What is Cyberspace?

I wrote this essay for a dictionary a few years ago. Despite all the changes in the Internet world, I think it is still pertinent. We need to understand our technological times and do what pleases God and blesses his creation.

The term cyberspace typically refers to the whole gamut of computer-mediated modes of communication that are permeating and transforming society in numerous ways. The prefix “cyber” comes from the discipline of cybernetics, the study of self-regulating systems (usually computer systems). Cyberspace is the space or place where humans and computers interact and connect in manifold ways. This neologism was coined by novelist William Gibson after reflecting on a teenager’s immersion in a video game. The boy was situated both in literal space (before a screen) and in the virtual space of the computer game. In this sense, one “enters” cyberspace mentally and imaginatively. To use concepts from philosopher Michael Polanyi, one’s “focal awareness” is in cyberspace (whether it is a video game, chat room, web page, or full-fledged virtual reality) while one’s “subsidiary awareness” is on the keyboard, the controls, or the computer screen. This parallels a surgeon’s use of a probe to explore portions of the human body not otherwise accessible and visible. Her “focal awareness” is on the region made visible by the probe; her “subsidiary awareness” is on the moving of the probe itself.

The pertinence of cyberspace to apologetics is at least threefold. First, some cyberspace enthusiasts hail cyberspace as a realm of exhilarating freedom where one can leave the body and attain transcendence through technological means. Some extol virtual reality technologies as opening up an alternative world free of conventional morality and the frustrating limits of physical objects (or “meat space”). Although these technologies are still in their early stages, they allow (or will allow) percipients to immerse themselves in a simulated and convincing cyberspace environment to one degree or another. This is accomplished by means of a bodysuit equipped with sensory modalities such as sight, sound, and touch. One may “interact” with some wholly computer-generated settings or entities or with other body-suited participants (or some combination thereof). Even beyond this scenario, some have claimed that human consciousness itself can be duplicated through software and loaded directly into cyberspace. This was explored in the horror, science-fiction film, “Lawnmower Man.” This utopian vision represents a kind of techno-gnosticism: one escapes the perils of the living organism (flesh) by immersion into the mechanism of cyberspace (silicon). The “soul” is freed by being digitized and injected into cyberspace. (Naturally, a crash or corruption of the hardware would ensure one’s digital oblivion.)

According to a Christian worldview, these far-flung claims—in addition to their technological implausibility—present a counterfeit soteriology and are riddled with philosophical conundrums. Whatever benefits cyberspace may offer for the rapid transference of information or for some simulations, it remains a human artifact, not a source of salvation. Redemption is only available from outside the cursed and fallen environs of a world east of Eden and still awaiting its final liberation (Romans 8:18-25).

On this front, the Christian apologist should marshal two related arguments. First, the physical world, while fallen, should not be fled as inherently evil. The Scriptures affirm the created goodness of the universe (Genesis 1; 1 Timothy 4:1-4), and the Incarnation (John 1:1-3; 14) ratifies that goodness in the person of Jesus, who is truly human as well as truly divine. The attempt to escape the body into an amoral realm of unlimited potential is both to betray our created purpose as God’s image bearers (Genesis 1:26-28) and to replay the ancient error of seeking self deification when we are but finite and fallen mortals (Genesis 3:5; Ezekiel 28:1-10). The second apologetic argument is that, while we are physical creatures who may await a glorious resurrection of the body if we follow the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15), we are not merely physical beings. Jesus and the apostles taught that there is an immaterial element to the human person that interacts with, but is not reducible to, physical states. In addition to the unified biblical witness, contemporary philosophers such as J.P. Moreland and Richard Swinburne have convincingly made this case. If the mind or soul is a substance distinct from the body, the notion of transferring human consciousness (understood as reducible to brain function) into physical software is inherently impossible. For the same reason, the claim that sophisticated computers will eventually attain consciousness is wrongheaded. (One philosopher has predicted that computers will so transcend human abilities that they will retain us only as pets.) Matter cannot generate consciousness. Although artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of tremendous computational power, it is not sentient.

Second, the Internet as a source of information on diverse religions, worldviews, and cults affords the apologist with both opportunities and dangers. Quality control on the Internet is minimal; anyone with a web page can post anything. In his research, the apologist must develop a good sense for what is trustworthy information (such as official web pages for new religious groups) and what is not (hoaxes and amateur apologetics sites). Moreover, one should not substitute on-line research at the expense of pertinent printed materials, such as standard reference works, which have had more editorial filtering and are more legitimate.

