Casual readers of C.S. Lewis are not always familiar with his supremely balanced view of science and faith.
In a world where skeptics allege science and religious faith are incompatible, Lewis upheld the orthodox Christian understanding that Christianity and true science are 100% compatible. The problem arises when people attempt to use science to explore matters science cannot address.
In “C.S. Lewis and How Christians Should Think about Science,” we read that “C.S. Lewis has written extensively on science or specifically on how believers should think about science. Lewis himself was not antiscience. But he had grave concerns about the use of science to either manipulate nature or validate worldviews based on reductionism or naturalism.”
I would like to emphasize this warning, by adding three simple letters. C.S. Lewis “had grave concerns about the misuse of science.” And so should we all.
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes science’s proper role.
Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, “I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,” or, “I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.” Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is.
And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science—and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes—something of a different kind—this is not a scientific question. If there is “Something Behind,” then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way.
The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, “Why is there a universe?” “Why does it go on as it does?” “Has it any meaning?” would remain just as they were?
There are, of course, many, many thousands of scientists who are Christians.
I recently read an interesting article on the Society of Roman Catholic Scientists. I commend it to everyone, whatever your religious affiliation (or lack thereof). It is entitled “Christianity in Scientific Mythology,” and begins with the author saying,
It shocks many people to find out that I am both an astrophysicist and a religious believer. It shocks some of my fellow astrophysicists and even some of my fellow Catholics. . . . But why should this be? Why should it be a surprise that someone whose chosen profession is the scientific study of the universe is also a person of faith? Why the perception of conflict? Is it intrinsic to the business of science that it be “at odds” with religion?
Despite the fact that Professor Clemens fails to mention C.S. Lewis in his essay, he makes many valid points. The first lays a solid foundation for his message, and dispels a patently obvious, but seldom acknowledged, fact.
One of the defects of contemporary culture is the undue and unhealthy reverence we show toward scientists. The public imagines scientists to be too smart to disagree with, too objective to be swayed by emotion or bias, and experts on every subject they choose to talk about. None of these things is true, of course, and the unquestioning acceptance of these notions does great harm.
Like all sane people, C.S. Lewis appreciated the great value of science. What he warned against was a sort of deification [my word] of science. It is like the elevation of scientific mythology to the status of ultimate religious truth, able to answer even metaphysical questions with certitude.
If you would like to read more on this subject, consider the following articles:
As a person of faith, albeit not a scientist, I concur wholeheartedly with C.S. Lewis. In the following passage from The Weight of Glory, Lewis makes a profound point, although it may require more than a single reading to comprehend. You may wish to read the entire essay to see how he builds up to this observation, but I offer it here on its own merits.
The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world: the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific point of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religious. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.
The illustration above was drawn by E.J. Pace and appeared a century ago in The Sunday School Times. You can download a personal copy of a book featuring a hundred of Pace’s cartoons here.
Editor’s note: This article about Josh Duggar contains disturbing reports of sexual violence.
The alleged crimes of Josh Duggar, who was just released on bail pending trial, are unspeakable. But what makes his story even more appalling, says victims advocate Rachael Denhollander, is the theology that is cushioning Duggar from the cost of those crimes.
“Everyone – EVERYONE else, from Josh’s own children, to a woman afraid to have him in the home, to his own wife, are bearing the risks and costs of his behavior,” said Rachael Denhollander in a Twitter thread. “And they are being told it is godly and right to do it.”
Denhollander is known for being the first woman to speak out publicly after filing a report against USA gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, one of the most prolific sexual abusers in history. Denhollander has shared she was groomed for Nasser’s abuse by being molested as a child in an evangelical church. She is now an attorney and advocate for abuse survivors.
“I don’t even know where to begin with what we need to learn from this situation with Josh Duggar,” said Denhollander. “If you haven’t paid attention to updates, you should, because it is a glaring example of the problems we have in our legal system, and especially in conservative culture.”
Duggar was arrested on April 29 for receiving and possessing material depicting the sexual abuse of children. He faces up to 20 years in prison for each, and has pleaded not guilty. He is currently under house arrest while awaiting his trial, set to begin July 6.
