The New Media Frontier
- Thursday, October 23, 2008
These are changing times, and it is sometimes fearful to live in such times. Fortunately, the church and Christendom survived many changes in the past. We have plenty of role models for courageously dealing with massive culture shifts.
The great Florentine poet Dante lived in times of even greater cultural change. Italy, the Empire, and the church were changing rapidly due to new ideas. Dante is a worthy guide to adapting the ancient message of the gospel to new times without trivializing it. He was part of a communication shift greater than that from old media to new as Dante wrote in Italian instead of the traditional Latin of the educated class. His use of vulgar language was never vulgar but united the vulgar and the aristocrat in admiration for his Comedy.
Dante demonstrated the power of Christendom to integrate ideas. His masterwork explored science, theology, philosophy, and poetry and was great art. He put it all together for his readers, bewildered by changing times.
Christianity retains the ability to unite the disparate elements of human culture. In a world where information overload may threaten to drown coherence in a sea of detail, the continued ability to integrate all parts of life into a worthy vessel will attract many to Christendom.
The good news is that for any group, propaganda will be harder to foist off on readers or viewers. Most people will have easy access to information from all points of view. Ideologies that depend on narrow outlooks and protection from dissent will wither. There will be an opportunity for open systems that can integrate without tyrannizing over the human mind.
Traditional Christianity is well suited for such a climate.
In the new media future it will be far harder to box off religion (or irreligion!) from the rest of life. Critics will be impossible to ignore, and any topic will be fair game. This can only strengthen the church. Basic understanding of apologetics will no longer be for a few but necessary for all Christians. If a group is willing to be modest about its claims and can defend the claims it makes, this will be a great environment for it.
More fringe groups like the Mormons will be able to survive only if they adopt defensible doctrinal positions. While new media make it possible for ideologically plausible groups to survive, even as tiny minorities, they make it harder for ideologically sketchy groups to flourish. Small religious groups will be able to publish but not to hide from scorching criticism.
The new technology also will revive the lure of the small town so loved by Burke and Tolkien.6 The new media will allow small communities to be as in touch with the “great cultural conversation” as big cities. They will be able to compete more easily with those great centers as the cost of the creation and distribution of ideas continues to plummet.
Because traditional Christians must by nature embrace living and orthodox faith, they are uniquely placed to benefit from both live and preserved performances.
What Should Be Done?
It might seem obvious, but the religion of the Incarnation cannot stop at blogging. God is not our “Facebook” friend. He is a person, and he has chosen in his sovereignty to reach out to humankind. For all the benefits of new media, we are not yet in paradise. With great good will come great evil. Old institutions will be shaken, and much that has been taken for granted for hundreds of years will change. How should the Christian react?
“Be not afraid!” John Paul the Great would say.
Too much Christian discussion about the new media concentrates on what is wrong with them. It is true that new media have allowed bad ideas to find an audience and easier access to terrible things. Such a concentration on evil runs the risk of missing what the Holy Spirit is doing in new media. Charles Williams warns that fixating on the Devil’s work often leads to acting like devils. Liberty is truth’s best friend, while attempting to protect the truth out of fear often does more harm than good.
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