Marshall McLuhan’s Christianity

The late Marshall McLuhan was the pioneering scholar of media and the information environment, recognizing how technology was changing the culture and predicting what is now happening before our eyes.  He was controversial and cutting-edged with some hailing him as being a seminal thinker on the level of Darwin, Freud, and Einstein.  Did you know he was a conservative Catholic?  Jeet Heer tells about how McLuhan came to Catholicism–G. K. Chesterton was a big influence–and how the neo-Thomism of Jacques Maritain influenced his thought.  You need to read the whole piece, but here is a sample:

McLuhan’s pioneering studies of popular culture were part of a sea change in Catholic intellectualism, as the Church gave up the siege mentality of earlier decades and tried to offer a more nuanced and positive account of modern life. As well, the Church began to move away from its defence of authoritarianism to support pro-democracy political movements around the world. McLuhan underwent his own political evolution: the young man who admired Franco became the academic who engaged in a long correspondence with Pierre Trudeau. And while The Mechanical Bride condemns the comic strip Blondie for undermining the patriarchal ideal of the man as the natural head of the household, in later writings, such as Understanding Media, McLuhan deliberately eschewed traditionalist strictures, because he thought it was more important to understand the world than to condemn it. As he told an interviewer in 1967, “The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study.”

On moral matters, he remained very conservative. He was adamantly anti-abortion, for example. But part of his achievement as a mature thinker was his ability to bracket off whatever moral objections to the modern world he might have had and to concentrate on exploring new developments — to be a probe. Indeed, although he joined the Church as a refuge, his faith gave him a framework for becoming more hopeful and engaged with modernity. This paradox might be explained by the simple fact that as he deepened in his faith he acquired an irenic confidence in God’s unfolding plan for humanity. In a 1971 letter to an admirer, McLuhan observed, “One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility.”

Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.

via “Divine Inspiration” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus | July 2011.

I’m not sure of the exact connection between St. Thomas Aquinas as media theory, though McLuhan was not alone in working out the connections.  (Could anyone explain?)  Another major scholar in this vein was Walter J. Ong, a Jesuit.  Nor are Roman Catholics the only theologians who explore the implications of media and technology.  There was the French Reformed thinker Jacques Ellul.  And the Jewish Neil Postman.  And the American evangelical Arthur Hunt.

I would just add my own discovery:  McLuhan was also interested in classical education.  His doctoral dissertation was on the media implications of the Trivium.   I have a copy that I intend to read one of these days.

Anyway, I suggest that McLuhan may be a good role model for other Christians in their intellectual pursuits and cultural influence.

FURTHER THOUGHTS:  If you read Marshall McLuhan today, you will be amazed at how well he analyzes the new information technology and its impact on the culture and how we think.  And then you will be even more amazed that at the time the medium he was analyzing was not the internet but television!  But what he says not only holds true but predicts what happened as electronic media progressed.

Jesus vs. Family

The New Testament reading at church last Sunday was Matthew 10:34- 39.  Pastor Douthwaite pointed out that if the reading had come one week earlier, we would be hearing it on Father’s Day :

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

First of all, I’m curious how you would apply this text.  We tend to associate Christianity with “family values.”  And yet, according to this passage, they are not always going to be the same.   Clearly, when one member of the family becomes a Christian and the others belong to some other religion or no religion, this passage applies.  But how else?  Are we are sometimes tempted to idolize our families?  Can we turn our family into a little cults?

Our pastor handled the text in a very helpful way, as is his wont, observing that of course God honors the family, an institution that He Himself established, protecting it in three of the Ten Commandments.  And yet, Jesus does bring a sword.  Read what he says in the sermon linked below.   I loved his conclusion, in which he develops the point that “water is thicker than blood”:

By virtue of your baptism into Christ, there’s a new family to which you belong. A new family that transcends the bounds of time and space. A new family that will not last just for a time, but for eternity.

So even though the world will tell you that blood is thicker than water – that our earthly family relationships create a kind of bond that should not be broken by the things of this world that, by comparison, are like water . . . but Jesus is teaching us that the truth is exactly the opposite. For in our new family, our new life, water is thicker than blood. The water and Word of Holy Baptism creates a bond that is greater than any other on earth – not just a bond that we have with each other, but the bond that we have with each other by virtue of our being united in Christ. It is Christ that holds us together, Christ who gives us hope, Christ who by His blood gave power to this water, Christ who makes us all brothers and sisters and children of our heavenly Father, in Him.

And so in Christ we have a family and life that we cannot lose. Not because we’re so great, or because there won’t be any strife and disagreements in the church – there will be! We’re still sinners. But because we are united in the One who is greater than our sin, who gave His life to give us life. And so it is exactly in losing your life in baptism, losing your life in repentance, losing your life in service, losing your life in Christ – you find a life that is even greater. A life that will have no end.

All of which is not to say our earthly families are not important – they are! But since we’ve just had two marriages here this past month, perhaps something that is said at many marriages can help us understand. For it is said that when two people get married, we’re not losing a son, we’re gaining a daughter.