Josh Duggar Planned and Premeditated
In November 2019, Homeland Security Investigations raided Josh Duggar’s business and confiscated three password-protected devices. On those devices were dozens of images depicting nude minors and child sex abuse materials. In a hearing Wednesday, Special Agent Gerald Faulkner testified that one of those devices contained files that were among the “top five worst I’ve ever had to examine.” Faulkner has been an agent for 11 years and worked over 1,000 child exploitation cases.
“The images and videos Josh downloaded for his own sexual pleasure were of toddlers and babies being sexually assaulted,” said Denhollander. “18 months to 3 years old. He literally found sexual gratification in watching the sexual torture of babies and toddlers…The FBI agent who conducted the investigation said it was some of the worst material he’s ever gone through. Josh searched for it, and enjoyed it. Sit with that reality. Absorb what that means.”
Investigators found that Covenant Eyes, a porn accountability software, had been installed on one of the devices, but that Duggar allegedly bypassed it by partitioning his hard drive into two sections. Faulkner also testified that Duggar used a TOR browser to access the dark web anonymously.
“This wasn’t an accident,” said Denhollander. “This was planned, premeditated, and probably going on for a long time.” She believes it is highly unlikely that Josh Duggar’s wife, Anna, was unaware that he was looking at porn. “Out of every woman I’ve ever walked with whose husband had a porn problem,” said Denhollander, “it was NEVER a surprise…It’s pretty much guaranteed that somewhere along the way Anna knew Josh still had a porn addiction, but she was left to deal with it and fix it in silence and on her own, because that’s how we counsel couples in Christian circles. ‘Submission’ becomes a catch-phrase to protect.”
Denhollander sees Anna Duggar‘s silence about her husband’s sexual proclivities as symptomatic of certain evangelical teachings about the proper role of wives. Denhollander referenced several concepts promoted in some conservative circles, including the complementarian teaching that wives need to respect and submit to their husbands. Some conservative Christians emphasize the idea that “God hates divorce” so much that they encourage women to stay in abusive situations. And it is not unusual for Christian women to be taught they are responsible for men’s lust. If they are married, women are encouraged to make sure to have regular sex with their husbands so that the men will not be unfaithful.
“[Anna] certainly couldn’t tell anyone, because that would not be respectful,” said Denhollander. “That’s how we counsel wives in these marriages. But she was certainly taught to have sex more to fix it. Her own mother-in-law wrote blog articles that said as much.”
Denhollander went on to point out how Josh Duggar’s family and community, despite facing shocking and plentiful evidence that he sexually preys on children, is bending over backwards to make life easier for him.
Josh Duggar’s father, Jim Bob Duggar, called people in his church to see if any would be custodians for his son when Josh was released on bail. “[Jim Bob] found a man willing to take [Josh] in,” said Denhollander. “Except that man’s wife teaches piano lessons to children, and she was not comfortable having Josh home with her all day, because she would be alone with him while her husband was at work. That didn’t matter to the husband, however. She has to find a new place to teach all those children because her husband wants Josh to live with them.”
The couple who have agreed to take Josh Duggar in are LaCount and Maria Reber. The Rebers have two children, including a 22-year-old daughter. The family hosts piano lessons out of their home, but have agreed to move the students to another location.
Maria Reber has said that she is uncomfortable being alone with Josh Duggar and is also uncomfortable with her 22-year-old daughter being alone with him. However, at Wednesday’s hearing, Reber testified, “My husband has made the decision and I’m here to support that decision.”
“Every single family who takes piano from her, and the wife herself, has to uproot their routine, livelihood and the child’s music education, because Josh,” said Denhollander. “Everyone is expected to bear the cost, except Josh. And the wife’s own very reasonable fears about being alone all day with a man who enjoys the sexual torture of toddlers didn’t matter to the husband either. The men in the situation are the leaders making the decisions while the women are expected to ‘submit.’”
Denhollander suggested that the Christians in this situation are living out twisted teachings on manhood and womanhood. And what is even more disturbing is that these teachings are pervasive. “The cost and impact is being born by everyone but the perpetrator, and the men given free reign to be ‘leaders,’” she said. “This is abusive culture. This is toxic Christianity. This is not manhood. This is not womanhood. This is depraved. And the worst part is, I know literally hundreds of women on the receiving end of this garbage. Josh, and this situation, aren’t the anomaly. They are the norm. Because we actually don’t think it’s that big of a deal.”
Women are taught as the cause and solution to men’s sexual perversions. Until our theology changes to actually reflect Scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised at any of this. It’s a story I see every single day. It’s wicked. It’s evil. And it’s long past time that we called it that – not just the abuse, but the twisted theology that fuels it.
