I’m trying not to feel snarky.  Several colleagues mentioned recently that they’d seen “…something to do with religion and media…” in a September issue of Christian  Century. I need to admit, first, that CC is a central medium for my “tribe.”  My father, a minister, read it religiously, as do many of my old classmates from my seminary days, and most of the people I worked with during my monastic period.  But, my relationshi;p to it  has been love-hate in part because of its centrality in the discourses of the intellectual-theological establishment that still is at the center of liberal Protestantism.  I remain frustrated at that establishment’s resistance to taking the media age seriously, either in its theological education or in its theological reflection (though there are a few exceptions, of course).

I am not a regular reader, even though John Dart, a religion journalist I respect a great deal, is news editor.

So, with great interest and anticipation, I picked up the Century’s “news filter” feature titled “Navigating the New Media.” I was pleased, first, to see so many friends of mine represented.  Each, in his or her own way, has adapted media habits to the new, digital reality.  And in ways that are typical of our social/intellectual fraction.

But I expected more. Not from these writers who were, after all, following their story assignments.  I expected more from the journal’s own perspective on the question of religion and new media.

The overall framing of the media in the Century has been that described so well by Sally Promey in David Morgan’s Icons of American Protestantism.  Sally demonstrates there how the Protestant Theological Establishment’s take on the media age was produced as a concatenation of neo-Levesite elitism, Frankfurt-school  mass-society social anxieties, and  derogation of image and sensation in favor of more intellectualist approaches to knowledge and practice.

Well, this symposium does little to break out of that frame.  The new digital media age is a tacit, transparent, and entirely unproblematic framing of intellectual inquiry.  The particular ways digital media might be contributing to a re-making of the religious and theological objects sought by these writers is not reflected on.  And, I think the fault is not theirs.  They were asked to inhabit the Barthian ideal: “the Bible in one hand, the Newspaper in the other….”  That that is the appropriate mode of theologically-grounded media practice is unquestioned.

Oh well.

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