Thursday, April 27, 2006

We are not amused?

Does it matter what means of communication we use for proclaiming the gospel?

The commonly held view is that communication methods are neutral tools - they can be utilised for good (i.e. getting the gospel out) or bad, but in and of themselves they are value-free. Therefore, christians should use any and whatever means available to get the word of God out to people whether TV, radio, letter, tract, video, CD-ROM and so on. More than that, Christians should use especially those methods that allow them to reach the maximum number of people.

Sounds peruasive doesn't it (I know I've thought and said something like it in the past).

However, reading 'Amusing Ourselves to Death' by Neil Postman (not a Christian) has really challenged me to think that it's not as simple as all that. The book argues that the medium we choose will inevitably effect the content of the message. In one striking passage he quotes US Christian leader Pat Robertson as saying;
"To say that the church shouldn't be involved in
television is utter folly. The needs are the same, the message is the same, but
the delivery can change..."

To which Postman retorts;
'This is utter technological naivety. If the
delivery is not the same, then the message, quite likely, is not the

TV (and other formats for information and discussion etc.) is not value-free, by its very nature it communicates things other than just the information on screen - a way of thinking, a way of knowing and deciding what is true or false etc. In other words, a child who learns her alphabet by watching television is not just learning the alphabet, she's learning a method of learning and knowing about the world.

Postman adds (astonishingly) with reference to Christian TV programmes;

'...on television, God is a vague and subordinate character. Though his name is
invoked repeatedly, the concreteness and persistence of the image of the
preacher carries the clear message that it is he, not He, who must be
worshipped. I do not mean to imply that the preacher wishes it to be so; only
that the power of a close-up televised face, in colour, makes idolatry a
continual hazard. Television is, after all, a form of graven imagery far more
alluring than a golden calf.'

God can't be seen on TV. The preacher can. We watch TV to be entertained and if we're not entertained we flick channels (which means the preacher must be entertaining, and the focus is all on him/her). Postman argues that all of this has produced a TV version of Christianity with a skewed focus. Later he says;

'Though it may be un-American to say it, not
everything is televisible
...what is televised is transformed
from what it was to something else, which may or may not preserve its former

That's the question. Is the gospel televisible? Can 'the Word' transfer to an inherently image-entertainment based format? Thoughts anyone?

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