The Cyber Nightmare and the New Storytellers: The Space for Faith
Michel de Certeau And The Theory Of Scientific Imperialism
The Alphabet as Contract
System World or Cyberspace are these Disasters of Technology?
Simulation, Ambience and the Value of Signs
Knowledge as Commodity
Reality and Simulation
The Community as Contributor in the Technological Marketplace
Narrative Devices as the Technology of Faith: The Language of Light
The temptation to adhere to the tenets of a faith, any faith and to employ the
methods (if that is what they are) of such a faith to belief in day-to-day life brings with it the recognition that faith in the contemporary era must exist within the context of the post-Enlightenment, post-modern, post-single narrative community. The effects of post-Enlightenment rational method on moral philosophy, on faith and on religions that perpetuate a grand narrative that claims a single universal value is the basis of this article. The existence of post-Enlightenment rational thinking in Western culture, thinking which has been called “scientific” “methodical”, even rational or reasonable may in part owe its existence to the “scriptural economy” of the early written scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths. The impulse to write things down, to communicate in writing thoughts, feelings, beliefs and events in a linear structure demands an economy that the French academic Michel de Certeau(1) called “scriptural economy”. The re-employment of scientific method upon matters of faith has, according to Certeau, brought into being a binary method of approach to the narratives of faith. He calls the application of reason to matters of faith “scientific imperialism”, the process whereby evidence based theory minimises narratives that require belief or faith. This “scriptural economy” cited by Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life admits the possibility not only of acceptance of information into the orthodox model of the constructed faith but of rejection. The acceptance by a community or an individual of faith has a counterpart and that counterpart is rejection and rejection may not be a rational process but a subjective one.
Michel de Certeau presents scientific culture as posing a threat to the communal practice of telling stories. The community reworks its history through the repetition of stories but the historian acts upon this environment with scientific imperialism. Christianity is one of these communal stories retold and reorganised and, in the process it has been made vulnerable to the operation of scientific imperialism. Science is a conqueror.
‘Ever since scientific work (scientificité) has given itself its own proper and appropriable places through rational projects capable of determining their procedures, with formal objects and specified conditions under which they are falsifiable, ever since it was founded as a plurality of limited and distinct fields, in short ever since it stopped being theological, it has constituted the whole as its remainder; this remainder has become what we call culture.’ Michel de Certeau(2)
The process does not stop there however. Science sets out to conquer the “remainder” by using knowledge to provide it with a basis of power. According to Certeau, science since the Enlightenment, has attempted precisely to “enlighten” the masses, perhaps to liberate them from the darkness of their own superstition. However, inevitably, such an approach immediately discredits, without the need for falsification, the beliefs of the masses as beleaguered superstition. Science by its very reason for existence offers not an “objective” approach to all aspects of life and belief but a very heavily coded narrative that is entirely “subjective” as it is linked to its own imperialistic impulses.
In addition Western culture and its written scriptures rely on a contractual alphabet that requires consensus rather than instant recognition in order to perpetuate itself. The basis of the Western alphabet is not pictorial words are created from sounds that are represented by signs, the signs bear no resemblance to their referent, the community merely agrees that the signs will represent sounds and that those sounds have meaning. The source of rationalism therefore, may have its origins in an agreement to communicate with symbols and not with the discovery of gravity, or a greater understanding of the nature of the universe.
The apparent consequence of the post-Enlightenment project is to reduce the projection of metaphysical truth to the status of a narrative and then to allow the conditions to exist that bring such narratives into the realms of re-examination and deconstruction. Moreover the rational movement projected by the Enlightenment does not allow any one narrative a claim to universal relevance or security. All narratives are subject to the same investigation and the post-modern process has been to call into question all narratives, including the scientific narrative.
My own contention is that the rationalism that is cited as the instigator of the decline of religious values in Christianity’s recent history, namely the advent of the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment or merely the processes of scientific method are, in fact, an integral part of that history but not the cause of the rational approach to faith. The statistical decline regarding the practice of Christianity in Western society in recent years does not necessarily rely on a clash of cognitive approaches regarding science. It is not the discovery that the earth is round, or that it circles the sun that the threatens the advent of faith in society but the rational approach that the faith itself propounds. Christianity has always contained a rational element, it has always attempted to legitimise itself rationally and that rationality is not an alien element in the interpretation of religion either internally or externally. Christianity has participated in the development of the rational universe and Christianity itself has shed some aspects of its belief structure on the grounds that such structures are irrational. Michel de Certeau(3) regards this as a “forgetting” of a mystic voice, the closing of the line of communication between individuals and the authentic voice of God. Science may have an imperialist narrative but its source is in the linear editing of the stories of old. Stories that are accepted or rejected on the grounds of evidence and orthodoxy.
