October 14, 2019

Bits of wisdom, more or less

Jeremiah received Gift of the prophecy, Chagall

Jeremiah received Gift of the prophecy, Chagall

Owl-512The voices of poets, storytellers, and artists will never be given the prominence granted to the pundits, politicians, and power brokers. And the world will be forever impoverished.

Owl-512And now abide money, sex, and power. But the greatest of these is power. “Such a waste of talent. He chose money over power, in this town a mistake nearly everyone makes. Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after ten years, power is the old stone building that stands for centuries. I can not respect someone who does not see the difference.” (Frank Underwood, House of Cards)

Owl-512“With paternal concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed ‘where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.’” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si)

Owl-512“One cannot be a missionary church and continue insisting that the world must come to the church on the church’s terms. It must become a “go” structure. And it can only do that when its concerns are directed outside itself toward the poor, the abused, and the oppressed. The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.” (Harvie M. Conn, quoted by Peter Enns)

Owl-512If your God cannot speak truth through mythic and fictional literature, your God is too small.

Owl-512A lot has been said lately about “the arc of history” — as in, “History, we hear, is on the side of ever-expanding personal freedom…” (Molly Oshatz, First Things). Many Christians, unfortunately, continue to think that this battling against this must happen on the field of ideas. We are not wise enough to recognize that ideas and morals follow technology. We think we can continue to progress in technology while retaining our old moral standards. I don’t think that’s possible, for advances in technology will always lead to greater human autonomy and greater human autonomy will always lead to greater freedom of choice as to how we can live. Therefore, the only way to keep the old moral standards intact is to revert to older technologies, and I don’t see many conservative Christians willing to do that.

Owl-512“A Christian is one who is on the way, though not necessarily very far along it, and who has at least some dim and half-baked idea of whom to thank.” (Frederick Buechner)

Owl-512

“[The gospel] is not tragedy—the story does not end in suffering. Nor is it comedy—disaster is not avoided. It is gospel — death both endured and conquered.” (Shannon Craigo-Snell)

Comments

  1. As one deeply influenced over these past years by the writings of the late Jacques Ellul, I can only say a hearty “Amen” to what CM (?) says when he claims that “We are not wise enough to recognize that ideas and morals follow technology.” Technology has its own momentum, its own logic, and it will not be denied.

    One needn’t be a forty-something curmudgeon like me to shudder at the sight of waiting rooms full of people immobilized by their mobile devices. We are insane to think that these technologies are not changing how we think and relate to one another — and to God. (And this medium here is not exempt from the critique.)

    “Freedom graven on a heavier chain” — originally Coleridge’s line about the nascent French Revolution. Ideas, ideas, ideas, but surely technology fills the role today. After all, who needs to think about events elsewhere when political revolutions only seem to require (A) a color to identify them, and (B) breathless commentary about how social media is making it all happen. Of course the revolution isn’t televised: it’s tweeted.

    In American religion, technology is just another morally neutral “thing” into which “content” can be poured like so much tap water. The Gospel not so much as soundbyte as a file in the killobyte range. Mustard seeds are way bigger. At least it’s easy to back up.

    The more we virtualize our lives into a Cloud of our own making (where’s my harp anyway?), the more we deny the Incarnate Word, the Word made flesh. It’s hard to resist tech’s pull, but we must somehow, not so much to save ourselves from a moral morass as to just save our souls, period.

    • But it all ultimately seems so ephemeral. What kind of revolution can be undone by your AA batteries running out of juice? When the waters are rising and the cities of the south are burning much of what seems important will suddenly become irrelevant.

    • David Cornwell says

      “One needn’t be a forty-something curmudgeon like me to shudder at the sight of waiting rooms full of people immobilized by their mobile devices. We are insane to think that these technologies are not changing how we think and relate to one another — and to God”

      Couple of years ago at a family Thanksgiving celebration, we were all anxious to meet the new girlfriend of one of the grandsons. We’d heard much about her, and now wanted to welcome her into our group. However, when we were introduced she barely raised her face from her cell phone. She spoke, without smiling, because of her intense concentration on this device. She barely said ten words during the entire gathering. Her face was glued to Facebook (or similar) and we went away without a clue.