I am sure by now all of you, like me, are weary of hearing Black Lives Matter, and all the rhetoric associated with the phrase. It isn’t really being used as an introduction to a productive and honest conversation, or even as a true call to arms to change injustice. I am not, and I will emphasize that for commenters, am not wanting to discuss the worthiness of the cause and all the associated protests, and violence. We can leave that for other posts.
Because this has been at the forefront of our minds the last months, no matter which side of the issue you take, I have been giving a lot of thought to what makes life matter. You can throw out a phrase the media seizes or glorifies without really having any true understanding of it. That is inconsequential to the truth, and only the mentally lazy or immature accept it at face value.
For this thing we sum up as life, a big word indeed, what does give it meaning? What really matters? I’m sure since the beginning of human ability to discuss and record ideas no consensus has ever been found, but, at least in Western society as I know it, until recently, it appears to me that people, families, cultures, governments, philosophers, historians, educators and theologians shared some ideas.
What are they? Unique to each person, we can never speak authoritatively for all, and I do not seek to do that here. I would just, with your assistance, examine some of the more common motivations that I became familiar with through my childhood, born in the late fifties, and adult years, and feedback from friends, family, and ideas from my reading and studies.
It seems to me that every generation bore the burden of living up to unspoken standards, perhaps innocently as a toddler, and maybe even unwillingly as the child grew and became a teenager, in certain instances. No individual came away unswayed by those parental and societal expectations, not even the great and small rebels who defined their rebellion against those very expectations, be they bath and bedtime, curfew, length of hair or hemline, or denial of civil rights or religious freedom.
From earliest human history, people had to work to provide their safety, sustenance, and hope for another tomorrow. Only relatively recently in our existence have we had the luxury of leisure and reflection.
I know that life for my grandparents was all about work, survival, and that included surviving the Great Depression and all that entailed. Gardening especially, farming in Kansas during Dust Bowl years for my dad’s family. Re-using, repairing, making do, sacrificing for the whole family, and especially for the sick, the young, the old.
Throughout our American history, immigrants arrived on our shores with their own expectations and goals and desires. They brought into our melting pot cultural richness and beliefs that added to who and what we are, added by their work, sacrifice, hunger for success and life for the generations they gave birth to. But they also, upon arrival and integration into American life and society accepted the expectations of previous generations of Americans and determined to live up to those expectations, those standards, and stand alongside their American brethren to contribute not only daily bread to their hungry children, but to the building and protection and success of this great country that they gave everything for.
Immigrants did not leave their homes and families behind, almost everyone of them knowing they would never see father, mother, brothers and sisters again, to come to America and stand idle, to wait in a bread line, to huddle in hovels and listen to the powerful tell them how to live and what to think. They came with dreams yes, but equal measures of determination, grit, work ethic, and hope. They came to build, and build they damn well did.
When I was a child our parents, and every teacher I ever had, painted pictures in our daily lives, in our minds, by words and deeds, of those who came before and built. In kindergarten we learned the story of the Pilgrims and Indians and the struggle to establish a home in the wilderness. Later in school we celebrated Thanksgiving through plays and the fictional words of Patricia Mullins “Why don’t you speak for yourself, John?”
In very early years we knew how America was settled, we knew of the building of the Colonies, the great Revolutionary War, the establishing of the United States of America under our Constitution. Later we learned more, the fleshing out of the great statesman and their long days writing that Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and every single one of us had a picture of George Washington leading his troops across the Delaware River, but also leading his fledgling country as it began a legendary march into history and world power.
Subsequently we learned about American expansion across the Continent, we learned about the Louisiana Purchase, we learned about the rise of industrialism, slavery, the abolitionist movement, the compromises and Congressional battles prior to the firing on Fort Sumter. Here in the South most of us learned about Reconstruction from old family members and friends. We learned about the World Wars, especially WWII.
Because we knew about the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, we learned that people survive great pandemics and economic crashes. We knew about victory gardens, war shortages, rationing, and such obscure things as women painting a line down their legs to simulate stockings because they had none. Every family had an aunt or mother who learned to weld or rivet during the war.
