Bible reading in the digital age

In answer to my question about how reading conditioned by the internet might affect the way people read the Bible, Rev. Lucas Woodford (my former pastor) pointed to this article by Robin Phillips published in Touchstone in 2012, which also gets into the various ways reading itself has already changed over the centuries.  An excerpt after the jump. [Read more...]

Rumors crossing into journalism

The internet can serve as a vast gossip network, a way to spread rumors and falsehoods.  That’s bad in itself, but especially when the falsehoods get taken up by the ostensibly legitimate press.  And people and their reputations can get hurt in the process.  That’s what happened to South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.  Kathleen Parker tells the story:

The rumor — that Haley was about to be indicted for tax fraud — was so delicious that other bloggers, tweeters and even some mainstream media outlets felt compelled to repeat it.

Except that it wasn’t true. Not even a little bit. Some twit apparently thought it would be fun to start a rumor and see what happened next. . . .

The New York Times tracked the path of the Haley/tax rumor to show how quickly it traveled from a small spark in the fevered brain of a political enemy into a bonfire of inanity. It began with a blog item, then was tweeted by the Hill, a Washington political newspaper, and reported in a short article by the Daily Beast.

All of this happened March 29 between 12:52 p.m., when the blog post went online, and 1:12 p.m., when a reporter for USA Today decided to call Haley’s office and actually find out if the story was true. Give that reporter a raise! But the rumor was retweeted at 1:14 by a Washington Post reporter and later picked up by online outlets Daily Kos and the Daily Caller. By 3:29, the Drudge Report linked to the Daily Caller article featuring the headline: “Report: DOJ may indict SC Gov. Nikki Haley for tax fraud.”

The next morning, The State, South Carolina’s largest newspaper, had a front-page story. All in a day’s whisper.

What is abominably clear is that this sort of thing can happen to anyone at any time. And much worse things can be said that can’t easily be disproved. Haley extinguished this fire by releasing a letter from the Internal Revenue Service stating that there was no investigation.

via Whispering campaigns can take flight in new media – The Washington Post.

The Bible’s physical form

We Lutherans believe in the supernatural efficacy of “Word and Sacrament.”  Other Christians believe in the power of God’s Word, but deny that water, bread, and wine, when joined to God’s Word, can have any more than a symbolic significance.  After all, how can the physical convey what is spiritual?  Part of my answer has always been that the Word too is a physical thing–ink on paper, sound waves in the air–that God uses sacramentally to bring us His grace.

David Neff of Christianity Today has written an interesting piece on the physical form of Bibles from the middle ages to our present-day “Bible apps.”

The default meaning of Bible for Christians in my group was the King James Version. The default physical form was a black leather binding.

The physical form of the Bible matters because it influences the way Christians use their sacred book. In the countercultural 1960s, for example, publishers shucked the black leather uniform in favor of more contemporary dress. The aim was to reach those who might not otherwise pick up the Scriptures. The American Bible Society’s Good News for Modern Man resembled a mass market paperback, and Tyndale House’s Reach Out: The Living New Testament looked just plain “groovy.”

Three centuries before Luther’s New Testament first came off the press in 1522, workshops in Paris produced one-volume Bibles called pandects. Unlike the large multivolume Bibles that sat in churches, monasteries, and rich men’s libraries, these could be conveniently carried by Sor-bonne students and mendicant preachers. Thus began the revolutionary shift from communal reading of Scripture to its private, individual consumption.

In 1735, the Bible emerged in another physical form—the family Bible. An English publisher named William Rayner produced The Compleat History of the Old and New Testament or a Family Bible. This was the first time that phrase was used, according to Liana Lupas, curator of the American Bible Society’s collection of rare Bibles.

The purpose of these Bibles, says Lupas, who curated a current exhibition of family Bibles for the Bible Society’s MOBIA gallery, was to provide study helps to answer questions that readers might have, and also to stimulate families to center their common devotions on the Bible.

People soon found other uses for these Bibles, pressing flowers, preserving locks of hair, and protecting other keepsakes. Families had already used the blank pages at the beginning or end of large Bibles to preserve genealogical information, recording births, marriages, and deaths. Dedicated family history pages were a natural development. And so in 1791, Isaiah Thomas published the first American Bible to contain pages dedicated to this purpose.

