Monday, February 05, 2007

Reflections on Neil Postman

I recently finished an important work by Neil Postman entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death. Written over two decades ago, Postman, a college professor and professed devotee of the written word, argues that our culture is trading its love for the weighty solidarity of the printed and spoken word for the cheap thrill of the television and video screen. Postman's thesis is well argued and the book is highly recommended reading for anyone wishing to understand the culture--and themselves.

Among the points Postman, a board member for the National Council of the Churches of Christ, makes in the book is that Protestant Christianity has wholeheartedly embraced the media culture. This has resulted in the cheapening and thinning of evangelicalism. This is a point worthy of much exploration, and that's what I'll do this week. Today, I'll just say a few introductory words.

The role of humor and lightheartedness in our services troubles me. I'm not advocating stodginess. But I do think that corporate worship, as with all our lives, should be invested with reverence for God. We seem to have lost a sense of reverence in our churches. It is right to want to enjoy God, to bask in His goodness, and to sing gladly His praises. We should balance such approaches with reverence, however. In fact, a serious attitude should fundamentally stamp our services and indeed our very lives. Lying in back of us and everywhere around us is a cosmic struggle for the hearts of men. We are not in heaven yet. We are surrounded by death. Seriousness thus befits us. But our seriousness transcends mere soberness. It is flavored by a sense that God is watching, that God is with us, and that He appraises each moment of our lives. He does not do so unkindly, of course, and so we do not live timidly, but with love for Him. And thus we see that our approach to God and to the life that He creates for us is one that mixes seriousness, soberness, and love. The end result of this admixture is reverence.

Laughter and joy are integral parts of life. But our world loves them too much, and wants to laugh at everything. It mocks unendingly all that is sacred. Think of Seinfeld, Borat, Jackass, Monty Python, Saturday Night Live. All these and so many more programs share a mocking stance towards society. They pool their sneers together and compose a culture that leaves little place for anyone to respect what is sacred, let alone reverence it. They urge us to exchange seriousness for silliness, contemplation for amusement, meaning for nothing. The exchange is a bitter one. We are left with a troubling question. When we're so busy amusing ourselves, do we lose the capacity for reverence?

When life is one long laugh, are we able to hear truth?


Blogger Rusty Langford said...

I've been thinking about this lately. This is a topic that seems to escape the american contextualization conversation. If one is going to do away traditional things that were intended to signify reverence to God when coming to worship such as suits, pulpits, and pews (which I feel one is free to do), shouldn't one intend to replace/substitute/create some new avenue or signfier that points to the serious of the occasion in approaching God as the gathered body? If one is convinced that suits, pulpits, pews etc. represent hypocrisy and empty formalism/traditionalism to their culture and that it is beyond correcting with explanation, then what are some replacements for these signifiers that will communicate the seriousness of the occasion?

7:13 AM  

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