‘When you first turn on a computer, it is an inert collection of circuits that can’t really do anything. To start up the machine, you have to infuse those circuits with a collection of rules that tell it how to function. How to be a computer.’ Neal Stephenson(4)
The onslaught of technology and the information overload that can perpetuate every individual’s narrative at the speed of light may also impact on the decline of organised faith in the cyber literate society. In this past century a new element of social construction has been added to the human condition and therefore to the conduct of physical, moral, ethical and day to day life. This additional element is the pace at which the development of technology has made changes to the way in which we live now. Few would dispute that the advent of the car and air travel have not impacted on almost every aspect of life in all areas of the globe, even if that impact is in the shape of negative accessibility. Whilst in the past, the building of a great cathedral might have been seen as the creative impulse employed in the service of the requirement of humankind to honour God, a service that resulted in a great technical achievement. In the modern world little credit is given to the impulse to worship God but much attention is paid to the great technical achievement.
The computer is, as stated by Neal Stephenson above, merely a combination of circuits waiting to be told how to be a computer. The problem of a narrative perpetuated by technology is the elitism that has meant that technology is only accessible to the privileged few. Nevertheless these privileged individuals, far from losing contact with reality and the essence of faith and doctrine, are able to converse successfully in the language of technology without losing the fundamental characteristics that make them human. The essence of the new technology is language and narrative; technology itself educates all who use it into a sophisticated understanding of the medium and of what might be termed the new oral tradition of immediate transmission.
‘The compulsion toward rational domination of externally impinging natural forces has set the subject upon the course of a formative process that heightens productive forces without limit for the sake of sheer self-preservation, but lets the forces of reconciliation that transcend mere self-preservation atrophy. The permanent sign of enlightenment is domination over an objectified external nature and a repressed internal nature.” Jürgen Habermas(5)
Jürgen Habermas regards the post-modern environment as one that is dominated by pessimism. He has devoted much of his work to a critique of modern rationalism and to an attempt to offer a resolution for ethical and general debate in the form of his theories of “communicative praxis”(6). However his assessment of the nature of the current construction of society introduces a theory of dualism in modern thinking that he suggests may pose a risk to the ability of human beings to manage the complexity of their existence. He makes a distinction between two types of existence that he calls “life world” and “system world”.
“Life world” is characterised by those aspects of society that are more closely related to community values and natural social interaction. “System world” is characterised by those aspects of society that are dominated by scientific progress, bureaucratic processes and technology itself. His vision of the post-modern dilemma is that humankind has reversed the correct order of values relating to “system world” and “life world”. In his description of “system world” he echoes Mary Douglas’s description of the “grid”(7), a rule-governed social construction, that can dominate social interaction in some societies. “System world” is dominated by technology and technology itself functions in linear fashion and adheres to rules and rules are the fundamental element of Mary Douglas’s definition of the grid. These rules require the individual using the technology to interact on a grid rule basis. If an individual wants to book a cinema ticket in “system world” then that individual must answer questions by pressing numbers on the telephone handset, or speaking exactly when asked and in the manner set down by the system. Any failure to adhere to the system’s rules results in a failure to get the right ticket at the right time if at all.
However since the grid rules of “system world” are now so all pervasive, it is essential, in Habermas’s view, that humankind maintains its control over technology and its bureaucratic representatives, although he suggests that already “system world” is becoming the dominant social structure in everyday life. For Habermas a “take over” by the values of “system world” is an inappropriate use of scientific language and progress and of post-Enlightenment reason, it is, in fact, scientific imperialism. According to Habermas this imperialism however, is as ridiculous as an attempt to apply the results of rat psychology to human beings.
‘I have never understood why in the sciences we should be limited to the external connection we have to nature, why we should separate ourselves from our pretheoretical knowledge and make the lifeworld artificially unfamiliar – even if we could do so. Rat psychology might well be good for rats. On the whole, however, naturalism by no means requires the subject to give a naturalistically alienated description of itself. The subject who wants to recognize itself in its world need not insist upon using the grammar of a language that is suitable for describing things and events, or equivalent theoretical languages.’ Jürgen Habermas(8)
The logical impulse of scientific discourse is for that discourse to impose upon what it observes the constraints of its grid-influenced rules. Habermas contests the reliability of such a discourse in the context of human interaction. Michel de Certeau has judged the nature of scientific discourse as both imperialistic and subject to the subjective use of an agenda. Therefore any imposition of it on any aspect of life, carries with it the implication of some political imperative, however unintentionally. The transference of Charles Darwin’s theories of natural selection to human interaction imposes a fascistic requirement on human futures. Therefore the requirements of “system world”, according to Habermas, must not be allowed to dominate the more natural and social requirements of “life world”, such a take over, according to Habermas, would lead to an ethical holocaust. The community ethos would be dominated by “system think” and this would damage the ability of human beings to understand the complexity of ethical and religious issues.