 

Third, as Quentin Schultze has argued convincingly, the conditions of cyberspace, if engaged in uncritically, tend to undermine a life of virtue. With its emphasis on information over wisdom, efficiency over moral character, spin over authenticity, the present over received tradition, and virtual realities over the physical realities that provide the ambiance for communion and community, cyberspace poses a threat to the kind of Christian character that is essential to authentic apologetic endeavors. Since winsome apologetics demands both solid arguments and a humble and wise demeanor, apologists should be on guard that their cyberspace activities do not short-circuit the fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 6:16-26). For example, although email makes it easy to engage in heated, rapid, and thoughtless disputes (sometimes called “flame wars”), the representative of Christ should flee such temptations to impatience and anger in order to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15; see also 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Furthermore, many high-powered and popular video games trade on heinous violence (such as shooting innocent elderly people) and graphic sexual scenes. Some “first-person shooter” games employ the same technologies used in computer simulations by the US military to break down a soldier’s reluctance to kill on the battlefield. Evidence indicates that some teenage murderers, influenced by these games, adopted this mentality in their homicides. Since Jesus warned that sins of anger, lust, and violence begin in the mind (Matthew 5:21-30), such video game simulations should be rejected as irreconcilable with the life that God blesses. Apologists should recommend wholesome and wise recreations in their place.

 

References:

  1. Groothuis, Douglas. The Soul in Cyberspace. 1997; Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock reprint, 2001.
  2. Grossman, Dave, Gloria DeGaetano. Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movies, and Video Game Violence. New York: Crown Publishers, 1999.
  3. Heim, Michael. Virtual Realism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998
  4. Houston, Graham. Virtual Morality. Leicester, UK: Apollos/InterVarsity, 1998.
  5. Schultze, Quentin. Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.

On Audio Books and Paper Books

Let all things be done unto edifying. –1 Corinthians 14:26, KJV

Each medium shapes the content it conveys. Or, more memorably, if overstated, “the medium is the message” (Marshall McLuhan). How, then, do paper books differ from and audio books? One can read a book G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics. The same content can be heard on an audio book, such as through Audible.com. However, the medium matters for understanding.

The book is in one place at one time. It is a token of a type. My copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There is one of many individual books, all of which bear the same content and title.  It is not wafting in “the cloud” and cannot be downloaded to a portable device. It is portable, though; but the larger it is, the less portable it becomes. Try putting my book, Christian Apologetics (752 pages) into your suitcase. You won’t have room for much else. However, the tome can be used as a doorstop, for weight training, and for self-defense.

Books age. The pages yellow, tear, and fall out. Books can be annotated. Their pages accommodate and welcome your comments, cross references, highlights, underlining, and coffee spills. Books may be autographed by their authors. As such, books can be markers of memories. When I was a freshman in college, I wrote marginalia in my copy of Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death in the middle of the night after awakening from a strange dream. Next to a passage on the despair that resists God, I wrote, “This is happening to me tonight.” You see, the book was reading me. The Holy Spirit of truth was illuminating the words and apply them to the depths of my soul.

The copy of Pascal’s Pensées that I used for my doctoral dissertation was worn beyond what its spine could endure. Pages tumbled out and had to be stuffed back in, often not in the right place. It did not age well. But I could not dispose of the book. A student offered to give the book a new spine. A spiral binding (a kind of exoskeleton) now secures the pages for posterity and my further research.

Books can be objects of anger. In a fit of rage, you can throw a book across the room, as I have done—even in the classroom. (I have never thrown a book atanyone.) One projectile of shame has been Blue Like Jazz, which holds the record for most public abuse. Another is No Argument for God. I have left this practice behind, but there are surviving witnesses to my excitations. You can throw audio recorders, Kindle readers, and laptops across rooms, too. Of course, doing that is a tad more expensive.

Books are placed somewhere, since they are discreet objects in the external world. They are part of a physical environment and contribute to an ambiance. They also have a distinctive smell, which is immediately obvious when you enter a used book store (or my basement). Whether they are out of order or in order, they enter the visual, tactile, and olfactory senses. My dog, Sunny, sometimes rests his head on a pile of my books in my study. If he wants to be with me, he often has no choice.

Audio books are not books, but recordings of books. They were first recorded on vinyl records, then on cassettes, CDs, and now mostly on line. I have a magnificent set of speeches by Winston Churchill, which were recorded on several records, dating back many decades. This sounds better: Amazon also houses some of his speeches in the cloud. The Bible was recorded on vinyl to give the visually-impaired audio access to Holy Writ. It was later put on cassette, CD, and was later streamed on the Internet. I spent countless hours listening to Alexander Scourby (1913-1985) read the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. “Scourby has the greatest voice ever recorded,” said The Chicago Tribune. While listening in my car about twenty years ago, I heard his reading of Jesus’ fiery condemnation of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, taken from Matthew 23. It gave me chills because Scourby captured Jesus’ disgust with pompously false religion so tellingly. His incomparable recitations are still available.