      I recently heard a college prof talking about his many years at a small college in the American south where one would think being “friendly” was a virtue. He said one of the most disappointing changes has become the walk between buildings after class is over. In former years students would talk with each other, catch up on gossip, and just socialize. Now, he says, as soon as they walk out the door they glue their faces in a device of one kind or another and walk the entire distance between buildings, barely noticing other human beings.

      Of course this started with television many years before. My wife tells of family friends who would come to their home in the 1950’s, settle back to watch television, and barely speak a word the entire visit. And most of us have at least to a point abandoned the family table in favor of a tray or lap full of food to watch a movie. Marge and I do this some evenings. [stopping place to justify the practice]

      • “In former years students would talk with each other, catch up on gossip, and just socialize. ”

        What do you think the students are doing on those devices? As a father of two teens, I’ll tell. The exact same thing! What’s the difference?

        • David Cornwell says

          In former years they were forming relationships on campus with other students. Not much difference, I suppose. If they want to walk past each other on campuses with their noses in devices, heads down, that’s up to them.

          Probably just some old prof remembering old ways that he thought were better. He needs to get his own phone, and he’d fell right at home!

    • David Cornwell says

      Technology itself is not where blame rests, but with our abandonment of certain virtues that once were so important to our families, communities, and nation. Technology has facilitated this. And has clouded our awareness of neighbor and God. And perhaps self as well.

      • “We think we can continue to progress in technology while retaining our old moral standards. I don’t think that’s possible, for advances in technology will always lead to greater human autonomy and greater human autonomy will always lead to greater freedom of choice as to how we can live. Therefore, the only way to keep the old moral standards intact is to revert to older technologies, and I don’t see many conservative Christians willing to do that.”

        I have to think along the same lines as David here…Maybe I’m misreading, and certainly correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems to lay the blame (or laud) for moral decay (or moral advances, if you believe they are such) on whether we have Google and selfie sticks. It’s diving too close to the end of the pool that has progressive theology floating in it for me to be comfortable swimming there. Virtue and holiness don’t change in their definitions just because of cultural or scientific change.

  2. (A)dvances in technology will always lead to greater human autonomy and greater human autonomy will always lead to greater freedom of choice as to how we can live. Therefore, the only way to keep the old moral standards intact is to revert to older technologies, and I don’t see many conservative Christians willing to do that.

    Like the Tower of Babel, this problem may end up solving itself in the not too distant future. We should we striving to revert to older technologies, not only for the spiritual benefits, but because most of us may have to…

    http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2014/09/technological-superstitions.html

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      It is an interesting conversation. A couple of issues arise: (1) people have an odd notion of “technology” – your cell phone and computer is “technology”, as is gene therapy and the like… but your car, air conditioner, the power transformer on the pole, or the train you ride is not. But they all are. This misconception slews this conversation in bizarre ways. Meanwhile *all* those things are changing. (2) from the inside of the swirling storm [working in IT for ~30 years, and with transportation people]… much of “new technology” is the old-made-new, we reinvent much more than we invent [even in IT]; there almost an idea-X-comes-round-again cycle. It many ways and in many places we *are* physically/actually reverting to “old” technologies – just old technologies updated [more efficient, quieter, safer,….].

      We have reached a point of “diminishing returns” [as the article you reference states] – with Information Technology [IMNSHO] – I tend to think that happened awhile ago – but IT is *by far* the cheapest of technologies. However IT is not “technology”, it is only some of our technology. Much of our world is still dominated by technology that is dirty, dangerous, fragile, and ridiculously expensive [perhaps we are just soooo used to them we do not notice anymore?].

      • The ability to travel and relocate has changed society and the way we think about life more than IT. You are right — we must not just think about the technologies of today or tomorrow.

