Wednesday, January 04, 2006

War of Sound Bites

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Anne Frank

This is a post by a friend on CARM named Kevin Harris, who is also a local Radio personalty in Dallas:

"Hitler burned people like Anne Frank for being Jewish. For that, we call him evil. God burns Anne Frank for being Jewish, forever. For that, theists call him 'good.'"

This simplistic statement I found on an atheist site is typical of today's new breed of anti-Christians. It is very effective in our sound-byte world. And in such a world, people seldom take the time to unpack or examine such slogans.

I could spend volumes on the "bumpersticker" above but let me offer one comment. It exposes the number one reason we struggle in a sinful, fallen world: Man is elevated and God is lowered.

This statement reminds me that in the back of my mind I have noticed a marked increase in the face slapping, hard hitting sort of atheist sound bite. What is missing from our Christian rhetorical approach today is the old one liner witnessing took such as "I found it," "Jesus saves," "one way?" I'm not sure why those sorts of slogans are less bandied about, because I don't think Christians have become any more embedded with presentations of intellectual acuity denoting the glories of the former Civilization and the Christian contribution to it. I think what's happened is our own evocative one liners are out of fashion, they don't speak to the ethos of generation x, but they have also been replaced with right wing political rhetoric. NO, don't click off, I'm not going on a tirade against republicans! But I have a more important point to make, one republican friends will like and democrats too.

Kevin gets' it right when he says the sound bite society is defeating deeper kinds of thought because it so much less effort to read a bumpersticker than to read an academic journal or a book. This goes to the heart of everything I've tried to achieve as an apologist. I am really at a disadvantage in a soundbyte world, because my tendency couldn't be more antithetical to the bumpersticker logic of this age. What I see as this simplified kind of society is the formerly great civilization in decay, and the dregs, not even remnant but the dregs of that society in decay. That formerly great civilization which produced the Cicstine chapter and made modern science and culminated in the New Deal, was spurred on by Christianity and stocked with Christian thinkers, it only made sense with Christian concepts at its heart. When we ripped the Christian intellectual heritage out of the secular world we ripped the heart of the civilization.

One must read Schweitzer's Philosophy of Civilization to understand this. In two day I will publish here my article that I wrote for my academic journal Negations, "Schweitzer and the Death of Civilization." Everything that I've tried to do as an apologist is to open this door to take people into the wonderful world of ideas and the glorious intellectual Heritage of the church that I dissevered in seminary. But atheists are far too resistant, and Christians too estranged from their own roots to understand how that educational background they do not possess fits in with their bumpersticker world of "Jesus is the reason for the season."

The decline and fall of Western civilization was not predicated upon evolution or liberalism or taking prayer out of school. It was not even due to secualrization, as I agree with Harvey Ox, early 60's popularize of liberal theology and harbinger of the bourgeois sensibilities, that secularization is a good thing. Secularization WA necessary as a cure for the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventieth century. Major Christian thinkers such as Stout (Flight From Authority) agree that there had to come to be a common vocabulary before the religious wars could cease, secularization created a neutral space in which a common vacularly could develop.

The decline of ciliation really came when civilization itself began to be confuse with its own infrastructure. It was forgotten that civilization is primarily a philosophy and made up of ideas, the chief idea of which is the premise that social organization should foster the ability of the individual to achieve his/her full potential. This was gradually replaced with ideas about indoor plumbing and freeways. We say things like "I'm going back to civilization" meaning we are leaving the woods and going where the streets are paved. The identification of civilization with infrastructure was, however, not an accent that just happened, but the immediate result of empiricist values that translated Renaissance autonomy into personal gain and financial achievement. Autonomy in the Renaissance began as a means of recognizing the individual's right and responsibility to thank for himself, such as Dane's refusal to accept the dictates of the Pope because he knew they were wrong, and thus to accept permeant self exile form his home. After the advent of Modern science and the replacement of the edifice of medieval Christian thought with empiricism, which makes technology the chief means of understanding and the individual mind the center around which objects must parade as a Broadway show, the bailey of humans to control their own destiny comes to the fore as the primary aspect of modern life; thus civilization becomes not the ability to be free and to cultivate one's own potential, because that might lead us back to mystical reality, but rather the celebration of the 1939 world's fair bequest that is a celebration of human "progress" which means, human ability to plaster the countryside with tar and asphalt and make vast striates of land into a freeway; a much more tangible means of measuring civilization than the fulfillment of individuals.

So the ripping out of the Christian heart of the culture and estrangement of churches form their intellectual heritage meant the transition form civilization as an ideal to civilization as hardware and technology. With all of this the world becomes a soundbyte world because it's too complex to understand, moves too fast to contemplate, and requires that we give ourselves to our jobs rather than to learning. We haven't time for obtaining the educational background to understand the Christian past, and nothing seems more ridiculously absurd to an ignorant person than a well thoughtout Leonard discourse.