Literary critic, Sven Birkerts critiqued the audio book twenty years ago in The Guttenberg Elegies, finding the very nature of the medium problematic. When he wrote, audio books were limited to cassettes, which are bulkier and less easily listened to than audio books on line. But his comments are still apt; so, I will reflect on them.

Listening is different from reading, even if the intellectual content is identical. When you read, you may supply a voice to the text, especially if you have heard the author speak. I find this true when I read anything by Os Guinness, whose speaking and writing are distinctive, profound, and well-entrenched in my consciousness. But if you are reading Plato, there is no determinative voice to hear in the written words, although you could supply one—perhaps Charlton Heston. Or, y0u may simply read along with no voice in mind.

However, when listening to an audio book, a voice—the professional reader, or in some cases the author—is assigned. You have no choice in who reads it to you, but you may avoid certain audio book readers and be inclined toward others. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesusis read by the author, the late Nabeel Qureshi. This is fitting since he had a pleasant voice and because the book is the story of his own conversion. Things may get confusing, though, if a female reads a book by a male author or vice versa.  For example, Kate Redding reads Francis Schaeffer’s book, He is There and He is not SilentBut, perhaps, this should make no difference. Schaeffer’s own voice was a bit high-pitched and raspy, but always insistent. Redding’s voice is sure and authoritative. It seems to work.

As we try to comprehend ideas, we must often retrace our steps. In conversation, we may say, “Can you say that again?” or “Do you mean so and so?” A printed book (or a Kindle book) allows us to read at our own pace, to stop and ponder, and to go back and reread sections of the book. The book itself has no pace, no speed of exposition. The reader supplies that. The audio book sets its own pace, although it now gives us the option of speeding up or slowing down the rate of reading. At the extremes, the voice no longer seems human at all. Words are recited at speeds and with tones unknown to normal speakers. I occasionally speed up the speech because I want to get more information more quickly. But at what cost is this to understanding the content or to an aesthetic appreciation of the voice?

Audio books allow you to backtrack, but it is unwieldy in relation to what the paper book allows (and encourages). Of course, we often listen to audio books in settings—as while driving, eating, or exercising—in which our hands are not free to handle a paper book.

 

What is This Thing Called Love?

Originally posted on 7/13/2015

What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?

Cole Porter wrote the lyrics. Frank Sinatra sang the song. This gem out of the great American songbook captures something of the age-old quest for the meaning of love. Yet today love is nearly the most vexed word in the English language, taking second place only to the word God, which has been the most defiled by ignorance and arrogant redefinition. Given that love now supposedly justifies same-sex marriage and other sexual engagements outside of heterosexual marriage, let us consider its meaning.

Love is love, we are told, as if this argued in favor of same-sex marriage. Love is a human emotion, but that does not ground it in moral reality. As St. Augustine argued long ago in The City of God, our loves are warped by sin. As he writes in The City of God, chapter 28:

Accordingly, two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self.  The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.  For the one seeks glory from men; but the greatest glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience.  The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “Thou art my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”

We may love the temporal more than the eternal, the flesh more than the spirit, the world more than God. Our loves are confused and untrustworthy when left to themselves. We may even love deviancy over morality.

God is love, teaches the Apostle John. God’s character is holy love, not mere sentimentality or an endorsement of all human attraction or affection. God is perfectly good and free from all ignorance and distortion. He is holy in that he is above and beyond his creation, living in perfect righteousness. Hence, when God revealed himself to the prophet Isaiah, the angels worshiped him.

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4; see also Revelation 4)

Isaiah’s response was not to rejoice that a tame God of had shown up. Rather, he cried:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).

God is holy, holy, holy. The threefold description is a Hebrew figure of speech meaning the uttermost, the maximum, the zenith.

Many know Jesus’ statement of his mission in the Gospel of John. But let us look at it again in its fuller context to understand what love really means. Jesus said to Nicodemus:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God (John 3:16-21).

Jesus came to demonstrate love in the darkness—the darkness of evil. He did not come to ratify our preferences or to confirm our wishes. As God incarnate, he came to shine light into darkness, to condemn sin as sin (rebellion against God and his creation order), and, in love, to offer forgiveness and new life. Love has an object; it does not bless the darkness. That is what the denizens of darkness do.

The darkness not only rejects Jesus, it also paints him in false colors, making Jesus a chameleon for cultural trends. This is not the Jesus who is “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8; see also Malachi 3:6). This is not the Jesus who can reconcile us to God and make us his servants. This is a counterfeit Christ, who is heralded by counterfeit apostles. Listen to Paul:

For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (1 Corinthians 11:4).

