Biting The Hand That Feeds Us?
Comedic web blog, Cracked.com, posted an interesting piece on the limitations of web for religion.
It’s safe to say that God doesn’t live on the Internet. Where cathedrals, temples, and houses of worship succeed in providing the sensation that God might feasibly hang out there, websites fail miserably. The translation from stone and stained glass to ones and zeros is clumsy at best, partially because so many of the websites are built by volunteer designers and partially because those designers insist on building websites as though no website has ever existed in the history of the Internet. To their credit, most of them seem to grasp importance of holding on to the short attention spans of accidental visitors, but they don’t have a really solid plan for applying that information.
At a time when some evangelical leaders are talking about ditching the local church altogether in favor of on-line spirituality, it’s refreshing. Ironically, it’s people like Sherry Turkle, a professor at no less than MIT, who warn about how the Internet is changing the way we exist as human beings—even throwing out the term “Gnostic.” By contrast, in The New Christians, Emergent leader Tony Jones relates how his best friend is an “uber-blogger” he’s never actually met in person.
Some Christians surf the net not only for vitamin supplements but for their meals. All of this makes sense in an evangelicalism that is already disposed toward treating the physical aspects of reality as merely “external” (like a coat you can put on or take off) in contrast to the inner realm of the Spirit. But as Christians we believe that the Word became flesh. We aren’t looking for out-of-body experiences, but for the God who still descends to us, binding us to his Son through such mundane matter as preaching, water, bread and wine. And like these means of grace, the communion of saints is also a tangible, earthly, embodied reality. They are my brothers and sisters: not ideas, resources, or bloggers. It’s a family dinner, not a drive-thru meal.
But does that mean that there’s no place for the web? Not at all, as long as we know its limits. I’m glad there are highways when I want to get downtown, but I don’t take Sunday strolls along it.
Imagine concentric circles. At the widest, you have the rapid exchange of ideas and information. Of course, there’s nothing better than the Internet for that one. I often go to Wikipedia for quick data on a person or date in history, but I’d never allow my students to cite Wikipedia as a source in their research papers. That’s because a research paper is more than information. The next ring in on my concentric circles is for informal get-togethers with brothers and sisters in Christ, including conferences. But the bulls-eye is the Lord’s Day gathering of the covenant family, beneath the pulpit, at the font, and at the table.
All of this reminds me of that stanza in T. S. Eliot’s “The Rock”: “Where is all the wisdom we have lost in knowledge and all the knowledge we have lost in information?” Information is good. Resources can set us on a wonderfully new track. But what we’ll always need most—in spiritual as well as domestic terms—is a good bath, a good meal, and a good word from our Father, in his Son, by his Spirit. Nothing beats that.
[Correction: the title of Tony Jones’ book in this post was corrected at 11:30 a.m. on March 9th]