"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Ya ready, boots?

Pastor Dan said this:

We need a new media system, for religious issues as for many others. I'll leave it at that, since so many other bloggers have said it so much better than I have.
Which prompted me to say this:

Do we really? Or do we need to reconsider the value we put in "media systems"?

What is our purpose as Christians, IOW? To serve Christ in the world? Or to raise up better spokespersons? To agree the best system is this system, just with us in control, or at least with a louder or more persuasive voice?

Or to walk away from this system altogether?

I know, I know, same song, second verse. But everytime I hear we need to play their game better, I get these nagging questions....
Which prompted him to say this:

Fine. Start walking.
Which, I presume, is meant to be an ironic challenge (or maybe just a curt and disgusted dismissal; who can say?); but my prolonged silences here lately are evidence that, by and large, I already have. When I wondered what silence on a blog would sound like, I was serious. But I only come back to this because I happened to start re-reading Ricouer (serendipity? or the work of the "wild goose" that goes where it wills? I report, you decide):

On the other hand, the relation between these two hermenuetics begins to reverse itself once we begin to consider the other side of the narrative, namely, the confession of faith. But this other dimension remains inseperable from the structure of the story. Not just any theology whatsoever can be tied to the narrative form, but only a theology that proclaims Yahweh to be the grand actor of a history of deliverance. Without a doubt it is this point that forms the greatest contrast between the God of Israel and the God of Greek philosophy. The theology of traditions knows nothing of concepts of cause, foundation, or essence. It speaks of God in accord with the historical drama, instituted by the acts of deliverance reported in the story. This manner of speaking of God is no less meaningful than that of the Greeks. It is a theology homogenous with the narrative structure itself, a theology in the form of Heilsgeschicte.
Paul Ricouer, "Philosophy and Religion," Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, tr. David Pellauer, ed. Mark I. Wallace (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress 1995), 40.

I want to come back to Ricouer's essay and put that more fully in the context of this discussion, but for the moment, by "narrative" he means the Biblical texts, the history of Israel as related through its experience in history, of God. That's a good starting point, though, for the problem of seeking a "new media system, for religious issues as for many others." Or, as Judas asked Jesus: "Why'd you pick such a backward time, and such a strange land?" And the answer is: because the narrative structure is essential to the message. And that's the problem with seeking "a new media system." Media systems have nothing to do with this narrative, and everything to do with their own narratives.

I used to be roundly criticized at Eschaton by commenters who said that I, as a "liberal Christian," should be doing more to counter the message of conservative and fundamentalist Christians. But the reason Falwell and Robertson and Dobson are successful in their message is not because of their vocabulary (although I used to think so), or because of their media skills, or even because they tell people comforting lies (they don't, always). It's because the message they deliver, is essentially the narrative of the media system. And that narrative is not the Biblical narrative. Which is my problem with their message. But I can't correct that problem by resorting to a media system, even a new one. I can only create new problems, without ever conveying the Biblical narrative I mean to propose. As Ricouer says: "The theology of traditions knows nothing of concepts of cause, foundation, or essence." And yet those are the only concepts the narrative of media systems has, or knows.

Media systems are all about cause, foundations, and essence. Use the right words, visuals, concepts, images, graphics, and music, and you achieve the cause you aim for: usually power. The foundation of such a narrative is well understood, from Freud on down to McCluhan and out to Bill McKibben and "We Believe in You!" The essence is the appeal to the individual, to ego, to comfort and suasion or even assurance that you, beleagured as you are by the evil forces of liberalism, Hollywood, and Democrats, can be in control. Each of those things can be analyzed and is manipulated by the very people Pastor Dan would oppose with "a new media system." And none of that has anything to do with the Biblical narrative. Indeed, it's antithetical to the Biblical narrative, in no small part because the Biblical narrative's claim to knowledge is a claim based on revelation, not discovery.

As I've said elsewhere, the Biblical message is about sacrifice and the greater good of the community. That's not a popular message or even, really, a populist one. You don't win crowds of people by telling them they must be last of all, and servants of all. It's certainly a "new media system" to make that proclamation, and to make it via a crucified God, even in this age when it seems the messages of Christianity are so familiar as to be old hat. But Jim Wallis long ago stopped being about the work of Sojourners, and started being about the selling of the message, and to do that, he had to become a bit more respectable than a tent-maker in the agora. So it is still not a media system the world has embraced; indeed, it's a message the world cannot embrace; only individuals can.

Several issues here; more than I can, or want to, squeeze into one post. Ricouer has more to say, too, and I need to be fair to his discussion and include that context, and show how he is more relevant to this discussion than just some high-falutin' intellectualism. After all, they don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care; but what you care about, is also important.

Something about where your treasure is, and where that means your heart will be.


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