These false teachers must be exposed:

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (1 Corinthians 11:12-15).

These purveyors of falsehood will have their reward. There error is not small. As the prophet Isaiah declared:

Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight (Isaiah 5:20-21).

Good and evil are determined by the character of God, the Creator and Designer of the universe and of human beings. We are not free to improvise on the principles of morality. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his classic The Abolition of Man, “The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.”

But what, more specifically, is this thing called love? Paul, again, tells us in clear terms:

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

Out of his own matchless love, Christ died to forgive and restore sinners. Love is God’s response to human sin. If we deny acts and thoughts that are truly sinful, we deny God’s claim of love to forgive and renew sinners. Let us listen again to Paul:

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:4).

It is God’s kindness that reveals and condemns human sin, which issues from within a woman or man. As Christ said:

What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person (Mark 7:20-23; see also Romans 3:14-26).

If it were not for the God of the Bible, we would not know who we are and what we have done in rebellion against God. God is kind, not cruel, to disclose this to us, his wayward children.

What, then, is God’s response to the slogan love is love when meant to endorse same-sex marriage and non-heterosexual activity in general? God cannot love what cuts against his character and the order and design of his creation. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. As the crown of creation he made women and men in his image and likeness, male and female, and God commissioned them to have dominion, cultivate the earth, and come together as husband and wife (Genesis 1-2). Sexual error is due to the fall of humanity. When creatures took it upon themselves to heed the voice of the lie and promote themselves above their Creator (Genesis 3).

God’s authoritative pattern for human sexuality is not open-ended. It is not a matter of subjective feeling or of cultural condition or of legal ruling. Jesus ratified the Genesis norm when he proclaimed:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19:1-6).

God joins together male and female in marriage. No other arrangement is God-ordained, and no other pairing has his blessing

God’s love is demonstrated in sending Jesus to atone for our sins and set us right with God. God’s love is further revealed in his judgments of our sin as sin, so that we may repent and embrace God’s ways on earth and in eternity. God’s love, then, will never endorse, sanction, or bless anything that goes against his holy nature or against the nature of human beings he created in his image and likeness. However, when erring mortals turn against God and make themselves the authority, horrible things happen, as Paul teaches:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them (Romans 1:18-32; see also Leviticus 18; 1 Corinthians 6:9-12).

The desires of these God-rejecting people suffered corruption, no matter how strong the desires may have been. Intensity of attraction—erotic or otherwise—does not morality make.

Some misguided scholars have attempted to blunt the force of this passage by claiming that Paul is only condemning some kinds of homosexuality. This is alien to every English translation and to the Greek text as well. Further, no biblical text outside of Romans endorses any homo-erotic behavior, let alone same-sex marriage.

By now, the reader should discern that God’s love does not extend to practices or institutions that God explicitly forbids in the teaching of the Bible, which is his living and active word (Hebrews 4:12). Rather, those who come to Christ and name him Lord must repent from their former ways of living in sin. The first word of the Gospel is repentance. After Jesus was tempted by the devil, he began his public teaching by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus charge to his followers after his resurrection and before his ascension into heaven stress repentance as well:

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things (Luke 24:46-48).

In the first of his 95 Theses (1517), the Reformer Martin Luther wrote:

When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent,” He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

In the name of Jesus Christ, no Christian is allowed to condone what Christ himself condemns—all sexual immorality. One aspect of sin-causing behavior is sexual intimacy outside of heterosexual monogamy. When men and women are drawn to repent and confess Jesus as Lord, they will live lives of repentance as they seek to please the One who saved them from sin, death, and hell. This is a life of love. But not all that claims to be love from God is love from God. Paul’s famous love passage clarifies this:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13:1-7).

Love is paramount. If so, we must get it right, lest love is drained of its glory. Love is positively shown in patience and kindness; negatively, love does not envy, boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, is not selfish, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, and does not delight in evil. But there is one more positive statement about love that puts everything else into context: Love “rejoices with the truth” (v. 6). The Message translation says that love “Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth.” The majestic King James Version says, that love “rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth.”

Love’s rejoicing in the truth of God about sexuality forbids rejoicing in what God forbids. We cannot stand with God when we stand against God’s truth about love.

Brief Social Commentary: Radio Lab

Public radio has a program called Radio Lab. Today, they took up artificial intelligence. But the form of the program is odd, interruptive. Speakers are often interrupted by other voices. The interjected comments may be parenthetical or substantial.

Call me peevish, but I loathe being interrupted when I speak, even if it is an accident. I try hard to never interrupt anyone else—unless that is the only way to say anything to them. This program often does not allow speakers to complete their own sentences—or at least much of the time.

