All posts tagged: technology

The Mocking of Christ by the Glittering Spectacles of Consumerism

Everything vies for our attention. Movies, marketing campaigns, even medicines, all seek to fulfill our desires for release and joy. Entertainment captures our minds and transports them to different realities through various spectacles that shape our lives. This insight is blindingly obvious even though we are submerged in rampant consumerism and subversive capitalism. Chanon Ross unpacks how the early Christians dealt with their version of spectacle and draws parallels to how this theology of the spectacle shapes the Christian faith through the centuries. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire, and Metaphysics invites readers to take a trip back in time to the Coliseum and recognize that the horror of the past still exists in a (not always) bloodless and potent fashion now. Ross argues that it is only through the True Spectacle of Christ that Christians can be freed from the seductive draw of the “society of spectacle” to devote our deepest longings to the Triune God. Ross expands the idea of spectacle by contrasting it with the capital-s Spectacle (of Christ) in a tripartite …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …

The Patron Saint of Media Studies

When WIRED magazine christened the Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan its “patron saint” on the original masthead in 1992, it seemed like a fitting honor. After all, the new tech culture magazine was the self-proclaimed authority on where the world was headed in the digital age. So tagging McLuhan, the late English professor turned media philosopher, added some prophetic pomp. His popular slogans like “the medium is the message” sounded like Zen koans written by an ad man, perfect for a Silicon Valley culture fixated on spreading the gospel of techno-utopianism. Here is something you will not find in WIRED magazine: “In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same.”[1] A theological take on “the medium is the message.” This is also McLuhan. Whether McLuhan coined his famous phrase while looking at a television or a crucifix is of little importance. What is interesting is how McLuhan applied …

Technology Will Serve, but Whom?

This is an essay about technology, a subject that tends to polarize, with proponents too often dismissing the critics as “pessimistic” and the critics too often tending toward the apocalyptic. Part of the problem is that we need somehow to learn to speak about technology again. We need to do so in a nuanced manner which does justice to the complexity of our current situation. A part of the problem is that certain technologies are not devices we make use of on certain rare occasions but are, in some instances, something more akin to companions the loss of which would, for some, be quite literally catastrophic. The human species has always been homo faber but the integration of technology into our lives is such that it mediates almost every facet of our lives, and we can only expect this process to continue. What I want to do is suggest not simply that we have a technology “problem” on our hands (this is obvious) but that those who adhere to the Christian religion have particular problems …

The Liturgical Critique of Technological Culture

  Over the past twenty years, rapid technological developments have completely transformed our social environment, leaving no doubt about the adequacy of Jacques Ellul’s earlier prognostications: ours is surely a “technological society.”[1] Such widespread integration of technology into culture raises a number of important questions for Christians and their calling to be “in the world, but not of the world” (See: John 17:14-17; Rom. 12:2).  I am specifically concerned with the following: how does Christian participation in technological culture affect our perception of, and participation in, the sacramental life of the church? Vice versa: how does our participation in the liturgy and the sacraments affect our perception of the technological society in which we are more and more involved? Such questions can be tackled by turning to the research of Walter Ong (d. 2003) and Yves Congar (d. 1995). By extending and synthesizing Ong’s sociological approach to technology along with Congar’s theological interpretation of Church and culture, I will argue: the liturgy of the Eucharist intrinsically orders the relative goods of all human technologies, for …

The Annunciation and Vocational Fear

  Mary said: My soul is deeply troubled; what can this greeting mean? Am I to give birth to my king and yet remain a virgin forever? –Antiphon for Daytime Prayer, Advent I prayed these words most days last Advent. It looked like my bishop would be ordaining me as a deacon this May. At least for diocesan seminarians, at diaconate we make our lifelong promises to be celibate, obedient and faithful to the Liturgy of the Hours. It comes up fast and raises a lot of questions. Is it commitment possible and worth the risk? Mary’s heart was full of questions—Luke’s gospel and this suggest as much. These are not necessarily questions of pious wonder:  she was deeply troubled, utterly unaware of how this Annunciation was going to happen or what might happen as a result. This year Church observes the Annunciation on April 9 because March 25 fell on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday evokes Abraham, who was willing to offer his son. Both Abraham and Mary show us how to approach celibacy, commitment …

Not All Sacrifice Saves

Sacrifice in the popular mindset entails a “giving up” or a “destruction” of something one loves. The word can also involve a calculative risk, wherein one surrenders what one values to get something of greater value in return. Robert Daley rightfully indicates that these prevailing notions of sacrifice represent pastoral and theological challenges.[1] Negative conceptions can be harmful because they sever us from our loves. Scheming notions can turn us into fratricidal envious individuals who maneuver against each other to get a bigger piece of the pie. Nothing heroic or saintly exists in such ideas of sacrifice. There can be, however, a heroic form of sacrifice that is detrimental to the human spirit, specifically when it takes the form of mastery over and against others. This hypertrophy of sacrifice with its language of heroism and conflict can seduce persons into a cult of hardness or virile fundamentalism, living in a self-absorbed dualistic “us” vs. “them” universe. Recent history has been marked by those yearning for self-mastery in the face of death and denying modernity’s tendency to …

The Sacrifice of Sagging Flesh

My great-grandmother’s flesh was soft under my 5-year-old fingers. Standing beside her as she spent time playing cards or dominoes with her grandchildren—my father and his brothers—or her children—my great aunts and uncles—I would hold onto to her arm, laying my head on her shoulder, touching the loose, sagging flesh of her arm. What today is considered grotesque—wrinkled and sagging flesh—felt good under my young fingers. I remember this scene fondly, because it was played out on numerous weekend evenings playing cards or dominoes into the wee hours. The laughter and banter around the card table was joyful, as she unleashed her dry wit in an attempt to out-wit my father and uncles in cards or dominoes. She had been a teacher in rural Texas, where my family has been since Texas was a Mexican state. She was born in 1893, and she had been a teacher from age 20. She walked 12 miles each way to teach at one of the rural schools that peppered the southeast Texas landscape in the early 20th century. …

Why Would Young People Want to Remain Catholic?

“This was like the synod for the American Church.” This remark came from one of the more than 20 bishops[1] during a closing conversation for the Cultures of Formation conference hosted by the McGrath Institute for Church Life and cosponsored by the USCCB committee on doctrine. It was a breathtaking three days. Some 550 registered participants and a few hundred more unregistered attendees considered the profound issues, the pressing needs, and the most ambitious hopes for what Pope Francis has asked the whole Church to focus its attention: “Young People, the Faith and Vocational Discernment.” While those of us who were in attendance will be unpacking what we heard and discussed for months and years to come, those who were not able to attend can sign-up for free follow-up resources, including a forthcoming digital conference, on the conference webpage. Since a comprehensive rundown of the whole conference would likely require at least an entire book if not a multivolume series, I would like to offer six initial reflections both to remind those of us who …

Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life

The question of single life and its place within the Church has once again become significant of late. Not only are men and women marrying later in life, but many people are finding that quite virtuous pursuits of career or service have not allotted them the time to invest in finding a partner. Online dating options alone cannot overcome the loneliness that is structured into the economic and social autonomy of most adults. Various youth and church groups, while well intentioned, are seriously ill-equipped to address all the challenges of singlehood. The complexity and challenges of the larger cultural and social matrix is important to keep in mind when considering any understanding of the single life. Here, the challenges of modernity assert themselves rather aggressively for our context is characterized in particular by forgetting. This seems an outlandish claim in a world saturated with information. But if we understand this correctly, it means that modernity is particularly skilled at forgetting the ideas, people, events, and history that shape its current perspective and reality. In the …