There is a question hanging over the Church on what to do with New
Media. This was discussed in a recent conference in Sydney on New Media,
organised by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.
To give some idea on the difficulties posed by new media to an ecclesial form, one could refer to Felicia Wu Song Virtual Communities: Bowling Alone, Online Together,
in an interview with Ken Myers in volume 108 of the Mars Hill Audio Journal
spoke of a tendency within online communities to breed narrow interest
groups that encourage sameness and resist appreciation of the
differences that might exist in embodied communities.
To extrapolate from Song's interview, what may end up happening with an
over-reliance on social networking as a means of evangelisation is a
commodification of the Gospel, in the sense that the Gospel is spread
and Justice effected with a click of a "like" or "+1" button.
This is the case because all forms of communications media do not leave
the message unchanged. Rather, as Neil Postman reminds us in Amusing Ourselves to Death
they come with a set of presuppositions on the formatting of the
message, as well as the type of message, the type of person and the type
of society that hears the message. Before one even lets out a peep or
strikes a key online, the horizons of what can be communicated and how
The next thing to note is that the Church does not come with a mere
message. The Church is meant to be a Sacrament, an embodied
manifestation of a transcendent reality that, by virtue of its
transcendence, escapes full articulation. Furthermore, even when one
acknowledges the aspects of transcendence that are revealed to us, the
insistence on Christianity as an articulated message (where the mind is a
medium) ignores the fact that much information circulates in our social
environment that are not articulated in messages, but are circulated as
unarticulated imprints that pass from one corporeal person to another
(where the body is a medium). This is why as part of the spreading of
the Gospel, Paul exhorts us in his Epistles to "offer our bodies as a
sacrifice" as part of a "renewal of your mind". To focus on the Gospel
as an articulated message is to bypass the communication of another
important aspect of the Gospel, that sacramental transcorporeal data
that escapes precognition.
Does this mean that the Church should shun new media? The transcending
of space would broaden the net of communication in a world where space
is becoming virtualised. However, there must be an awareness that the
contours of the Gospel are not left untouched by this virtualisation of
space, and that the fullness of the incarnate word can only occur when
space is reclaimed.
Labels: books, Church and Culture, cybernetics, resources