If this is the new normal, I want to stay abnormal—one voice sentences. Why do they do this anyway? Perhaps because we are an interruptive, conversationally impatient, and rude culture.

The audio technology allows these interruptions to be seamless, which almost sounds like a contradiction. No voice is talking over another voice, at least I don’t think so. I did not–could not–listen to the whole program, even though the topic, artificial intelligence, was fascinating.

These digital interjections depersonalize those “interviewed,” if we could call it that. Sound data is collected and manipulated by Radio Lab. If they ask me for my sound data, I shall decline. I will sometimes even pause to start or finish a sentence correctly. And I don’t want my voice completing someone else’s sentence.

Philosophy of Technology in Six Ideas

As I prowl around bookstores, I find a gaggle of books on managing technology overload. One after another fall of the presses and make their way on the shelves and into my hands. Some, I buy; most, I pass over. Often, I think, “I noticed that twenty years ago.” I did not predict Google or Facebook or Wikipedia, of course; but in my unread book, The Soul in Cyberspace, I did exegete the medium qua medium, noted some of the internet’s strengths, but warned of ways it could diminish the good life that God wants us to live. Here are six words that capture some of the insights I find repeated again and again in these new books.

  1. More is often less. Humans can profitably interact only with a limited amount of data and sensory stimulation. We must limit our exposure to internet (and all) electronic media because, unless we are careful, it will addle and unravel us. It may even stupefy us, even as we twitch and click away.
  2. The medium is the message. As Marshall McLuhan wrote 50 years ago, each communications media shapes its message according to the dictates of the form of communication. An image communicates differently than the spoken word, the spoken word, differently than the written word, and so it goes. Attending a worship service cannot be translated truthfully by watching it on line.
  3. Efficiency is overrated and may be dangerous. Many good things come slowly, such as strong and vibrant relationships, handcrafted furniture, and skill in playing a musical instrument. All too often, modern technology accelerates without regard to quality. Downloading a PDF of a book can be done quickly; but perhaps finding a hard copy and enjoying its un-electrified slowness is what you should do. It is more efficient to use a program to put comments on students’ papers. However, writing with pen and ink is more personal and embodied. Yes, it is slower—and better (if you have the time).
  4. Resist quantification over qualitative concerns. Technologies trade on numbers. How many likes did your Facebook post receive? People may like it for the wrong reasons. How many people follow your tweets? How can you maximize exposure to your blog? What is left behind, too often, is the quality–the objective nature–of what is available online. What might God think of your essay, your poem, or your cartoon? Does what you put on line contribute to human flourishing.
  5. Virtuous engagement online requires abstention. We often give too much of our time to the on line world. Our very souls are shaped by its speed, its fragmentation, its instantism. Thus, we are wise to retreat, to unplug, to desist, to desert it. Leave your phone in the car when you go shopping or when you meet a friend at a coffee shop. Designate hours and days when you are off line entirely. You will gain a new perspective on your on line life by going off line. You will notice what slipped into the background: friends, pets, nature, the Bible, prayer needs, and more.
  6. Every new communication technology gives and takes away. There is no sheer advantage. The telephone and radio extend the voice, but take away the physical presence. Early users of telephones were rattled by a disembodied voice coming from far away. The internet opens up the world to us, but may separate us from the people in our midst. Hence, “the absent presence” of much of life today. How can someone listen to you when they are texting someone elsewhere? Electronic music files make music available nearly anywhere, but the sound quality is worse than a record. And when you can listen to music through your ear buds in public, you will not be as aware of the world around you. You may not see the tears in a stranger’s eyes or hear a sound of distress in your midst.

My miniature essay fails to address the evil algorithms out there, the good and evil of big data, and other empirical matters worthy of concern. Nevertheless, my six ideas cover much of what is being written about today, twenty years after I warned about the down side of technologies. My inspiration was and is thinkers such as Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan, Malcolm Muggerridge, and Jacques Ellul. Take some time away from Facebook, Instagram, et al, and read them, please.

 

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” Film

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor” is a recent film about Fred “Mr.” Rogers. Mr. Roger’s hosted a long-running children’s program called “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” I cried through most of it because of the man’s simple, Christian goodness.
 
Before seeing the trailer a few months ago, I never took the man seriously, although I knew little about him. For a snide teenager, he was easy to parody. I was too old to have watched the program as a small child. What I found from the film is that Fred Rogers (who I already knew was an ordained minister) was a genuinely kind and gentle soul, who loved children and thought that TV could be a ministry to children, who were so often abused by stupid or violent children’s television.
 