      • Michael Z says

        Most of the technologies that have increased the freedom and choice available to people (cars, flight, the industrial and agricultural revolutions, etc.) were invented well over half a century ago. Since then our only real technological advances have involved inventing new way to distract ourselves and make all that freedom a bit more bearable…

        • +1, Insightful!

        • “were invented well over half a century ago.”

          You undoubtedly meant to say well over a century ago.

          Either that or you are very young.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          It is easy to jump on the social-media-bad bandwagon. However as IT does not define “technology” neither does the noisesome torrent of Facebook and Twitter defined technology enabled networking. There are others; NextDoor, for example, which lays much of the Facebook model onto physical geography – where people ‘see’ those who reside near themselves. And there are church and neighborhood websites and forums. These technologies get much less airtime – but they are expanding their reach every day.

          Using these technologies I have witnessed an elderly man who in previous years had to skip meals in the winter to pay his heating bills ask for help and find nearby volunteers to come in the autumn and seal his windows. A lady whose bike was stolen – her way to get to work – had it returned to who a couple of days later when it was found and the finder knew who to take it back too. On a more trival note things happen like when I was able to borrow a wheelbarrow rather than buy one. All that is technology enabled.

          As transit has increased its frequency and reach – thanks in large part to improving technology – more people encounter each other. They notice the same elderly man or women gets on/off at the stop before theirs. They notice the mentally-impaired young man your rides around and around. Before they were oblivious these souls existed so close to them. People get off a stop early and help the frail woman carry her groceries to her house. The lady in the wheelchair can go the farmers market or her doctor’s appointment – on her own – without have to beg for a pity-ride from someone. And there is the fundamental aspect of becoming comfortable with proximity to people of an Other category; people they would have never otherwise been near. All that is technology enabled.

          As an advantage of being connected to one specific place my whole life I have gotten to witness a sea-change of attitudes in my and nearby neighborhoods. People who lived for years next to each other, now, recently, know one another. Five years ago I knew almost nobody who lived next to me. Now I know the first names of souls in a radius of several blocks. Walking the dog I see people outside, they wave, passing cars honk. This did not happen 10 years ago. This is, in part, and impact of the use of technology. Many people have transitioned back to the ‘old’ notion of neighbor – thanks to technology both penetrating into and coaxing them out of their ‘fortess-homes’.

          All that is only a beginning. Now neighbors – parents – who know one another don’t flee to the “good” schools [if they can afford to] when their child comes of age – they say to one another “No, it is unacceptable that *our* school is ugly, run-down, and ‘low performing'”. Those who cannot afford to flee to elsewhere, rather than being abandoned by their ‘neighbors’ are empowered. And things change – the school is clean, has a vegetable garden, and performance is improving. And nobody dares to threaten to shut it down and bus everyone’s children to the next-hovel-over.

          I don’t believe you can take technology, or new technology, out of that story.

          The juvenile soul glued to their mobile device surfing Facebook is not the entire story.

          • Adam, I feel you’re right. I resisted Facebook because of its very porous privacy restraints, and even now I virtually never post anything personal on it. But I can have a word with my daughter and some of my other relatives almost every day, and that’s kind of pleasant. I can also see and praise which friend’s grand-daughter won a 5K race, “join” with other dog-lovers in supporting rescues, and congratulate some gay friends on the Supreme Court’s recent decision. (Flame if you want to, but that’s how it is with us Episkies.) These nice moments might have been lost in the rush of every day life before now.

            More important, as you mention, is the boundless benefit the new technology is to people whoare elderly or homebound. With a computer, the world is at their fingertips — latest news, awesome photography, and lots of opportunity to participate with others who share their interests and concerns.

            Also, we don’t need to get too nostalgic for the old ways. That “sense of community” whose loss we mourn was often embodied in the small town where everyone knew everything. If that sounds warm and fuzzy, try it! People were the same then as now, and the gossip and malice that is now (perhaps thankfully) directed onto social media used to be directed right straight at some luckless inhabitant of the town whose “sin” of getting drunk 30 years ago was still in gleeful circulation right here in the church pews. Certainly the tiny town in which my mom grew up, like the different one I live in today, had plenty of buried bodies, deadly secrets, and amazing cruelty as well as the friendship, generosity, and illusion of intimacy that still exist.

