Monthly Archives: May 2011

Being contrarian-contrarian

I am among those convinced that every media shapes its message; further, when employed extensively, the media shapes the messenger.

For the first claim: when you choose to blog, or tweet, or make a phone call, or put up a billboard, the medium that you employ constrains your message; if constrain is too strong a term, the medium at least presses your message to fit certain parameters. Thus, you could tweet the next great American novel, 140 characters at a time. But you’d be fighting the medium. Or you could put up a billboard with a 10,000 word refutation of Harold Camping; there’s certainly enough space on a billboard, right? But, again, you’d be fighting the medium.

This much oughtn’t be tremendously controversial. But taking this one step further, I believe that the medium of communication that we employ not only molds what we express, but, when such a medium becomes our primary mode of expression, it also pushes us to certain patterns of thought. Twitter is a great example here: if you’re an active user of Twitter, you start to become aware of items in your daily experience that would make great tweets. I assume photographers experience a similar phenomenon: they see pictures in their ordinary experience that the rest of us miss, because we are not accustomed to express ourselves in that medium.

All that to set up my point: I think that Christian blogging, tweeting, and Facebooking incline us to look at things a certain way, and I’m not convinced that this is good for us. Let me cite two examples.

First example: I must confess that I found the Facebook brouhaha that erupted after the killing of Osama bin Laden amusing. Essentially, the matter became an occasion for tossing verses back and forth; some favored the verses which speak of exulting when justice is done, others the verses which warn us against rejoicing in the misfortune of our enemies. It is not my intent to offer any evaluation of the merits of these positions; I’m merely observing the phenomenon.

Second example: I noted that, on Mother’s Day, several people (some notable Christian spokesmen) offered thoughts to this effect: “Let’s consider, on Mother’s Day, those without mothers, those barren, etc.” Again, I do not in any way wish to make light of this admonition; I’m drawing attention to it to make a broader point.

And that point is this: I believe that for many of us, social media tools press us (especially those believers who have some influence) to publish an insightful angle our topics, preferably before anyone beats us to it. And as Christians, that “insightful angle” tends to be accompanied with a (variably) subtle message: “you really should have thought of this, if you were really spiritual/gospel-centered/etc.,” and “aren’t you glad I noticed it?”

The upshot of this is not that we should refrain from posting insightful, contrarian bits of wisdom. The point is that we must be aware of the truly egomaniacal tendencies that these media foster.

And I must add the obvious disclaimer: I’m well aware of the self-refuting nature of a post like this, delivered by this medium.

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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Society


Possible non-existences

With respect to this matter of non-existence, it would seem then that four theoretical possibilities are open. There may be those (a) who think it reasonable to doubt the existence of God but unreasonable to think of the non-existence of the universe. There may be those (b) who think it possible to think intelligibly of the non-existence of both God and the universe. There may be those (c) who think it impossible to think intelligibly of the non-existence of either the universe or of God. Finally, there may be those (d) who think it possible to think intelligibly of the nonexistence of the universe but impossible to think intelligibly of the nonexistence of God.

Of these various possibilities it will at once be observed that the acceptance of any of the first three positions puts one on the antitheistic side of the argument. Only the last position is consistent with theism. But it will also be observed that in many instances any one of the first three positions is taken for granted at the beginning of an argument without awareness of the fact that those holding the position have therewith foreclosed to themselves the possibility of arriving at a theistic conclusion. In other words, any one of these three positions is thought to be consistent with the application of a strictly empirical method of research which, it is thought, may lead to any conclusion whatsoever.

Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Apologetics, From my reading


Learning from Radiohead

About a month ago now, Mike Cosper wrote a post for the Gospel Coalition blog asking us to consider what we can learn from the band Radiohead. In particular, he highlights the increased electronic element in their sound, drowning out anything human. Cosper informs us that Thom Yorke’s lyrics point out the bleakness and despair of world increasingly dominated by the machine, by the computer. Understood in this way, Radiohead’s music is an exercise in irony.

Such a message, no matter how insightful, seems fatally undermined when we consider the degree to which Radiohead has profited by their contribution to the very problem they lament. To offer a parallel: there is no small element of irony in Neil Postman’s appearing on a television interview to discuss the ways in which television undermines serious discourse. But who could take Postman seriously if he had a nightly television program dedicated to that topic, if he were a celebrity for being exactly the sort of talking head he impugns? This, to me, seems to be Radiohead’s position, and for that reason, to attribute to them some kind of knowing social critique is far more generous than they merit.

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Posted by on May 2, 2011 in Music, Random links, Society