Mr. Rogers could speak the truth to power with gentleness. In a touching scene, he addresses a congressional hearing to advocate for the continued funding of PBS. The arrogant Senator preceding is disarmed by Mr. Rogers simple apologetic, most of which comes from reciting a children’s song. Sen. Arrogant said, “Mr. Rogers, you have your twenty million.”
 
Fred Rogers’s program was slow-moving and stayed slow-moving even as the media world went from speed to speed until everything was hurdling toward nothing of value.Mr. Roger’s spoke slowly and deliberately. The program addressed challenging themes such as death, divorce, and even assassination. The message was simple, but profound: Everyone is special and should be treated as a neighbor. No, this is not the gospel, but it is true. Mr. Roger’s found a ministry without a church’s pulpit. I am grateful that he did.

40 Years of Classroom Stories

While hanging out with some students from Denver Seminary, I recounted some of the funniest and oddest experiences in my many years of teaching. I told them I would write an essay on this.

Good teachers want students to learn well. We earnestly endeavor to prepare well and create an atmosphere where knowledge happens. But things go wrong or surprise us.

In about 1995, I was role playing as a Hindu philosopher in my apologetics class. I was making a case for non-dualism (or pantheistic monism) and the students were trying to refute me. It was quite philosophical. I had yet conceded nothing when a student asked, “Would you like to accept Jesus as your Savior?” I was incapacitated by hilarity, as was the class.

A few years ago, a student made a remark about me liking Kenny G (knowing my true feelings). I walked out of the class and then came in the back door. The student had panicked and was looking for me outside. The class was hysterical.

Many years ago, I suffered through being in class with a student who was both clueless and talkative. He or she waved her hand eagerly to make another long and inane comment. She then called out to me. I said, “I was trying to ignore you.” She then made her inane comment, nonetheless.

A student asked me a question that was obviously covered in the reading for that day. I asked, “Did you do the reading?” The student answered, “No.” I said, “Then I don’t have to answer your question.”

Before I banned laptops from the classroom about ten years ago, I passed out a piece of paper saying that students would not go on line while they used their computers to take notes. I asked them to sign this and turn it in to me. At this a student stood up and yelled, “You are treating us like high school students.” I replied, “You and I and the Dean will talk about this later.” Not being deterred the student said, “We don’t have to take this: Revolt!” I looked out at the horrified class and said, “If any of you want to revolt with this student, you can leave the class and we will all talk to the Dean later.” The student later apologized and the tension dissipated.

During a doctrinal oral examination, another professor and I probed a student about the present existence and location of Jesus after this resurrection. The student was flummoxed and did not have the categories to respond. He looked more panicked and frozen than a deer in headlights. My colleague said, “I feel like we are doing dental work here, trying to pull the answers out of you.” The student later retook part of the examination and passed. He now knows where Jesus is (besides in his heart).

I made many comments on a student’s thesis in philosophy. He responded to all of them, but neglected one. I gave back his thesis and told him to attend to what he omitted. I also said that as a penalty, he had to take me to a baseball game. He did.

At the break during a class, a student came up to me and said that my button-up shirt was buttoned unevenly. I corrected that in the men’s room.

In apologetics, I pretended to be a jazz saxophone player named Zoot. Zoot asked that the class give him an argument for the existence of God from the existence of a saxophone. They did, and Zoot was impressed.

I was teaching a very large and long class on apologetics on a week night. To keep people interested, I brought a Frisbee to class. When I wanted someone to answer a question, I threw it into the class. Whoever caught it had to answer the question.

One student turned in a paper in which he misspelled both my first and last name: Douglass Groothius.

I was reading a student paper on the philosophy of technology and thought, “This is quite good. This is me!” The hapless student copied two full pages from my book, The Soul in Cyberspace.

When teaching at Metro State College, I received the worst paper I had ever seen. It was terribly written, except where it plagiarized from an atheist web page. The student also wrote, “Because I am a Christian, I am a relativist.” I call this paper F cubed. F for writing. F for plagiarizing. F for logic.

In a history of philosophy class, I assigned a paper on Kant. One of the students turned in a paper on Descartes instead. Oops.

I saw a student looking down at the floor next to her desk and moving a piece of paper on the floor. “Marina, what are you doing?” She said, “There is a spider on the floor and I want to save him.” She then put the spider piece of paper and put him out in the hallway. I’m not sure how long he survived there, though.

I am sure more stories will come to me, but these may amuse you.

 

Movie Thoughts on “God’s Not Dead, 2”

God’s not Dead, 2 (2016)

A teacher is accused of proselytizing in the classroom simply because she answered a student’s question about whether Martin Luther King’s nonviolent protests were influenced by Jesus. The teacher affirmed it and quoted a verse from the Sermon on the Mount.