Well by faith, that is what happens here. In Christ, we’re not losing our earthly families, but gaining a new family. And so we have not just an earthly Father, but now a heavenly Father and also many earthly fathers and mothers, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters, and children and grandchildren! Time may take away our earthly families, space may separate us, and the Word of God may divide – but look at how richly God has rewarded those who abide in the truth of His Word! With a family that does not compete against Him for love and loyalty, but which is created by those very things. With a family that does not depend on us to keep it together, but one which He keeps together. For that which God brings together, He will keep together. Together in Him. United through Baptism, bound together by the Word, strengthened in forgiveness, and fed by the body and blood of the very Son of God! The Son of God in whom we are all sons of God. . . .

That’s why we put this baptismal font front and center in the church. For it is the font and front and center of our lives. We put it here so that you can’t look at the altar or the cross without looking also at it. So that if you walk up to this altar, you must go by it. So that it remind you that this is why you’re here; that water is thicker than blood. That no matter what happens in this world, no matter the divisions and struggles, no matter the sin and death – nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He has claimed you as His own, and you are His. Born again into His family. Or as St. John would later proclaim: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are” (1 John 3:1).

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 2 Sermon.

Children’s right to buy violent videogames

Kiddies, you are now free!  Free to play Grand Theft Auto!  The Supreme Court has ruled that you have the constitutional right to play violent video games!

States cannot ban the sale or rental of ultraviolent video games to children, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting such limits as a violation of young people’s First Amendment rights and leaving it up to parents and the multibillion-dollar gaming industry to decide what kids can buy.

The high court, on a 7-2 vote, threw out California’s 2005 law covering games sold or rented to those under 18, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free-speech rights. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia, said, “Even where the protection of children is the object, the constitutional limits on governmental action apply.”

Scalia, who pointed out the violence in a number of children’s fairy tales, said that while states have legitimate power to protect children from harm, “that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed.”

Justices Stephen Breyer and Clarence Thomas dissented from the decision, with Breyer saying it makes no sense to legally block children’s access to pornography yet allow them to buy or rent brutally violent video games.

“What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting the sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?” Breyer said.

Video games, said Scalia’s majority opinion, fall into the same category as books, plays and movies as entertainment that “communicates ideas — and even social messages” deserving of First Amendment free-speech protection. And non-obscene speech “cannot be suppressed solely to protect the young from ideas or images that a legislative body thinks unsuitable for them,” he said.

via Can’t ban violent video sales to kids, court says – Yahoo! News.

OK, but there is a difference between reading about violence and what you do to play a video game, in which you actively though virtually commit the violence.  I wonder too what other constitutional rights children can claim over and against what their parents say.

Digging up Shakespeare

An effort is afoot to dig up the body of William Shakespeare:

Paleontologists are looking to examine the remains of William Shakespeare, hoping to unlock the mysteries of the life and death of the world’s most famous playwright — and to prove that the poet once puffed.

The bard is buried under a local church in Stratford-upon-Avon. And a team of scientists, led by Francis Thackeray — an anthropologist and director of the Institute for Human Evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa — have submitted a formal application to the Church of England for permission to probe the site where he sleeps, perchance where he dreams.

Safely, of course.

“We have incredible techniques,” Thackeray told FoxNews.com, referring to the “nondestructive analysis” the team has planned. “We don’t intend to move the remains at all.” Instead the team will perform the forensic analysis using state-of-the-art technology to scan the bones and create a groundbreaking reconstruction.

The first job is to confirm the playwright’s identity, Thackeray said.

“We’ll have to establish the age and gender of the individual,” he told FoxNews.com. The team also plans DNA tests for not only Shakespeare, but also the remains of his wife and sister, also buried at the Holy Trinity Church.

For Thackeray, the next priority is solving the longstanding mystery of Shakespeare’s final days. “We would like to find out the cause of death, which is not known historically.”

If all goes well, he believes the research could ultimately establish a full health history and build a picture of the kind of life the writer led. “Growth increments in the teeth will reveal if he went through periods of stress or illness — a plague for example, which killed many people in the 1600s,” Thackeray explained.

The team also looks to address a controversial suggestion Thackeray made a decade ago, when he examined a collection of two dozen pipes found in the playwright’s garden and determined that Shakespeare was an avid marijuana smoker.

Thackeray claimed the devices were used to smoke cannabis, a plant actively cultivated in Britain at the time. The allegation has provoked disbelief and anger among some fans of the bard.

via Did Shakespeare Smoke Weed? Let’s Dig Him Up and Find Out – FoxNews.com.

I wouldn’t do that if I were you.  On his tomb, the Bard himself begs people, in Jesus’ name, to leave his body alone.  Not only that, he put a curse on anyone who would be so presumptuous as to dig him up:

“Good frend for Jesus sake forebeare,/ To digg the dust encloased heare;/ Bleste be the man that spares thes stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones.”