We learned about heroes and heroines. We learned about heritage and pride. We learned patriotism. I was taught the states and their capitals by an old black man who worked for my father, along with a lot of other special things, both academic and practical, and I remember the dignity, confidence and pride this friend of mine had when he taught me, though he was impoverished and caught in alcoholism. This was a time when he was denied basic rights and privileges that I, unknowingly at that time, had merely by virtue of my birth.
I learned that he expected me to come to him after test day and report my good grades, measuring not only the knowledge he imparted to me, but my valuing of that teaching and time invested, and I learned that his expectations were very high. All this he did voluntarily, imparting knowledge he had gained to me just because that is what people did, across race, culture, societal and economic status.
Let’s narrow this in some, and individualize it. When I graduated high school, I went into the world expecting that there was some thing I had to contribute, some actions and work and effort that I should put forth, primarily for my own success, but also because I wanted, like every other graduate in my class, to make my mark, to measure up. But we all had an unspoken idea that we owed the world we lived in our best.
I graduated in 1976. We were caught up in a year long celebration of 200 years of American history, excellence, and potential. In that time, not only for us young adults, but also for the country, there was an air of pride and patriotism, and absolute belief that we had greatness ahead. As valedictorian, I still remember the closing line I wrote for my speech.
“We now have the key to our future. We must find the lock it opens.” At this point, I am told, my future father in law gave me applause. You better believe that ranks in my list of things that matter. He was one tough man, not given to praise.
Later when I married, we each had a firm idea of what we wanted and what we had to offer, as well as what it would take to make life happen for us. First and foremost, perhaps even more than love, that idea for both of us involved work. My husband knew absolutely what hard work was already, and he immediately and everlastingly (still going like the Energizer Bunny!) set out to make a future for us. I wanted more than anything to build a wonderful home for us, to learn to cook, especially his favorite biscuits and gravy, and to help work and provide security for the coming children.
We wanted to be able to provide our own home for our family, give them security, teach them about life, work, home, family, and yes, all those things I listed above, the richness of our American heritage and experience. We wanted to prepare them for an indifferent and often hostile world, to give them confidence, strength, determination, hope in the face of trials, and belief, both in themselves, and in our family.
If there was anything we took for granted back then, it was perhaps the freedom we had to practice our Christian faith, to have a church building, a parish family, priests and nuns and parish schools, and all the richness and splendor and fruits of living in a land where you can worship God and try to pass on your faith to your children, all without persecution or punishment. In those busy days, we gave little thought to not only the American history we knew insuring our right to worship, but the poor workers who make our beautiful old church building possible, the priest who is now a candidate for sainthood because he gave his life in a Yellow Fever epidemic, staying in town to care for the sick and dying.
We wanted to build a good life for each other, we wanted a great future for our family, our sons. We didn’t just have an idea in our heads for how life should be, not for ourselves, and not for our sons. We wanted to teach them all they needed to know to make the best of their lives, to be able to go out into the world and make a good life for themselves, yes, but more still. We wanted to teach them about adversity, strength, endurance, getting up when life knocks you down. We wanted to teach them to do things for themselves, and that they could do hard things.
We wanted to teach them the value of hard work, and my husband especially was determined that no son of his would be anything less than the hardest, toughest, longest enduring man standing when the chips fell. We wanted them to see the value of their contributions, to our family, and to our common experience as Americans.
Our sons knew what it was to work from a very young age, and just as my husband and his siblings had done, they contributed to our family’s well being. As teens they helped pay their school tuition, they always paid for their own gas and insurance, and even sometimes bought their own clothes, especially if they wanted nicer things than mom was willing to spring for. Yes, shout out to you, number two son.
They learned the cost of failure, of lack of effort, and of mistakes. They learned that actions have consequences, and they learned that their parents would not bail them out of troubles, large and small. They learned to make recompense when their actions cost others. Looking at you, number one son and the spray painting of the barn episode.
They learned that mindless destruction and irresponsibility had repercussions, number three son and the screwdriver episode, and that privileges were not to be taken for granted.
As a proud, very proud, mother and grandmother now, I can say they learned all those things well and taught us others. They are finer men than we dreamed of, and life will never mow them down. They are wonderful husbands, fathers, and each in his own wonderful and unique way adds value to our world. They are patriots all. They have brought very special and resolute women into our family, and we have eight wonderful grandchildren who represent the hope and the future of our family.
To help me gather thoughts for this post, and because I value their opinions most, we had a conversation this week about what makes life matter.