When word gets out, the teacher is vilified as preaching in the classroom and must take her case to court. She is assigned a young, inexperienced, but tenacious lawyer.

I won’t give away the plot. Rather, let’s consider some of the strengths of the film.

1. The lawyer decides that it is crucial to give historical arguments that Jesus existed and that the Gospels are credible. The plan is that the teacher could cite the saying of a teacher in history. Thus, we hear testimony from the real Lee Strobel, J. Warner Wallace at some length. Rice Brooks, the apologetic mind behind the film, and Gary Habermas gets to say a few things.

2. Like the first God’s not Dead, someone stands for Christ under pressure, this time the school teacher.

3. The lawyer representing the teacher destroys the claim that “the separation of church and state” has any bearing on the case, since it is not in The Constitution.

However, the plot and logic of the story have weaknesses.

1. The teacher is said to have broken a law by mentioning Jesus in class. That law is never stated or even paraphrased. Thus, we don’t know if she violated any law. I find it unlikely that an historical reference to Jesus as part of answering a student’s question could be construed (even by the ACLU) as illegal. Instead of legal specifics, it is set up as Christianity verses secularism, which is far too vague. US Courts don’t work that way.

2. I am not a judge or a lawyer, but I find it hard to believe that the judge would have permitted some of the behavior in the courtroom. It strained belief.

3. The tables are turned dramatically near the end of the film, and was nothing less than rhetorical genius. The move was a reductio ad absurdum. I won’t say more. However, the maneuver seemed to have nothing to do with the legal issue at question (inasmuch as we can figure that out).

All told, “God’s not Dead, 2,” was more believable than the first installment. It was moving in places. The acting was believable. Since I don’t sink to the absurdity of giving stars (unless a magazine, which shall not be named, makes me), I simply recommend this movie for Christians, seekers, those hostile to Christianity, and for believers in other religions.

4 Reasons Why Leaders Should be Readers

Christian leaders need to direct and inspire through their knowledge and character. I here assume you are not reading romance novels or graphic novels. Leaders should be readers, among other things. Why?

1. Reading deepens your awareness of life. You can see things with other eyes and expand your awareness. God’s people need perspective.
2. Reading helps you not to be a sucker, to be sucked into superficial fads, bad ideas, and general stupidity.
3. Reading helps you love others better, because you have more meat to offer them.
4. You need to be an example of intellectual rectitude and studiousness.

How can this be done?

1. Limit time online. Kindle is good for some things, such as reading while traveling and for capturing text. However, the book affords its unique charms for understanding. See my chapter, “The Book, the Screen, and the Soul,” in “The Soul in Cyberspace.”
2. Find time alone and without distraction to read. Perhaps “a clean, well-lit place,” or in messiness (as I do).
3. Ask thoughtful friends what they are reading.
4. Haunt bookstores for books. Duh.
5. Check the New York Times Book Review.

What to Read

1. That which deepens your calling.
2. History: for perspective on today.
3. Philosophy: sharpen your critical thinking prowess and knowledge of worldviews and the history of ideas.
4. Psychology: better understand yourself and others.
5. Poetry: the kind you can understand.
6. Apologetics: learn to defend your faith wisely.
7. Ethics: for moral discernment.
8. Social commentary by smart people.
9. Everything related to the Bible.
10. Science, especially what is written from the Intelligent Design viewpoint.
11. Classic literature: Plato, Aristotle, Pascal, so much more.
12. Literature: enliven your imagination through story.
13. Spiritual writings: deepen your relationship with God.

That should keep you busy for some time, good time.

13 Ways to Live a Thoughtful Life for Christ and His Kingdom

Spiritual formation, becoming more like Jesus Christ in thought and deed, requires a renewed mind (Romans 12:2) that avoids worldliness (1 John 2:15-17) and pursues godliness (Matthew 5:1-18; 6:33). Our sanctification through the Holy Spirit requires an ongoing dependency on God. We are to grow in the knowledge of God and of the workings of his Kingdom (Matthew 6:33). We are to see ourselves (James 1:25), our place in the church (1 Corinthians 12-14), and the broader culture (1 Chronicles 12:32) in light of his Word.

To this end, here are some principles and recommendations in how to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).

