All media are permissible, but not all media are beneficial…

YouTube 2

Fix these images of media in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them as logos on all your clothing.  Show them to your children, texting about them when you sit at home and when you multitask along the road, when you lie down with a sleeping pill and when you get up with a double espresso.  Never turn them off.


This parody of Deuteronomy 11:18-19 raises a number of important questions about contemporary media culture.  What happens when “images of the media” displace “words of mine” (God speaking) as the shapers of hearts and minds?  How does “always connected” affect our ability to be really present to those who really are in our presence?


These are some of the issues addressed by Read Mercer Schuchardt in a provocative chapel talk at Wheaton College.


[C]onsider that all our presence is now based on technologies of absence: the Greek word for distance is tele:


Telegraph means distant writing.


Telephone means distant speaking.


Television means distant seeing.


Telefusion, which is what I call the Internet, is distant togetherness.  There you are, all alone on Facebook, with 243 friends, alone at your computer.  In all these communications, you are in your body and yet you are also out of your body, somewhere in between sender and sent.  The only comparison is to schizophrenia, or to the idea of bilocation, of being in two places at once, which the Catholic church claims was possible for many of its saints.  In U2’s 2004 song, “Fast Cars” from the album How To Dismantle and Atomic Bomb, Bono sings a line towards the end, “I’m not used to talking to somebody in a body.”


If all your communication is based on distance, then consider why the word communicate implies presence:  to make as one, the same root as the words commune, community, and communion.  Real communication means being there.  Modern communication requires us to be absent. …


[H]ere is the great challenge and opportunity for the Christian as we enter into greater digital disincarnation and distraction – Christians will be very well suited to addressing the real needs, neuroses, and mental disorders of the future if they can learn to practice what they preach:  presence, speech, and action.  Those were the three conditions of attendance under which Christ and his followers performed their miracles, under which St. Paul preached, and under which the saints operated throughout history.  You have to be there, you have to speak in as unmediated a manner as possible, and you have to do the work of the gospel.  This is, I believe, God’s great calling for us to embrace.  You can send a friend an e-mail when a loved one dies.  You can send a check to a foreign country that’s been hit by a tsunami.  You can twitter about your moral concern over the loss of morality in media.  All these things are good.


But we are called to love, and love has one synonym only:  sacrifice.  Primarily, our call is to sacrifice the efficiency, convenience and distance that our technology affords us, and to show up in person and feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the orphans and widows in their distress, and not be corrupted by the care of our iPhones.  Real presence is a prerequisite for real love.  But Christians won’t be able to do this if they too have been corrupted by the media of this world.  We won’t be able to offer much help if our primary problems are the same as the overmediated world’s primary problems.  We cannot offer what we do not have.  But such were some of you, and if Christ saves you from this, then there is great hope because then you can embrace your thorn in the flesh as a gift from the paradoxical God whose strength is manifest in weakness, and to the world your struggle will be your credibility.  Your weakness will be the strength they need.  So be of good cheer, for in the world you will be overmediated and overwhelmed, but Christ has overcome the world.


In my own life, I have tried to minimize the electronic noise so that I can better hear the unplugged God.  It also helps me to hear the voices of my wife and children.  To my media students I may seem like a Luddite, or a technophobe, but there is a great difference between a lifestyle, which is what I thought I wanted when I was your age – and a life.  And Christ wants to offer us life, and life more fully. …


The text of Dr. Schuchardt’s stimulating and provocative talk, “God Does Not Post to YouTube,” is available here.  Or you can go here to watch the “mediated” version on YouTube!



Read Mercer Schuchardt is Associate Professor of Communication at Wheaton College, where he received the 2011-12 Leland Ryken Award for Teaching Excellence in the Humanities. He earned his B.A. in English Literature at Swarthmore College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Media Ecology at New York University, where he studied under the late Neil Postman.




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