Every one of them ranked family at the top of the list. One daughter in law is in school, and that ranks high on the list of things that matter. Another daughter in law, established in her field, still seeks further personal purpose and feels the quest continues, a sentiment that I share, although she sure words it better. A sense of humor, so necessary in our family, which is perhaps why my daughter in law named it.
My youngest son just finished school a year ago, all while working and raising three kids. He wants a better life for his wife and family, but he also wants the things he does to make his family, especially his wife and kids, proud of him, as well as us, his parents. And by us, he mostly means dad, because that’s a healthy desire in a young man, just as my husband was satisfied that he was able to please his father and make him proud.
My middle son separates his motivations into professional and personal. Professionally he is driven to succeed not only for personal satisfaction ( I can say from experience he was driven from birth toward excellence) but also for the sake of building a team and doing his best for them and his company. Personally, he wants his kids to see and experience the limitless possibilities life offers, and to understand that sacrifices must be made to win those things. He wants them to be confident in the security and love of their family, as do all of the sons and daughters in law. He wants them to be aware that their lives and potential are tied to the sacrifices of generations of family before them.
My oldest son experienced personal loss this year in a big way, a huge and heartbreaking struggle this year has been for him, again, personally and professionally. As far as bad things happening, big and small, 2020 has been a year of hits for him. Through it all he has not only kept on going, he has made his kids a priority, kept a sense of humor, hope, faith, and made time to come home and help take care of me in my time of recuperation, and make things easier for his dad by doing whatever he can around the house.
I had a bad ankle injury a few months ago, and it is a long journey toward being able to walk again. Every single one of my sons and daughters in law have been there for me in ways large and small, from one son who had to make himself the contact during and after surgery, all of them who took me to and from doctor and hospital, cooked and cleaned and shopped and mowed grass. Perhaps most important, they just came when I needed company and encouragement most. Extended family brought meals and visited. Family matters.
And because this is what the post is most about, passing on what matters, I’ll brag on the grandchildren, from the oldest ones who even stayed with me a day or two to help when I was almost immobile, to the little ones who give me hugs and solemnly promised not to bump my leg, all of them have been there for me when it matters.
My husband has worked a full time job, been nurse, caretaker, coach (he’s brutal – no room for safe places in his thinking) and been the most uncomplaining companion in the world, when it was not easy to be any of those things, and when I was depressed and hurting and a big PITA. He epitomizes the for better or worse clause, and he is just absolutely as faithful and true and motivated in the worst as he is the better.
All these things matter. For us, they are the tip of the iceberg of love, family, tradition, hope, faith. They are the spoken representation of what can never truly be spoken. Together we stand, and we will not fall, and we will succeed in giving the eight kids entrusted to us to care for the best chances we possibly can to grow into adults who find their meaning and build their lives.
I submit to you that life must have deep and powerful, sacrificial meaning. One phrase can’t give life meaning. Signs can’t make life matter. Before it comes to showdowns with police, especially if they end in gunfire, life matters or it does not. From the time of conception, if this world is to matter, then life matters, and parents, family, society owe that child protection and care.
I will say what I said when Mike Brown died, and I saw his body on the street. I cried, I cried for a loss of what should have been as well as what was. He, through his own actions, lost the future chances to make his life about something that mattered.
When one young man or woman loses their life, we have all lost. But when a large, formidably, scary percentage of our youth are not given meaning and hope, values, responsibilities, family, and expectations, yes, expectations from parents and society, we all lose.
Until society understands the phrases Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, and all their other words designed to inflame, are incomplete without an ending, we have work to do. I think that our thinking should go further.
Life Matters Because…
A few notes in conclusion here. Most of you know me from family and religious posts. I have mostly kept my faith out of this. It is too huge a part of life to tag on here, and possibly deserves another post. You may of course address that in comments, but in order to stay on track with the ideas here, I did not include the most important thing in my life, but not out of neglect or failure to appreciate it.
This post is intended to encourage personal reflection (I could insert various scoffing adjectives from my sons here, as they reluctantly shared xxx feelings, as they so eloquently put it). I do not intend it to be a referendum on the various shootings, protests, and political arguments about them.
Be respectful, please.
Addition to original post.
In their review of this post, my sons placed emphasis on the value of humility. I’m sorry I forgot to include that, it’s very important to them. Indeed, it was a three way tie as to who is most humble.