  1. Remain faithful in the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures, which are God’s cognitive revelation of himself and the ways of salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-16). Acquire and use study aids such as one or more study Bibles. I recommend The Apologetics Study Bible, The Reformation Study Bible, The NET Bible, and The NIV Study Bible. Of course, there are many other tools such as commentaries and other helps. The excellent commentaries of John Calvin and Matthew Henry are available online.
  2. Discern your unique calling as a Christian. No one can do everything, so we must concentrate our energies where we are gifted and in accordance to God’s leading. I highly recommend Os Guinness’s book on this vital topic, The Call. See also John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life.
  3. Be involved in a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching local church, and seek to serve through what you have learned. Biblically, we are responsible to use what we know wisely and for the glory of God. We should not hide our gifts under a table, but employ them to build up the church and witness to the world (Matthew 5; Ephesians 4:15). Specifically:
    1. Develop adult education classes on the Christian worldview, biblical interpretation, theology, apologetics, and social issues.
    2. Make sure your church has some way of preparing high school students for college. Many churched teenagers either put aside their Christian convictions or lose them during this time. For how high school students in the church tend to think, see Christian Smith, Soul Searching. Also consult the essay “Faithful Christianity in College” by Douglas Groothuis and Sarah Geis at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/philosophicalfragments/2013/04/09/faithful-christianity-in-college/
    3. Be involved as a mentor to those who can benefit from your gifts. Try to find a suitable mentor for yourself as well (Proverbs 27:17; 2 Timothy 2:2).
  4. Develop your skills at speaking, teaching, and conversation. American linguistic culture is ugly, sloppy, and lazy. Instead of blending with the inarticulate herd, broaden your vocabulary, work on articulation, and listen to the people with which you are speaking. On writing, see the classic Elements of Style by Stunk and White. On public speaking, see Stand Like Lincoln, Speak Like Churchill by James Humes. Consider joining a Toastmasters club to refine your speaking skills.
  5. Read thoughtful Christian books, both classic and contemporary. While we often emphasize popular books, we should not forget time-tested classics written by Augustine, Calvin, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards. Twentieth-century writers such as G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, John Stott, J. I. Packer, Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and Os Guinness make for hearty and rewarding reading as well.
  6. Certain periodicals are also edifying. For keeping the pulse of contemporary evangelicalism, see Christianity Today. Political and cultural issues are carefully addressed in First Things, which now has a rather strong Catholic focus. To stay abreast of cults, religious movements, apologetics, and ethics read The Christian Research Journal. Relevant is a popular magazine, which is aimed at millennials. However, I find it a bit trendy and superficial.
  7. Be aware of secular culture and non-Christian religious expressions through your reading of periodicals and books. I also read the Sunday New York Times and The New Yorker for sophisticated secular views—and, in the latter case, for their superb cartoons. Commentary is excellent for conservative Jewish views. This is a resource for discerning what non-Christian books you should read, as is The New York Times book review. I also check Harpers, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Time Magazine, and Wired to look for significant articles. I find browsing at bookstores especially helpful, if you can find a brick and mortar bookstore. I am grateful that the Denver area has three locations of The Tattered Cover Bookstore.
  8. Carefully and prayerfully consider your use of all electronic communications media. These often sap our knowledge and divert us from godly habits of the heart. Consider engaging in a protracted media abstention in which you eliminate a commonly-used electronic system for a week to ten days. It will profoundly change your view of technology. See my book, The Soul in Cyberspace. For my more recent thoughts see my interview with Tim Challies at: http://www.crosswalk.com/blogs/challies/the-soul-in-cyberspace-an-interview-with-douglas-groothuis-11603254.html Consider also the thoughtful, secular book, Hamlet’s Blackberry. For a broader historical and culture critique read Neil Postman’s magisterial work, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. The best book on television is Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death. See also my article in The Christian Research Journal, “Understanding Social Media” at: http://www.equip.org/PDF/JAF2333.pdf. For a more scholarly paper, see Douglas Groothuis, “Christian Scholarship and the Philosophical Analysis of Cyberspace Technologies,” (Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 4 14 (December 1998): 631-640. This is on line at http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/41/41-4/41-4-pp631-640-JETS.pdf.
  9. Listen to thoughtful radio programs and podcasts. Many gifted Christian teachers and preachers can be heard in this manner. Redeem the time by listening to them in your car, or while exercising, or when you cannot do anything else, such as when you are ill. An excellent source of cultural criticism from a Christian or Christian-friendly viewpoint is Mars Hill Audio, hosted by Ken Myers, author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Eerdmans, 1989). Some audio books of thoughtful books are available for purchase or from a library.
  10. Take periods of time—either short or long—for silence. Our culture is too noisy and over-stimulated. We need quiet to compose our bodies and souls before God in cognitive meditation, prayer, and rest. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak (3:7; see also Habakkuk 2:20).

Consider Denver Seminary for further education. I head the MA in Apologetics and Ethics. We also offer a Certificate in Apologetics and Ethics (10 semester hours). See https://denverseminary.edu/academics/masters-level-certificates/ for more information.

As someone who has been laboring to develop a Christian mind since I became a Christian in 1976, I challenge you to think well for the cause of Christ and to even out-think the world for Christ!