In previous posts I already addressed the issue of social media in the daily life of our churches (e.g. here and here). In one of the articles we read this week, the author Stephen Garner enfolded the more underlying and fundamental topic of theology and internet in general. Garner approaches the discussion by defining theology following Kathryn Tanner:
„Christian theology must be comprehensive because all aspects of the universe are in some form of a relationship with God, then theology must nevertheless grapple with the Internet.”
Tanner argues the theologian should not attempt to become an expert in all things, but rather draw from the knowledge and wisdom of others who are already steeped in that field.
Theology as a relational event.
Does this mean, that theology itself enables and emerges relationsships? And in a connection of theology and technology, does this relationship relate humans to technology or humans with each other? Garner cites Ian Babour, who defines technology as “the application of organized knowledge to practical tasks by ordered systems of people and machine.” By doing so, he positively values technology as a facilitator of relations.
This approach is describes in three dimensions: Technology as liberator (like Arab spring), oppressor (mobbing and bullying) and instrument (as a tool). Garner opens a broad field of technology (applied to the internet) and seeks to link it with the reality of the church. I expected a further ecclesiological with a similar openness. Unfortunately Garner reduces his ecclesiological debate on the nature and purpose of the church. And grasps church as the organizational church (ecclesia visibilis). A turn towards the ecclesia invisibilis would have been far more fruitful. This would have opened a whole new dimension of the relationship of theology and technology (applied to the internet).
Richard Clark and Robert Kozma had an inspiring debate in the early nineties, which is known as the Kozma-Clark debate. Clark valued media as vehicles or instruments, which do not influence the content, using the example, that a truck delivers groceries but causes no change in our nutrition. Kozma on the other hand sees a strong link and relationship between the medium and the information. He defines this link with capabilities, which relate to the medium in (A) technology (capabilities that determine a medium’s function), (B) symbol systems (:sets of symbolic expressions by which information is communicated) and (C) processing capabilities (a medium’s abilities to operate on symbol systems in specified ways).
In a theological approach questions of virtuality and transcendence of the individual Christian and the Christian community would be required here. It can be connected with Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) who predicted over 60 years ago an evolving world, shaped by science and technology, where individual human consciousness will transcend itself, becoming a communal unity of mind –a “noosphere.”
De Chardins thoughts where prophetical and trend-setting, but they are outdated now. Where are new theological approaches, that focus on the old polarity of reality and virtuality (in postmodern theories, they are no contrast any more)? Where are the new theological debates, which transfer the dialectic of body and mind on the discussion about internet and vituality? Social Media as a participative form of the life in the internet is more than relational, responsive and interactive.
Perhaps it is in this sense more than a liberator, aggressor or instrument (to quote Garners categories). Is can be a liberator (as a ecclesiological community or soteriological hope) , a aggressor (with all the negative forms a movement can have) and an instrument for communication ad a form of share the good news)
A theological social media guideline in my understanding of Garner would be
»Always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you have. Be ready to give the reason for it. But do it gently and with respect.« (1 Peter 3:15)
Garner, Stephen R. „Theology and the New Media.“ In Digital Religion: Understanding Religious Practice in New Media Worlds, edited by Heidi Campbell, 251-65. Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2012.