Thus, Christianity is bad because God burns Anne Frank.


graceshaker said...

thats one insightful hunk of info there. when we understand civilization as hardware and technology the mind builds its own tiny cage. good stuff meta. Ü

J.L. Hinman said...

hey thanks man

J. Archer said...

Damn, that was an awesome post. I dug this up for you--

If you want a full citation I'll be glad to find it.

J.L. Hinman said...

hey thanks

Anonymous said...

I agree with Graceshaker's comment, with one caveat, Meta: I think Maslow's heirarchy MUST enter in. The reason thinkers are free to THINK is because basic needs are provided for... THAT requires infrastructure and enough prosperity that philanthropy can be indulged. That always falls to those wealthy enough to allow it. In the past it was royalty and the Church. Moderns tend to resent the wealth and indulgences of the wealthy, yet, they are the ones who risk their wealth to produce goods and services. They don't bury it in the ground. Thus artists have patrons, craftsmen can sell their wares, and universities can hire philosophers.

J.L. Hinman said...

schwetizer covers that even though he wrote well before Maslow was born

tinythinker said...

I'll be the one to find something to critique, then. I don't think it is as simple as saying that preoccupation with empiricism=seeing society as infrastructure=soundbyte materialistic culture. That is a haphazard, crooked line of thought that is essentially held together by the premise that your preferred notion of Christianity=virtue and everything else is a slow decent on a paved highway to Hell.

The shift in personal values from intellectual freedom and creative expression to personal property and creature comforts can just as well be placed (to whatever degree one feels appropriate) on the mix of Calvinism and Capitalism in the US--where material wealth and comfort is seen a reflection of being in line with God's will.

In that formula those who succeeed financially and materially were meant to do so and deserve their lifestyle because they have honored God's will. Those who are destitute are unrepentent sinners, backsliders, blashphemers, heretics, and those who have failed to follow the proper formula of Christian piety, self-discipline, and hard work.

It's the same stuff you hear on Limbaugh and Savage and other "conservative" radioheads--we need to bring back those traditional values and then everyone will get a good job and live comfortably. It's why that whole line of Prayer of Jabez books was so popular, and why people send in large financial donations as "prayer seeds" to even the most transparently shallow and self-serving televangelists.

As a less obvious example, it's why so many people want to be seen in their finest Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes at church--there is a subtle implication for many who do so that those who can afford to dress better are better favored by/better serving the Lord. Hence it isn't just being nicely dressed for God, since God is everywhere and every house, in Christian theology, is technically God's house. Of course, to actually point this out loud is a no no, as the policy is supposed to be that all are equally welcome, but those who've ever shown up to many Christian churches in ragged jeans and a faded Metallica t-shirt know the kinds of looks you get. Even many who may really be welcoming often have it in the back of their minds that when this poor soul receives the Lord they will get a better job and clean up their appearance and be able to afford nicer clothes for church. It's so ingrained into many regions as a part of the local culture that it doesn't even occur to some folks that outward signs of material success are irrelevant to spiritual maturity or growth.

I am not suggesting this historical trend of cultural values explains 100%, or even 75% or 50% of the problems to which you allude. However, it is an example of a much more relevant and directly connected contributing factor than "empiricist values that translated Renaissance autonomy into personal gain and financial achievement".

tinythinker said...


To clarify, my suggestion is limited to the explanation of the over-valuing of material goods and crature comforts as a societal focus. I don't think this has any direct relationship to the soundbyte mentality, whatever explanation of the former one prefers.

Also, it should be pointed out that it is advances in knowledge and technology that allow people more time to ponder philosopy and create art in the first place. Domestication of plants and animals, use of pottery and masonry to build food storage and wells, the establishment of trade routes, the switch from stone to metal tools, etc, etc, etc are what permitted surplus goods, social stratification, and the emergence of full-time specialists such as astrologers, artisans, philosophers, etc. The advent of paper, writing, etc further enhanced such endeavors which were previously limited to an oral tradition. This in and of itself creates a natural connection between infrastructure and civilization. The Renaissance would not have been possible in the Stone Age.

The soundbyte culture has a lot to do with the size of society and the need to appeal to the most people with the most suitable format for media such as television and radio, especially when the average time people have to listen/read/watch programming is limited. There simply is not the time nor the interest in making a serious effort to become informed about various issues. Soundbyte populism, however, cannot be reduced to a problem with empiricism. Anyone who has regularly read your blog or your message boards posts knows it is your personal boogeyman and whipping boy, but I don't think making that reach is actually addressing the very genuine problem you have highlighted here.

J.L. Hinman said...

Tiny, there is so much here I'm going to answer it as part of a regular blogspot.