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the ideal American home helped entrench the idea of the family as the main training ground in Christian living.Both Catholic families and Eastern Seaboard Protestants traditionally enshrined their family histories in parish registers and churchyard burial plots. But the American family became mobile, and American faith became more baptistic and individualized. Families who moved west left their family networks behind, and the family Bible became a portable shrine, recording the family as a sacred institution. . . .

Placing the family Bible at the physical center of the idealized American home also helped entrench the Puritan ideal of the family as the main training ground in Christian living. . . .

Today, many of us use Bibles with no physical properties of their own. They borrow their frame from computers, iPads, and smartphones—also markers of middle class existence—but created for individual use. Will this digital revolution cement the decline of family spirituality that was once fostered by the family Bible? God knows.

via How the Physical Form of a Bible Shapes Us | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction.

Of course, the Word of God is living and active, even as it exists on an iPhone screen.  Just as the Blood of our Lord can be conveyed in plastic cups no less than in a silver chalice.  And yet, do you think the physical form of a Bible can have significance?  If people know the Word mainly as electronic information flashing across a screen, might that contribute to the Gnostic tendency we are seeing today, wherein faith is reduced to “knowledge” by way of “information” and the physical realm of creation, incarnation, sacrament, body, world,  and vocation are giving way to a less-than-Christian hyperspiritualism?  Or will reading it online lead to taking it in just short bits and pieces, in accord with much online reading, as opposed to extensive, sustained reading and study?  On the other hand, might reading the Bible on a Kindle, say, or other e-reader, mean a return to the continuous unfolding text of the ancient scrolls, rather than the chapter and verse breakdowns of the bound volume?  Or what?

Why the media ignored the Nashville flood

Thirty people died in the Cumberland River flood that inundated Nashville and other places in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi.  But, as we have complained on this blog, it barely made the news.  This, despite our three 24-hour cable news networks that one would think have lots of air time to fill.   Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz explores why, and, in doing so, makes the late Neil Postman’s point that the news is less about what happened and more about spinning entertaining stories:

The reasons are more complicated — and troubling — than Music City’s distance from the big media centers. Downtown Nashville was unfortunate enough to be under water while the news business was grappling with two other dramatic stories: the attempted bombing in Times Square and the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill. . . .

For the most part, says [Paul] Sellers, who works for NBC affiliate WSMV and lamented the lack of national coverage in a Huffington Post piece, “the cable networks have become issue machines. They love to cover something that has a right wing and a left wing that can argue it out.”

The New York Times sent a reporter to Nashville, but the story never made the front page. The Washington Post relied solely on the Associated Press. The Los Angeles Times used a staffer who did not travel to Tennessee. ABC, CBS and NBC sent correspondents whose pieces aired for a day or two on the morning and evening newscasts. Such reports often mentioned that the Opryland Hotel was under nearly 10 feet of water but had little time to explore the scope and texture of the human suffering. . . .

Unlike New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, there was no angry finger-pointing over the government’s response in Nashville; federal and local authorities were seen as quickly cooperating as the region struggled with power outages and water shortages. President Obama sent Cabinet members but chose not to visit himself, which would have brought the White House press corps to town.

“Nuances are lost when you do fly-in, fly-out reporting,” Silverman says of the coverage. In journalism, he says, “everyone wants to have a villain. But there are no villains yet, except for Mother Nature.” There was, however, intense hunger for information: Traffic at the Tennessean’s Web site, which averages 20,000 page views a month, soared to 44,000 page views in the first 12 days of May.

Newsweek’s Andrew Romano writes that the problem with the Nashville story was “the ‘narrative’ simply wasn’t as strong” as in the suspense-laden Times Square and BP dramas. “Because it continually needs to fill the airwaves and the Internet with new content, 1,440 minutes a day, the media can only trade on a story’s novelty for a few hours, tops. It is new angles, new characters, and new chapters that keep a story alive for longer.”

via - Howard Kurtz explores how oil spill, bombing news trumped Nashville flood.


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