Friday, December 30, 2005
Biting the hand that feeds me
During the party, I was sitting in the living room with a group of people and I began talking to a friend with the default conversation starter "So what are you up to these days?" Most of what he said was normal enough but there was one thing that struck me. During his answer he said that God had called him to be a "multi-media visionary" (this I assumed to be a reference to his music and internet design talents). What struck me here was not the claim that God bestowed such a task to him (seems pretty common place for the most part) or the use of the word "visionary," a word usually reserved for praise found in bicentennial biographies rather than preliminary titles. What caught my attention was something completely different.
As my friend said these words, i felt a sort of weight fall in my stomach as somber thoughts began to fill my mind. The idea of the internet and digital technology being the means of a Christian "visionary" was unsettling.
I should make it clear that what i am about to say is not a rebuttle to my friend. Our conversation was very short and I can't be sure what he entirely meant by his comments or his intentions. What I am about to say is really just a response to my own questions about Christianity on the internet. I would also like to note that the irony of my chosen medium for this rant has not abandoned me. That being said, let's begin.
In the article "God on the Internet" for the magazine First Things, I found this passage:
"Beliefnet’s Waldman thinks that this distancing of the self from the religious act can be helpful. “The anonymity of the Internet is what makes it work so well for religion,” he says. “It’s the flip side of why porn spreads. The same phenomenon that has led to pornography spreading, a variant of that has made religion one of the most popular topics online. It’s that you can explore religious matters in the privacy of your own home; ask questions you might be embarrassed to ask; have conversations with people with some anonymity; and do it anytime day or night.” This “anonymity combined with intimacy,” Waldman says, makes people “more inclined to open up,” since they aren’t revealing themselves totally.
To which one wants to say: Doesn’t that metaphor give you pause? Is a technique that has made pornography into the Internet’s number-one business really a good idea for religion, the Internet’s number-two business?
The failure of anonymous online pornography to be real sex is also the failure of anonymous online churching to be real religion: In both sex and religion, incarnation—the physical body—turns out to matter a great deal."
This is the central point of my problem with the church on the internet. There is no doubt that there is benefit to the internet. It has allowed every person with a phone line and a computer to have access to libraries of information that they may not have had. As a Christian I have access to dozens of translations of the Bible, volumes of writings from Christians who have come before me , and a place to put my own thoughts. But this is not the Christian experience. We may be able to read each others thoughts or even talk to and pray for eachother over AIM. But these are only phantoms of the true body of Christ. If God wanted the Christian life to be a simple exchange of ideas, He could have created us to be matterless spirits floating thoughts to one another. But He didn't. He created a world of touch, smell, taste, sight, and sound. He created a world where the air you blow rustles the hairs on my arm. We have no further to look for proof of this than the climax (or at least a climax) of the gospel story. On the night when He was betrayed, Christ called His disciples to meet together and partake of his body and blood through the bread and wine. In order for the disciples to truly understand what was taking place and what would take place, Christ gave them something they could experience with all their senses and do so in the physical presence of one another. As Christ did this he asked the disciples to do it in "rememberance' of Him. Much has been done exegetically with this word "remember." But in order to understand the weight of what Christ was calling His disciples to do, we must understand that the Greek word that is so crudely translated as "rememberance" more accurately means to make something intangible tangible. So everytime we Christians gather and take part in this sacred meal (as we should every time we are assembled) Christ is truly and corporeally present. Through this mystery we are of one mind through our confession of faith, one spirit through the Holy Spirit, and one Body through Christ.
It is no wonder that in traditions that have abondoned this doctrine, we find the eyesoars of TV and interent churches , where its members sit in their homes ignorant of one anothers existence.
Another problem I have is that internet religion opens the floodgates of buffet style theology. Anyone can go on the interent find what they like and simply move on to the next page when they find something they don't. There is no obligation to listen to an entire thought or even an entire sentence. Even whil having a discussion online a person can simply walk away rather than continue with a conversation they no longer want to have.
I could go on in this vain, but the basic point is that, along with the absence of a body, internet religion destroys the obligations and social mores that exist with in any regular community. Any person could log on, go to tons of websites posting horribly crude and cruel things and recieve no punishments where he (or she) would at very least loose friends and at worst be arrested in the real world.
In conclusion, i like the internet and all of the digital equipment sprawled out in front of me. But let us remember that the church is about a true connection with the body of Christ. This connection is reflected in the sounds of laughter during times of joy and an embrace in times of sorrow. As pure and unselfish someone's heart may be, a good hug after a personal tragedy cannot be replaced by :,(