Bird Droppings June 28, 2010
Pondering the idea of faith
“Modern technology advanced in such tiny increments for so long that we never realized how much our world was being altered, or the ultimate direction of the process. But now the speed of change is accelerating logarithmically. It is apparent that developing a language and set of standards by which to assess technological impact, and to block it where necessary, is a critical survival skill of our times.” Jerry Mander
These are the words starting Jerry Mander’s book, In the absence of the Sacred: the failure of technology and the survival of the Indian Nations. Mander, a former advertising company president, has questioned the concept of technology in previous books and articles including his best seller, Four arguments for the Elimination of Television. While arguing technology’s negative aspects Mander mentions understanding technology is crucial and to not let it outstrip our knowledge of it.
Going a bit further and into more theoretical concepts, R. L. Rutsky redefines technology and humanities understanding of technology in High Techne, moving mankind to the post human. The fine line between technology and art is blended and swirled.
“The position of human beings in relation to this techno-cultural unconscious cannot, therefore, be that of an analyst (or theorist) who, standing outside this space, presumes to know or control it. It must instead be a relation of connection to, of interaction with, that which has been seen as the “other”, including the unsettling processes of techno-culture itself. To accept this relation is to let go of part of what it has meant to be human, to be a human subject, and allow our selves to change, to mutate, to become alien, cyborg, posthuman.” R. L. Rutsky
Letting go of what we have learned, and incorporating and becoming one with that which we have deemed the other through history is what many see the direction of mankind. Could it be that teenagers and young people are allowing themselves to become posthuman, something other than what they were? No longer are they walled in by societal parameters and limitations.
The current crop of young people labeled Generation Y or Echo boomers by the media has come at technology with little or no fear as do so many of their parents and the Baby Boomer generation. The acceptance and interaction with technology and the understanding that comes with that, often lessen the interconnections with the very society that led them to this point. Technology has found a friend in No Child Left Behind, while considered catch all and cure all for education, through narrowing the parameters of what is construed as education; schools have perhaps left behind pieces of those children. As I approached the concept of what I believe is missing in children as they access and utilize our accelerating technological advances, it could be this lack of fear of technology that is creating the void, as I call it in children.
To believe in a god or gods requires some questioning of who we are and why, albeit the issue of faith. It is the concept of faith that precedes any sort of view of god. But we live in a world of duplicity as well accelerated by technology. If you find no reason to question or search for understanding because at your finger tips are instant answers, then believing in anything that is not readily available on the internet or in some virtual experience, becomes inconsequential. Perhaps there is a need or void that we try to fill with an idea of god. Each of us perceives the concept of god in our own way often influenced by those around us and those who taught us. Joseph Campbell, author and teacher, known for his extensive writings on mythology approaches humanity and the need for mythology.
“During the greater part of this long arc of life, the individual is in a psychological situation of dependency. We are trained, as children, so that every stimulus, every experience, leads us simply to react, “Who will help me?” We are in a dependent relationship to our parents.” Joseph Campbell
Campbell sees us as needing someone or something throughout our lives. We are taught the myths and traditions of our parents and culture as answers to what we can depend on. In many situations that could be a concept of god or religion. Campbell goes deeper into his anthropological view of mythology and its focus on life and or on death. Religions down through history have played on either or both aspects. As humans however we seem to find unknowns and it is that unknown aspect of our existence that provides windows or doors, as Huxley states, to understand who we are and why.
“From the records of religion and the surviving monuments of poetry and the plastic arts it is very plain that at most times and most places, men have attached more importance to the inscape than to the objective existents, have felt that they saw with their eyes shut possessed a spirituality higher significance than what they saw with their eyes open…What wonder, then if human beings in their search for the divine have generally preferred to look within.” Aldolus Huxley
Today’s children do not have time to look within as technology provides easy and ready access to occupy every waking moment in one fashion or another. Children tend to be oriented in their technology, plugged in, online, or texting, with the opportunity of going somewhere within, not worth the time.
Lev Manovich offers his theory’s on technological advances in media in his book The Language of New Media. Having a background in graphic arts, the radical changes and speed with which they have come in the field of media is overwhelming. I recall the day an elderly man came to my office in 1989 or so and was looking for work. He had been a hot type, typesetter for forty five years and the last hot type facility was no longer using hot type. Hot type is where lead is used and literally each letter is molded from that hot lead within the machine. Manovich addresses the idea of having myths in his writings.
“If traditional cultures provided people with well defined narratives, (Myths, Religion) and little “stand alone” information, today we have too much information and too few narratives that can tie it all together.” Lev Manovich
We are in the information age and that information is at our finger tips instantly twenty-four/seven. Perhaps this is the void that I refer to; something missing that is not able to tie it all together.
