What Might the Bible Say About Mediated?
Author Thomas de Zengotita notes that there is good reason to mistrust anybody who claims to understand what is going on, especially, as he observes, because the breeze of change in the last generation has turned into a hurricane today. A wiser man than he once asserted: “No man can understand. . . but there is a God in heaven who reveals” (Dan 2:27-28). That insight is available to us today in the Scripture.
What might the Bible have to say about the phenomena de Zengotita analyzes in such an engaging manner? De Zengotita rolls off example after graphic example of what this generation desires, its attitudes, and its behaviors. Occasionally, he summarizes these examples into general cultural statements. Finally, at the end, in chapter six, he demonstrates where this culture has its origins, or what is the basis of our culture that creates such attitudes and behaviors.
To aid our understanding, the Bible often communicates in metaphors what God, from outside our world, is revealing to humans, for example a tree or vine. Let us use the metaphor of a tree to try to understand what de Zengotita wants to communicate. The roots of a tree are like the bases of culture, its assumptions. The culture itself, its beliefs, values and institutions can be compared to the trunk and branches. Finally, the lifestyles, behaviors, dress, and the like are comparable to the fruit of a tree. The fruit and the roots are linked, and the trunk and branches support the fruit and carry nutrition from the roots. In other words what de Zengotita describes did not just “happen.”
The Bible also describes two ways of being in this world: the natural way and the way of the godly. In this biblical analysis we examine de Zengotita’s description of what the Bible would call this generation’s natural way. And, we will compare it with specific parallel biblical givens and descriptions of the way of the godly.
Let us begin, then, with the roots of the tree, so to speak, the bases of culture. De Zengotita traces what he calls ‘blobby’ culture today, for lack of a better term for ‘postmodernism’, back to its predecessor, ‘modernism’. Descartes and Locke wrote in the seventeenth century in the line of Aristotle. They deduced from their own reason and from how they understood God, that since God made man, man belongs to God, and in the same way, what man does and makes belongs to him. Also, they conjectured that God made man like a blank slate ready to be molded. Since ‘the universe’ does not really care what man does, and since man is nothing more than ‘raw material’, they concluded humans could do things better. They aimed to replace God with man.
Scripture describes reality much differently than the thinkers of modernism did, according to de Zengotita. We can conclude that they (professing Christians all!) were at least substituting their own deductions over Scripture if not declaring their autonomy from God and his Bible. By comparison, the Bible says that God is ultimately distinct from creation and his creatures, not separate. And he continually cares for our world and us. Furthermore, God equipped humans just the right way, as de Zengotita acknowledges, limits and all. However, this does not mean we are basically good, or even innocent!
Modernism reached its goals with Malthus and Darwin. Man decided to get rid of his main rival and so Nietzsche declared that God was dead. Soon, though, postmoderns were beginning to destabilize the fixed categories of modernism and open up multiple readings, even construct reality as they saw fit. As some have observed, no one can live in a world where all the meanings are changed and there are no limits. So, how do we live? De Zengotita describes it popularly as ‘blobby’, an osmotic process that includes all options and fuses them into a kind of ‘pudding’ of oneness, having things both ways, mixing categories, blurring lines, and so on. This is conducted through a process of realization mediated through the various media and their technological devices.
By contrast, the Bible describes two realities, both very different, operating in tandem: God, and the reality he created and cares for. This means that ‘reality’ is ‘both-and’, truth is not simple, nor does fusion really work. ‘Either/or’ does not mean the elimination of alternatives but real choice between multiple realities. God’s way is neither realization nor formation; rather it is a ‘third’ way, often beyond human possibilities.
At this point you may ask, huh? Does this really matter? Let us proceed to see how the two different roots work themselves out in terms of culture and its fruits.
The goal of the mediated culture (trunk and branches) is to make all one, de Zengotita asserts, implicitly understood by all, the conventional wisdom, the new inalienable and self-evident ‘right’, of the American way. While some decry the lack of culture, nonetheless, there is enculturation occurring. The aspirations of the postwar (60s rebels) generation are projected onto their children through the process of mediation. De Zengotita’s book is a description of how the self-esteem culture feeds itself. It promotes the Matrix-like idea that virtual reality is the best or only way to survive all the options, choices and blurred lines. Everyone is equipped with a ‘toolbox’ of postures for any situation. Interestingly, the ‘old fashioned’ (modernism) presides over this 1960s tale. The older generation empowers through flattery and other small fibs. They have constructed a therapeutic culture of redemption through recognition. And, the adults have a tacit agreement that everyone, including ‘the kids’, live busily, superficially, and mediated, idolizing devices and heroes. The family, in some cases, provides the only reliable touchstone in an otherwise mediated world.
Once again, the Bible reveals a real alternative. God gifts us from outside our reality in order to live godly lives and deal with the implications of our cultural roots. Each episode in Scripture of God’s activity with real people in specific times and locations leaves us with such a gift: Covenant with God, faith (salvation) in the Mediator of the Covenant, the Word of God, the family, the Church, the Sabbath, and so on. The Church is like a completely new culture of a different kind situated among human cultures, the community of the kingdom of God on earth. The essence of this community is to love the Lord our God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves, to learn God’s ways not just for ourselves but in order to teach our children and others. Christ, his Word, and the Church, are our reliable ‘family’.
De Zengotita has aptly and with élan described the lifestyles, attitudes and behavior (fruit) of the mediated culture. He postulates that it is (1) centered on self, (2) its essence is mediated, and he describes many examples of (3) typical attitudes, and (4) typical behaviors and talents.
(1) The object of mediation is the recognition and flattery of self, from birth. The grail of therapeutism is self recognition, to celebrate being you. Avatars (already in use via the virtual reality of the Internet and games) and cloning oneself (coming closer) are the ultimate self flattery.
(2) The essence of our culture is mediated. Mediation is fueled by desire. Choices start in babyhood. There is never enough, even though there are too many options. Mediation becomes a continual and unseemly access to everything, acquiring anything you can think of anytime you want. Real is no longer enough, so reality becomes representationalism and devices that can take us into the virtual world are worshiped.
(3) Attitudes include: no limits, no rights and wrongs, nothing fixed, the Hip-hop in your face ‘attitude’ of defiant self-celebration, ‘whatever’, irony, ambivalence at inanimate objects, bored in the face of too many inputs, no awe, insouciance, familiarity and impudence with adults, storms and God. This generation is addicted to busyness, tech devices and substances. And, they come to expect mind control over inanimate objects!
(4) Behaviors and talents include: learning to glide or move on, while picking and choosing among seemingly inexhaustible options, we are constantly wired to music and communication devices, constantly taking photos and being photographed. Kids seem to be always ‘on’, as if in one long ‘improv’, total pros when given the opportunity to be photographed, videoed or interviewed. We also stuff ourselves with junk and enslave ourselves to people, substances and self-destructive behaviors. Many kids flee the tyranny of the girls middle school clique, and the tyranny of choices by escaping into ‘niches’. The rising generation has trouble growing up, experiencing something akin to ‘buyer’s remorse’ at the thought of closing off options. While we seem able to differentiate, if necessary, it is questionable whether or not we are able to consistently do so. And multitasking appears to be more illusion than reality.
In conclusion, two questions spring to mind: in what soil are our roots planted, the natural or in Christ? And, what kind of ‘fruit’ can we expect, in comparison, to grow out of the completely different culture of the kingdom of God, based as it is on Christ?