Faith, Words, Complexity & Filmic Reductionism

In his best-selling “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Thomas Cahill described the role of Irish monasteries in preserving and copying the ancient texts of the Bible. Their efforts preserved the written text and wisdom of previous centuries.

Words matter.

Those who study the evolution of speech remind of us an age in which, there were no written words, and humans uttered monosyllabic grunts to convey the most rudimentary audio symbols. It has taken centuries to develop human language and the written word.

By the first century spoken and written words were revered and the apostle John penned the majestic phrase, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.”

In an increasingly visual and sadly illiterate age it is not unreasonable to ask, who will preserve the text? Who will save civilization?

This came to mind when I read of the 50% illiteracy rate in Los Angeles.. In this great city in a state governed by a man who is the master of monosyllabic grunts, “I’ll be back,” illiteracy is the byproduct of massive immigration and the failure of the schools to teach. The neighboring city of Hollywood is an unwitting accomplice, producing films with more special effects and less dialogue than any era since the age of silent films.

In our breathless embrace of film as “the” medium of communication we should think seriously about the limitations of this medium to convey abstract thoughts and ideas, or to adequately convey a complex person, like GOD.

This connection of written word to God is what first made Neil Postman start asking questions about the technology driving us to “amuse ourselves top death.” His issue unfolded as follows:

“Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. I wondered then, as so many others have, as to why the God of these people would have included instructions on how they were to symbolize, or not symbolize their experience. It is a strange injunction to include as part of an ethical system unless its author assumed a connection between forms of human communication and the quality of a culture. We may hazard a guess that a people who are being asked to embrace an abstract, universal deity would be rendered unfit to do so by the habit of drawing pictures or making statues or depicting their ideas in any concrete, iconographic forms. The God of the Jews was to exist in the Word and through the Word, an unprecedented conception requiring the highest order of abstract thinking.”

I am not opposed to visual art, film or the extensive use of symbols, but all of us should be concerned about a so-called “advanced civilization” regressing to a pre-language civilization of monosyllabic grunters replacing the written word for digital pictures “drawn” on walls in darkened caves called theatres.

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in September 9, 2004 by | No Comments »

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