            I still love my little town after 35 years, but if I’d been a “native,” by now I would have run screaming into a hermitage.

          • Robert F says

            And sometimes, perhaps quite often, those small towns harbored horrible patterns of abuse from which it was impossible to escape, and which few in local power had any interest in rocking the boat to change. Mobility and portability, both social and physical, are invaluable gifts that we have access to through technology.

    • Building on what Adam said, I would heartily concur. If any of you are familiar with Joel Salatin, he readily embraces technology in an “old fashioned” farming model and does it quite well. His social media presence is a tribute to how well he connects with modernity all the while extolling virtues of an integrated family farming operation.

      There are plenty of other examples of how “every day technology” of the most common sort shape our lives. We never think of soap or toothpaste or glue are technological advances, but they are. Well stated, Adam.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        “””There are plenty of other examples of how “every day technology” of the most common sort shape our lives. We never think of soap or toothpaste or glue are technological advances, but they are”””

        And unquestionably for the better.

        It is important to remember that technology always overtakes us. The steam locomotive and the automobile both made a fine mess of things before we learned how to regulate them and adapted to [or learned to ignore] the risks they posed. They both created plenty of economic, social, and ecological mess.

        Nobody but historians remembers the conditions of buildings heated with coal – thick smoke hanging over towns – as steam locomotives thundering through setting roofs and fields on fire [1], in between cooking and choking passengers in dark tunnels [2]. The traffic jams created by automobiles in the early part of the were a mess – with no clearly defined lanes and few crossing signals they say their belching acrid exhaust amid equally jammed up street cars and the occasionally panicked horse and buggy [3]. Everything was very clearly going to hell in a hand basket.

        Then we found ways to tame the beasts – perhaps some of those ways were wiser than others – but towns stopped burning to the ground on a regular basis. Air got *much* cleaner [4]. Things settled down to something resembling order. It takes time to learn how best to use – and not use – technology; a process that always appears to involve a *lot* of failure.

        [1] My childhood home town burned twice.
        [2] Chicago and New York electrified transit essentially at the gun point of angry citizens.
        [3] I own a 1919 Model-T Ford. The stories and photographs one can find are epic – something nobody today would ever dream of tolerating. Los Angeles traffic looks like a day at the beech.
        [4] Come to the Old Car Festival in Dearbourn where we all drive antique cars around all day. By the end of the day the eyes are stinging and if there is no breeze everything can turn gray. Imagine that at the scale of Chicago, then add in basement boilers fired by coal in every building.

  3. flatrocker says

    > “The voices of poets, storytellers, and artists will never be given the prominence granted to the pundits, politicians, and power brokers. And the world will be forever impoverished.”

    Tell that to Dante, Shakespeare and Mozart. Fifty years from now will we remember or even care about Rachel Maddow, Bill O’Reilly, Al Sharpton, Rush Limbaugh, George Soros or the Koch brothers?

    After the chattering classes have had their say, the only thing we seem to remember is beauty. And beauty leads us to truth. This is the enduring prominence that pundits, politicians and power brokers will never deliver.

    We doth protest too much, methinks. Now I think I’ll go listen to some U2.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Fifty years from now will we remember…

      Maybe not, but we will be physically living the squalor which they wrought. So who, in the end, actually has more power?

      > And beauty leads us to truth.

      If only that were true.

  4. Attributions, please? Who said this gem?

    “If your God cannot speak truth through mythic and fictional literature, your God is too small.”

    • A few of these, such as this one, are my own thoughts, rick.

    • Burro [Mule] says

      Always wondered why the Catholics [Tolkien, Borges, Calvino] and quasiCatholics [like Lewis and Williams] wrote the best fantasy (update to Tim Powers, John Crowley, Gene Wolfe), and Protestants seem to excel at ironic novels-of manners, as Updike or Peter De Vries.

