Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Postmodern Culture and the Church Experience

"The Age of Egocasting" by Christine Rosen

In this wonderful article, Christine Rosen takes us through a critical look at our technological culture and the growing ability we have to shape our experiences of the world around us. She takes a close look at the technologies of remote controls, TiVo and the iPod.

The title, “The Age of Egocasting,” is a great thought provoker in and of itself. A large part of Rosen’s thesis is that we have become far to comfortable with shaping our experiences to ourselves rather than experiencing the world as it really is. Deleterious consequences follow for those who are more connected to their technologies than the outside world.

This is one good way of understanding the postmodern world, and more specifically, what is wrong with the pomo culture. Instead of being able-or being “forced”-to listen to a full symphony from beginning to end, for example, we listen to highlights-the bits we like the best-as our CD shuffler or iPod moves us on to the next highlight from the latest country song we like. One of the best ways of understanding what it means to be postmodern is that we are shaping reality instead of reality shaping us-and it looks as if our technologies give us that option on a regular basis.

My concern here is not to rail on technologies, but ask a couple of questions with regard to church experience and relevance. If it is often argued that we need to be relevant to culture, and our culture is growingly egotistical and random, how far should the church follow suit? Is it “allowable” and possibly right to shape a church service experience around random and sound-byte media experiences in order to make people feel “at home” when they come through the doors, only to intend to grab them later on with the deeper world of full-blooded Christianity? Is that approach even tenable? Is it just another form of bait-and-switch marketing?

What if the church decided that this characteristic of pomo culture is harmful to human souls and it decided to stick out like a sore thumb? It seems to me that the basic message of the Gospel is antithetical to egocasting-we need to die to ourselves and encounter a God who demands to be understood on His terms and not ours. Reaching out to culture is not just building bridges people can use to cross over into the Church, but building the right kinds of bridges in the right places and the right kinds of walls in the right places. Now that is a challenge.


Diane said...

Great post....and well said.

jpe said...

"One of the best ways of understanding what it means to be postmodern is that we are shaping reality instead of reality shaping us-and it looks as if our technologies give us that option on a regular basis."

I think you've got that backwards; traditional & modern views would have it that culture, tools, etc., are wielded by the individual, whereas a pomo perspective is that the individual is wielded by the tool (or they wield one another in a reciprocal relationship).

Inasmuch as this pomo claim is ontological rather than ethical or aesthetic, you can neither accept it nor reject it. It's simply the way humans are constituted.

Jeremy Pierce said...

No, there really is a sense in which we shape reality, according to people like Foucault and Derrida. The modern determinist perspective allows less room for the agent by doing away with freedom, whereas the postmodernist perspective says we can step back and make of our reality what we want, for instance by approaching it with our values that are equally good compared to anyone else's rather than seeing anything as intrinsically valuable irrespective of whatever values we happen to have. The traditional view allows for someone to be wrong in valuing things. Postmodernists help themselves to such a concept but have no ground for it.

john umland said...

i don't think ipods have anything to do with pomo culture. before ipods we made mix tapes and all along we've had fm and am radio that played singles and never entire albums, the record companies didn't allow that in case some cheap kid decided to copy the entire thing off the radio. even national public radio will not play an entire album, or necessarily an entire concert. they choose highlights. most people can't justify the cost of attending a symphony or the time. it's always been a luxury item anyway. Church is just like school or financial seminars or Amway pitches that people of many generatins have learned to sit through.

Phil Steiger said...

john-I don't know if you got a chance to read the article I cited, but the author talks about far more than the iPod. In any event, it is a symbol of pomo culture-a device which allows us to experience reality the way we want to when we want to. It, as with most technologies, is not "evil" by itself.

Don't be too cynical about what Church is-it is far more than an Amway pitch.