whose religious background was Jewish) noted in the book we have been referring to, Amusing Ourselves to Death, the second of the Ten Commandments indicates that, in seeking to understand God, we are not to make “graven images” – concrete, pictorial representations of Him. Knowledge of God (and of everything about Him) should be by words – a medium which requires, as Postman put it, the highest order of abstract thinking. Trying to do this by visual media of any sort could only detract from the correct understanding of God. And that will, inevitably, (again, as Postman put it) alter the quality of a culture.

And even in the New Testament there are indications that not all media befit particular messages. It’s fascinating to me that in the Bible’s book of Acts – in chapter 16 – the apostle Paul and his companion, Silas, meet a slave girl who was possessed by an evil spirit –and whose whole life was associated with that evil. She cries out something true, “These men”, she kept saying, “are servants of the Most High God who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”. Eventually the apostle Paul is “greatly annoyed” and commands the evil spirt who possessed her to come out of her. And it did!

What does this have to do with media and messages? The girl’s message was perfectly correct. But its medium was one that did not befit the message. Now this is NOT to say that certain media are inherently evil, but rather that a medium affects the message – for good or for bad. This is why those who minister the Word of God must be blameless – godly men who, in word and in deed, are fit media of the message of the Gospel – the good news of the Word made flesh.

Our responsibility, in assessing media or anything else, is to not be conformed to this age, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We’re not to be reactionary Luddites or to be uncritically accepting of things in the world. We are called to test all things and to hold fast that which is good. In other words, we are to be wise – living with a reverence for God – in every age and in every sphere of life. And that’s especially true in assessing media of communication –because God is quite serious about communicating Himself to us.

Today we’re probing the question How Do I Live Wisely in Our Mediated 21st Century World? My guest again is Dr. Gregory Reynolds. Pastor Greg – pastor of the Amoskeag Presbyterian Church (a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church) in Manchester, NH, is the author of The Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures – the most comprehensive treatment of Media Ecology from the perspective of Reformed Christianity – Christianity that has its roots in the Calvinistic branch of the Protestant Reformation.

As parents, grandparents, educators, young adults – as concerned Christians – you’ll find the discussion in this hour to be immensely helpful – I assure you.

Dr. Reynolds (and Pastor Greg), welcome again to A Visit to the Pastor’s Study…