I’m suspicious of this story.  The Church of England says that it has received no such request to exhume Shakespeare.  Though the Institute and Prof. Thackeray seem to exist, their expertise on Shakespeare sounds very shaky.  Yes, people have grown hemp for centuries, but it was used for rope, not dope!  There is NO evidence that I have seen, NO documentary evidence, that anyone smoked weed in the 16th or 17th centuries.  If that happened, Shakespeare would have written about it.

Where are the Lutherans?

So asks Reformed blogger Kevin DeYoung:

What up with Lutherans?

More to the point: where are they? I’m looking for help from those of you out there who know the Lutheran world better than I do. I look around at what seems vibrant in evangelicalism and see lots of Baptists and Presbyterians. I see a lot of Free Church folks and a growing number of Anglicans. I see non-denominational guys aplenty. The Pentecostal world is a little outside my circles, but I certainly see continuationists and charismatics in conservative evangelical circles. But I don’t see many Lutherans.

I don’t know of Lutherans speaking at the leading conferences. I don’t know of many popular books written by Lutherans. I don’t know of church planting movements among Lutherans. I know lots of people who look up to Martin Luther, but I don’t see the influence of Lutherans.

I’m genuinely curious to know why the big tent of conservative, confessional evangelicalism doesn’t have more Lutherans. I understand that the Calvinist soteriology of TGC and T4G types doesn’t fit with Methodism or parts of the Holiness traditions, but Luther’s doctrine of predestination was Calvinist before there was Calvin.

I know Gene Veith is Lutheran. So is Doug Sweeney. White Horse Inn has worked hard to include the confessional wing of Lutheranism. But after that, I’m drawing a blank to come up with contemporary Lutheran leaders/theologians/pastors I know or read. I’m not blaming anyone–Lutherans or the Young, Restless, Reformed movement or the blogosphere or Sarah Palin. It’s just something I’ve thought about from time to time: Where have all the Lutherans gone? I know you exist outside of Lake Wobegon.

So which of the statements below best explains why quandry?

1. I’m ignorant. This is, no doubt, a  big part of the explanation. I’m sure there are thousands of good Lutheran churches and pastors. I just don’t know all the good they are doing and saying. And there may be thinkers and authors I like who are simply Lutheran without my knowing it.

2. With their high church, confessional tradition, Lutheranism has always been a little out of place with the sometimes rootless, low church expressions of evangelicalism. They never got on board with evangelicalism after the Great Awakening. This may be part of it, but evangelicalism has been influenced by many Anglican theologians and preachers, hasn’t it?

3. Lutherans are content to remain in ethnic enclaves. Again, that could be part of the issue, but then how do you explain the influence of the Dutch Reformed on evangelicalism?

4. The Lutheran view of the sacraments is a bridge too far for many evangelicals, and the faddish nature of evangelicalism is a bridge too far for many Lutherans.

5. Lutheranism in America has bigger problems and less influence than many people realize. The bulk of Lutherans have gone liberal and the rest have gone into bunker mode.

I’ll read the comments more carefully than usual. I blog so that I might understand. Help me out, especially if you are part of the tribe: What’s up with Lutherans?

via What’s Up With Lutherans? – Kevin DeYoung.

How would you answer him?  (Click the link and go to the comments to see what I said.  Also see what others have said, including the folks at Pirate Christian Radio.)

HT:  Justin Taylor

But marriage might restrict gays’ freedom

Though New York state has now legalized gay marriage, Katherine Francke, a gay law professor at Columbia, has qualms, worrying that marriage might restrict the freedom gays now enjoy.  She also fears that the parceling out of  benefits will now go only to marriage couples, thereby forcing gays to get married:

While many in our community have worked hard to secure the right of same-sex couples to marry, others of us have been working equally hard to develop alternatives to marriage. For us, domestic partnerships and civil unions aren’t a consolation prize made available to lesbian and gay couples because we are barred from legally marrying. Rather, they have offered us an opportunity to order our lives in ways that have given us greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.

It’s not that we’re antimarriage; rather, we think marriage ought to be one choice in a menu of options by which relationships can be recognized and gain security. Like New York City’s mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, who has been in a relationship for over 10 years without marrying, one can be an ardent supporter of marriage rights for same-sex couples while also recognizing that serious, committed relationships can be formed outside of marriage.

Here’s why I’m worried: Winning the right to marry is one thing; being forced to marry is quite another. How’s that? If the rollout of marriage equality in other states, like Massachusetts, is any guide, lesbian and gay people who have obtained health and other benefits for their domestic partners will be required by both public and private employers to marry their partners in order to keep those rights. In other words, “winning” the right to marry may mean “losing” the rights we have now as domestic partners, as we’ll be folded into the all-or-nothing world of marriage.

Of course, this means we’ll be treated just as straight people are now. But this moment provides an opportunity to reconsider whether we ought to force people to marry — whether they be gay or straight — to have their committed relationships recognized and valued.

via Same-Sex Marriage Is a Mixed Blessing – NYTimes.com.

The “all or nothing world of marriage”?  Now that more and more states are accepting gay marriage, it will be interesting to see if gays accept marriage.   Or if they just want social respectability while actually continuing to pursue their sexual “freedom.”


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