      Is Protestantism a religion or an ideology?

      • Catholics have a sacramental imagination missing from Protestantism.

        Your question is a good one.

        • Burro [Mule] says

          Then the Orthodox should do better in this arena, unless we are missing something in our sacramentology that the Latins have that we don’t.

          Russian literature is steeped in Orthodoxy, and I wish there was more Papadiamantis (the Greek Dickens) in translation, but the fantastic doesn’t get much play, except in science fiction. There are, though, a href=https://grimmella.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/russian-medievalist-tolkien/> these wonderful illustrations for The Lord Of The Rings where the influence of traditional Russian iconography is immediately apparent.

          There is a writer who is supposed to be the Russian Tolkien. Her name is Maria Semyonova and her work is supposed to be epic fantasy/sword-and-sorcery but with a basis in Slavic folklore rather than Northwest European. There is also the clever Lord-Of-The-Rings-Told-From-Mordor’s-Side, The Last Ringbearer, which will probably never see the light of day in English if the Tolkien estate has anything to do with it.

          Non-Christian fantasy, like that of George RR Martin or Joe Abercrombie, reads more like alternative history than mythology. There is literally Nothing at stake.

      • “Is Protestantism a religion or an ideology?”

        Yes.

        • I think the standard reply is “it’s not a religion–it’s a relationship.” 🙂

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            Me groans! It has successfully been months since I’ve had to endure the hearing of that ridiculous &@^$&*@@# line. Why, Scott? Why?

      • I doubt Borges would raise his hand if this group was asked who was Catholic. The power of the man’s mind and range of knowledge certainly informed his writing of many things religious, but it is my understanding he was an avowed agnostic. As an aside, he was a friend of Pope Francis and on occasion guest taught in the latter’s literature classes when Fr Borgoglio taught high school aged students. (See Austen Ivereigh, “The Great Reformer,” in my estimation the best bio out now about the Pope.) Those would not have been classes to miss.

        Protestants can claim Marilynne Robinson and Frederick Buechner as a currently living great writers with large measures of sacramental understanding; likewise the recently deceased Reynolds Price.

        Mule, I’ll look into the Odox names you offered.

        • Robert F says

          Calvino was not Catholic either, never even baptized, far as I know. He described himself as an “atheist”.

    • Of course there are those who would claim that God can ONLY speak through mythic and fictional literature because he himself is a mythic and fictional character. heh heh heh.

      The “Catholic” fantasy connection doesn’t really follow. Commentators and biographers have long noted how Lewis’ Ulster protestant upbringing shaped his later religious values. HIs refusal to convert to Catholicism was the source of some of the tension between him and Tolkien that developed later in their lives. Borges was a self-identified agnostic. Calvino’s parents were Leftists who raised him without any religious upbringing by choice and he was a Communist at one point in his life.

      I’ve never understood the appeal of Charles Williams and find him well nigh unreadable but that’s just a personal opinion and not germane to the argument.

      • Robert F says

        Yes, I think it’s a mistake to call Lewis “quasiCatholic”. He was solidly Protestant from the time he embraced Christian faith as an adult, and never stopped being so. And I don’t remember that he spent much time in his writing discussing the sacraments.

        As your comment points out, Borges did not consider himself Catholic, nor did Calvino, who actually was never baptized.

    • Rick Ro. says

      I’m always marveling at how God reaffirms Himself to me through the secular world, be it music or movies.

      • *Especially* Paul Blart, Mall Cop.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Yes. It is the in-an-effort-to-change-my-mind-you-have-succeeded-in-further-convincing-me-of-our-disagreement effect. 🙂 Experienced it many times.

  5. Rick Ro. says

    “The voices of poets, storytellers, and artists will never be given the prominence granted to the pundits, politicians, and power brokers. And the world will be forever impoverished.”