Our text is from the Greek translation of Matthew 2:10. Here is my translation:
“ἰδόντες δὲ τὸν ἀστέρα ἐχάρησαν χαρὰν μεγάλην σφόδρα. ” And seeing the star they rejoiced with great joy exceedingly
Here are some observations:
In the context the event going on here is the wise men looking for Jesus.
The wise men came from the east and was searching for the Messiah, the special King of the Jews.
Matthew 2:2 stated that it was a special star that led the wise men to go search for the Messiah, when they asked those in Jerusalem the following: “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.“
Here in Matthew 2:10 it revealed that they found the end of where the star led them to. Verse 9 stated this star led to the Messiah who at this time in His life was a Child.
When they saw the star notice what the second half of the verse says concerning the wise men’s reaction.
The wise men “rejoiced.”
This is the main verb for this verse.
The verb is ἐχάρησαν and the indicative mood indicate that this is a statement of fact. We too should ask if we are like the wise men: Does knowing Jesus and seeing Him in the Scriptures give you genuine joy?
After the verb “rejoiced” in the Greek the next word is χαρὰν. This word means “joy.”
“Joy” here is the same root as the verb “rejoice” (ἐχάρησαν and χαρὰν).
In some sense this seems rather redundant. But it is repetitious for emphasis.
This “joy” is modified by the Greek adjective μεγάλην meaning “great.”
It is a great joy the wise men had!
Also the word for “great” is where we get the root word for “mega.” The wise men had mega joy!
Not only does the noun “joy” have an adjective modifying it, we also see the verb “rejoice” is also modified by the adverb “exceedingly.“
Taken all together this verse emphasize the joy of the wise men in finding the “end of the rainbow” so to speak of their search for the Messiah by following the sign of the special star.
Again does knowing Jesus and seeing Him in the Scriptures give you genuine joy?
Be honest with yourself and God: Is your joy for Christ a great joy? Would you say its “mega” joy?
If your struggle to have joy in Christ, this is where you might do an inventory if you have read the WOrd of God lately. Also ask yourself if you are reading the Word of God for more than just following rules (that’s important); are you also reading God’s Word to find joy in Christ?
Searching for joy for the wise men involved costs: Cost of time traveling, cost of revenue spent for travel and lodging. Yet our search for Christ in the Scriptures might involved costs, costs such as time away from other distraction, and costs in getting resources to help you study more of the four Gospels in the Bible about Jesus. Yet it is worth it. Still consider that you don’t have to have the same costs as the wise men for today we can seek the Messiah in our prayer from reading the Word of God because of the work of Christ on the Cross!
Take this time to praise Christ for who He is, and what He has done.
Share with someone about how Christ in the Bible gave you joy. Share to encourage and edify!
Our society is addicted to spectacle. How do we keep our eyes are fixed on Christ?
JOHN THOMAS| MAY 20, 2019
According to research released last summer by The Nielsen Company, American adults spend an average of 11 hours, or almost half of each day, consuming some form of media. From the moment we wake up (and instinctively check our phones), through our daily commutes (with radios or podcasts humming in the background), to the end of the day (when we binge on Netflix), we live those statistics day in and day out. According to Nielsen’s numbers, we spend more time consuming media than eating, sleeping, or any other activity.
With so much of our lives revolving around media consumption, it behooves us to develop what Tony Reinke, in his new book Competing Spectacles: Treasuring Christ in the Media Age, calls “a theology of visual culture.” Reinke, a senior writer for Desiring God and author of another tech-focused book (12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You), has emerged as a prophetic voice, one crying out in our digital wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” In Competing Spectacles, he asks an urgent question: “In this age of spectacles … how do we spiritually thrive?”
Aching to Be Awed
Reinke’s answer forms the basis of his book, which works anecdotally through various forms of spectacle that are common today. He proves a skillful cultural exegete, making observations about everyday spectacles and spectacle-makers that few of us have the eye to catch.
For Reinke, a spectacle is “a moment of time, of varying length, in which collective gaze is fixed on some specific image, event, or moment. A spectacle is something that captures human attention.” He gives particular attention to the spectacles generated by social media, politics, television, and pornography, among others. Along the way, he opens fascinating windows onto our culture’s addiction to spectacle, such as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings’s claim that his company’s biggest competitor is sleep. From Scripture, too, Reinke draws thought-provoking examples, including the story of David on the rooftop watching Bathsheba. This, Reinke states, “is a prototype for all digital pornography: a woman before the eyes of an unseen man.”