From my own personal experience working with teenagers, many teenagers and young adults will allude to atheism or an agnostic approach, as the name they will throw out, and the concept of god they do not believe in, is an anthropomorphic entity of Judeo-Christian construct with a white beard and castle in the sky. Seldom will teenagers offer a believe structure. Fredric Jameson points to religion being the focal point and reference point for civilizations.
“Religion was perhaps the most ancient organizing concept in the emergence of anthropology as a discipline: the ultimately determining instance for national or racial character, the ultimate source of cultural difference itself, the marker for the individuality of the various peoples in history.” Fredric Jameson
Looking at teenagers as a whole perhaps it is the technology that is defining them more so than religion. Issues of faith and trust are daily within news and media that teenagers access far more readily than do we as adults. News articles of men of faith who lied and cheated and yet continue to do as they did before getting caught. There are Church’s turning their backs on children who were molested, and/or buying their silence. It is not difficult to see where faith and trust can be subverted. Sometimes it is easiest to go back, and look at a view from a more traditional standpoint. Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, is an Oglala Sioux, he is an attorney, ex marine pilot having flown 110 combat missions, and he has participated in seven sun dance ceremonies. He writes extensively on spirituality and the earth. McGaa discusses religion in his book Native Wisdom: Perceptions of the Natural Way.
“Who is God? Before I can begin to answer such a question, I must explain that any answer, or attempt to answer, is based on my background, my personal experiences and that which has influenced me upon my personal journey down the Red Trail of life or as some may call it, my journey within the Natural Way.” Ed McGaa
Many times when talking with youth I will ask them to define god whether they believe in god or not, but to not use pronouns and or scripture. To date very few have succeeded, they are limited by their experiences. So much of who we are is based on where we came from and what we have experienced. In attempting to find what I believe is missing, perhaps rethinking where I have come from.
I attended Candler school of Theology in 1973-75 at Emory University. I have always questioned others views on god and faith. As I took classes in theology and biblical studies, and I would often be on one side of the table alone, as we argued or discussed various views. While I never was a student in Dr. Fowler’s classes I was impressed as I read his books and articles. Dr. James Fowler was a Professor of Theology and Human Development at Emory University, he was director of both the Center for Research on Faith and Moral Development and the Center for Ethics until he retired in 2005. Dr. Fowler has written numerous articles and books on his concept of faith and on his theory of how faith develops. This idea of a developing faith could impact how technology also fits into human awareness. Could it be through the intensive use of technology we are circumventing a stage in our development? Looking back at Campbell’s thought could it be we are finding in technology a substitute for that parent dependency within society? Dr. Fowler starts his book The Development of Faith with this thought.
“Anyone not about to kill himself lives by faith. It is what keeps us going when love has turned to hate or hope to despair. Faith carries us forward when there is no longer reason to carry on. It enables us to exist during the between times: between meaning amid dangers of radical discontinuity, even in the face of death. Faith is a sine qua non of life, a primal force we cannot do without.” Dr. James Fowler
The idea that there is a development of faith even as a child grows physically, in developmental stages, has intrigued me for many years. My own personal journey has been intertwined with my studies and readings as well as experience, dealing with people and with my students. Faith is a word that is very difficult to scientifically dissect and analyze. For different people faith will have different meanings many times associated with religion. In my own journey I found an author, William Eleden, who was a former fighter pilot in World War II and Pastor and is currently at ninety five years of age still an author and columnist.
“Words can lead us into dead end canyons, and what is the bottom line? In this: Words fool us into thinking we have experienced what we talk about. Take water for instance: I can read volumes about water listen to a thousand lectures on water and develop an exhaustive vocabulary about water, without having ever experienced water. I will know more about water after drinking a glass full, or diving into a lake then if I attend lectures on water for the rest of my life.” William Edelen
The implications to faith, trust, soul, god and even education from this statement are many. In writing about faith and researching faith it is a similar situation. It is the experiencing of faith that is the true teacher not all the theologians, professors, dictionaries, libraries or philosophers in the world can truly explain faith, it is in the experiencing. Perhaps children are not able to experience faith as they use their technology? Children do not need to imagine or create, as at their fingertips are virtual realities by the boxful. Essentially all they can afford.
In a recent discussion with several other teachers about John Dewey’s book, The School and Society and The Child and Curriculum, a fellow teacher made a statement that impressed me. “A good teacher is also and foremost a good student.” I have always felt that in order to teach an individual has to continually stay vital, awake, to be in a constant state of educational evolution, a good teacher must always be a good student, always experiencing teaching from another source or individual. Living as a student is growth; it is a constant acquisition of concepts, of materials, ideas and of theories. It is the ingestion of these and the cognitive development of these that provide the base from which we can attack, mentally the rest of life including faith. I offer, perhaps technology in some cases takes away the learning by always providing answers and never providing actual context to that answer. It is another morning and so much more to ponder on today. Please keep all in harms way on your mind and in your hearts.