    Clearly you’ve never read one of my poems. 😉

  6. I have to say, this is all very, very silly. I am alive today because, at age 11, I received an effective biopsy. My wife and son are alive today because of antibiotics, analgesics, antisepsis, effective surgery, and rapid NMR imaging. I am considering quitting my very dull job because I have developed a profitable sideline designing and selling custom lasercut items using a $1,200 device that sits on my dining room table, attached to a $200 laptop.

    Multiples more lives have been saved and lengthened and made freer of pain because of cheap hand soap, indoor plumbing and water treatment than have been lost in every war in history. And then of course there’s antibiotics and food inspection.

    I have . . . opinions about christianity and other religions. But I hazard to guess none of you would care to imagine the current state of your faiths without the invention of letterpress printing.

    How about carbonate-body semiautomatic high-powered rifles? Any of you guys wringing your hands about those or are they Cool, Masculine Technology whose writ may not be questioned?

    But yeah, go on and moan and groan and handwring about your angst because you can’t muster the willpower to uninstall Instagram.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      “But yeah, go on and moan and groan and handwring about your angst”

      I think you are misreading the above as Luddism, it isn’t.

      I cannot be a Luddite. I was born a six weeks premature in 1972 to a diabetic mother, deaf, and with twisted legs. A blanket criticism of technology could only be a form of self-hatred. Today – not only am I alive – but I can both hear and ride a bicycle to work every day. To clever doctors and their fancy tools – I raise a glass!

    • Yes, J. I’ve always said I’d be fine with going back to any time in history as long as I could have three things: modern medicine, modern plumbing, and the Bill of Rights. 🙂

      Like Adam and others, I’m sure, I would surely have lost the Darwin game if I’d been born before the mid-20th century. Allergic to milk, pneumonia in my lungs, and cross-eyed — Ayla’s Cave Bear folks would have mercifully buried me immediately, and even the Victorians would have had me baptised instantly because of my obviously imminent death.

      • Nobody here is arguing that technology is bad or undesirable. I’m just saying that conservative Christians don’t make the connection between progress and ideas. They seem to live in a world where they think it’s all about ideas, about “what you believe,” and they fail to see that we all look at the world differently now and think and believe and behave differently than what is represented in many of the so-called “absolute truths” they claim exist.

        You can’t and won’t persuade people today with arguments about ideas. The ideas you are trying to get across don’t make sense to them in the world they experience every day.

  7. “If your God cannot speak truth through mythic and fictional literature, your God is too small.”
    While I agree with this statement, I’d have to add that when it comes to many of my Christian friends and acquaintances, they’re a long way from being able to wrap their minds around a concept like this. For some, I might even go so far as to say that they are incapable of thinking on that level. They just can’t go there. And in trying to take them there, one runs the risk of destroying their faith entirely. They see scripture as literally true all the way through, or else it’s all a big lie. They don’t read classic literature (humanism! vain philosophy!), and they don’t understand literary devices like symbolism or metaphor any better than they did back in high school English class. They’ve been trained to recognize some non-literal aspects of scripture (Jesus’ parables, multi-headed monsters in Daniel and Revelation), but they’d be quite upset if you forced them to realize that they were interpreting these passages in a non-literal way.
    While an addiction to reading and a few college literature classes have enabled me to think on a different wavelength, I do understand their essential fear. When it comes to the creation story or the Tower of Babel or a lot of stuff in the OT, I’m okay with symbolic, mythologic, and theological interpretations of these. But try to tell me that Jesus’ physical resurrection was well-meaning myth, then you’ve gone somewhere I’m not willing to go.

  8. Robert F says

    i agree with much of what Adam has said above.

    I’m not someone who uses state of the art technologies, and personally I lean toward Ludditism, but let’s remember that the good old days and good old ways were not so good for everyone. The ability to easily communicate and travel has freed many individuals from the fate of being trapped in dysfunctional and oppressive, even abusive, local relational networks of kin and village. The ability to bail out of intolerable and unchangeable relational situations is of inestimable value, though we tend to take it for granted, and it is technology that has largely facilitated that ability.