None of this means, however, that spectacle is inherently bad. As Reinke observes, human beings are “hardwired with an unquenchable appetite to see glory.” The problem with spectacles, then, is not that we crave them but that we look for glory in all the wrong places. Reinke cites a tweet from John Piper that expresses this reality well: “The world aches to be awed. That ache was made for God. The world seeks it mainly through movies.”
The week I read Competing Spectacles coincided with the release of Avengers: Endgame, the movie spectacle of the decade. Endgame shattered box office records, hauling in $357 million during its opening weekend in the US and capturing another $500 million in its first week and a half in China. It inspired more tweets than any movie before, surpassing Black Panther. In an odd but telling story, a South Korean soldier reportedly went AWOL in order to catch a screening. These metrics seem to confirm Reinke’s hypothesis, that in our quest to quench our thirst for glory, we are quicker to turn to the empty cistern of Hollywood than to the fountain of living water found in Christ.
Reinke affirms that Christ is the ultimate spectacle, the only one worthy of our undivided attention. He writes,
Christ was not merely made a spectacle on the cross; the cross became a shorthand reference for everything glorious about Christ—his work as creator and sustainer of all things, his incarnation, his life, his words, his obedience, his miracles, his shunning, his beatings, his crucifixion, his wrath bearing, his resurrection from the grave, his heavenly ascension, his kingly coronation, and his eternal priesthood—all of his glory is subsumed into his heavenly spectacle.
When we seek out glory in the passing spectacles of this world rather than in Christ, the culprit isn’t an ever-expanding buffet of shallow entertainments; our own sinful hearts are to blame. Adam and Eve didn’t have an endless selection of forbidden fruits tempting them to reject their Maker; they only needed one. And our spectacle-craving eyes have been looking elsewhere ever since. From ancient idols to the CGI-infused movies of today, people have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles” (Rom. 1:23).
Reinke wisely shuns the idea of digital asceticism as a solution to our hyper-connectedness, in part because spectacle is so unavoidable in our age. But the more important reason mirrors Paul’s warning to the Colossians about captivity to “merely human commands and teachings” (2:22). Rules like “Do not watch,” “Do not stream,” and “Do not surf” are just that: rules, made by fallen human beings, and likely administered not by grace-filled hearts but by digital pharisees all too eager to accuse and condemn. Instead, Reinke provides 10 practical principles for anyone seeking to engage our visual culture in Christ-honoring ways.
When to Push Back?
Competing Spectacles, then, is not a call to give up social media or renounce our visual culture but a call to self-discipline. Reinke alludes to the early Christians who fought to abolish the Roman blood-sport industry, as well as the Puritans, centuries later, who were involved in shutting down the theaters of London. But Reinke doesn’t call Christians today to any equivalent form of protest or activism. By his own admission, Competing Spectacles is geared more toward developing a theology that helps believers think through these issues on a personal level.
But the question does remain: At what point should Christians begin considering how to push back against the spectacle industry? Take pornography, for example. While Reinke urges us to reclaim the category of sins of the eye, he doesn’t call upon Christians to work toward toppling the porn industry as a whole.
Another issue left unresolved, perhaps because it lies outside the scope of the book, is the extent to which Christians should involve themselves in the making of spectacles. Reinke touches on the debate over churches using spectacle as an aid to worship, but many other questions come to mind. If, in fact, Christians should participate in spectacle-creation at all, should they limit themselves to creating spectacles that carry a Christian message? Or does their involvement simply worsen the problem by layering more diversion atop a society already drowning in it?
In our day and age, it’s a safe bet that American media consumption patterns will keep climbing upward. After all, the already staggering 11-hour-per-day figure cited by The Nielsen Company represents a 1.5-hour jump from just four years ago. Where will we be in another four years? In another 10? Competing Spectacles can’t predict this future, but Reinke’s theological framework leaves us better prepared to sort our way through the noise and fanfare—and fix our gaze on the immeasurably greater glory to come.
John Thomas is a cross-cultural Christian worker living and serving in ministry in Central Asia with his wife and their two children. He writes regularly at medium.com/soli-deo-gloria. You can follow him on Twitter @John_Thomas518.