Monday, October 15, 2007

Amusing ourselves

Christianity Today has posted an editorial from the October issue about the use of video in the church. They specifically mention a baptism video that they ran across on the web.

Which brings us back to that baptism video. It illustrates Postman's thesis that television has become the metaphor for all discourse, and, as Stefan Schoerghofer writes, that "off the screen, the same metaphor prevails. People no longer talk to each other they entertain each other."

As this metaphor has entered Christian worship, we use video clips to make the message more compelling. We can be seated just a few rows from the pulpit and be more likely to think about the quality of video than the preacher's words.

The baptism video, though it was posted on the internet, was clearly designed to be shown in a worship service. ("If you haven't signed up yet," says the pastor, "I'm sure that after this video you'll be really excited about it and want to sign up. So don't everybody rush to the information center at once after the service. Be careful. Please form a line.") The pastor cannot help using the ironic vocabulary of cheap comedy. And the video is subject to the temptations inherent in the medium: words that have to be bleeped out, pushing a baptismal candidate off the edge of the pool, showing a (thankfully) blurred image of what is supposed to be a naked candidate, and getting drenched when a candidate cannonballs into the pool. This is the vocabulary of Comedy Central, not the discourse of discipleship.

Is this the kind of offering that we make to a holy God?...No wonder the church is seen as an irrelevant country club by so many.

They conclude:

Postman pointed out two dangers that can destroy a culture. One is the Orwellian, in which culture becomes a prison. The other is the Huxleyan, in which culture becomes a comedy. You can see the Orwellian danger coming far in advance. It publishes books like Mein Kampf and goose-steps its way into our lives. But the Huxleyan danger sneaks up on us. As Postman wrote, "When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a comedy show, then a nation finds itself at risk."

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