‘The old, traditional order is based on the oral structures of historicity – every object has a story. The new technical, modern order is a phallic environment of calculation functionality, and control.’ Mark Gottdiener on Jean Baudrillard(9)
The French sociologist Jean Baudrillard also propounds a view that not only is the post-Enlightenment project of rationalistic and scientific discourse likely to be inappropriate to the world of human interaction but that it has spawned a “system world” of radically dangerous proportions. Whereas Habermas issues a warning against the power of “system world”, Baudrillard sounds the death knell for human complexity. The development of scientific discovery into technological progress, in Baudrillard’s opinion, serves only to compound the fundamental error of the Enlightenment and ultimately to separate humankind irrevocably from even those physical realities that ancient historical context and scientific thinking has led us to believe are reliable.
Michel de Certeau likened the use of history to an individual’s journey through a city Baudrillard the iconoclast takes his readers through the modern home and describes the reality that such a home creates for itself. He suggests that the modern house is no longer connected to its historical tradition but divided into a system of objects categorised in three ways(10).
Initially, a home is functional. It has tables chairs, plumbing, sleeping arrangements and shelves. Secondly the home is futuristic. It contains gadgets such as washing machines, televisions and food mixers that enable the home to be run efficiently. However neither of these two aspects of the modern home are any longer connected to the realities of life as it was once lived in the tradition of the hunter/gatherer. The home functions in isolation from its environment and provides comforts that shut out its natural context. The machines are futuristic, providing services for the occupants that were not possible even a century before and thus releasing the occupants from the natural toil of their environment.
These aspects of the modern home, argues Baudrillard, isolate the occupants from the reality of the tradition from which they have evolved and in order to overcome this, the occupants compensate for the loss by seeking out “ambience”. At its most raw and obvious, for example, where central heating has replaced the need for a log fire, a false log fire will be provided. In order to make the home appear connected to what might be termed “real life” a variety of ethnic trinkets will adorn the walls to provide the home with the atmosphere of homeliness that its occupants now perceive it lacks. Objects that had a genuine function in more primitive homes, are used as decoration. Objects such as cow bells, ancient drums, early tools or decorative masks and cloths that were once more closely connected to the reality lived by the originator as actual tools or articles of religious or spiritual significance. Often these ethnic trinkets will have little or nothing to do with the ethnic reality or tradition of the occupants’ own history, but will have been trawled from other traditions, for their value as signs of comfort rather than as objects that fulfil their original function.
In this way Baudrillard attempts to demonstrate that much of what the contemporary world regards as reality is merely a simulated version which is accorded value only by those who also perpetuate it. However, in order to present his view that most values prescribed and applied in post-modern society have gone through a process of “commodification”, Baudrillard indicates that the source of this value-ridden society had its origin in Marx’s theory of labour and production.
When Karl Marx analysed the relationship of the individual to their productivity and the way in which that productivity was valued bought and sold, he anticipated a society that would succumb to the temptation to assign a specific value to everything (commodification). However when Marx posited his theory, the application of value was supposed to bear a direct relation to the productivity of the individual. The problem with such a method of evaluation was that very soon the individual came to value themselves and be valued by others according to their productivity rather than according to their value in terms of those aspects of the values of human life that are incalculable.
Therein lies the root of alienation and for Baudrillard therein lies the beginnings of a value system that operates within a modern society that no longer bears any relation to the true value of the product or productivity. Capitalism was a triumph of the economy over its human producers. The production of commodities takes over from “real” life and separates the worker from their product. Within the context of what might be described as a “simple” or “real” lifestyle, wherein the home that Baudrillard describes, instead of creating a rustic or ethnic ambience, would actually have that atmosphere because its content bore a direct relation to its function.
Money is the ultimate representation of the way in which the “sign value” of commodities has taken over from their real value. No longer do men and women swap food for bricks, cloth for medicines or livestock for skills. Individuals offer each other bits of linen and metal that have very little value in themselves for other bits of paper which say that they can share in the value of a company that only has value because other people have also given bits of paper and metal to the company and thereby affirmed its value. All this is done without referring to the actual function of the people who produce, on behalf of the company and thereby perpetuate its value, often without being given a share in that nominated value themselves. This was the aspect of capitalism that Marx anticipated and which he attempted to challenge by trying to relate productivity to need and ability rather than to investment and value. Ultimately the modern economy depends on consumerism, on creating things for people to buy and on employing people in order that they have means to consume. In much the same way as Jean-François Lyotard anticipated the metamorphosis of knowledge into a commodity(11) Baudrillard also extends this theory to the complexities of the modern media-driven markets.
‘Baudrillard theorizes a cybernetic society based on consumption, media, information, and high-technology where exchange occurs at the level of signs, images, and information, thereby dissolving the distinction between “superstructure” and “base” and deeply problematizing the classical theory of surplus value, no longer definable in the simple terms of the unpaid labor of an industrialized proletariat.’ Steven Best(12)
Baudrillard’s preoccupation is with the way in which value is assigned symbolically to items in a manner that affects not only the everyday working conditions of the producer but, combined with technology, alters the thought processes of contemporary society as profoundly as the Enlightenment altered the understanding of the mediaeval society.
In his book The Gulf War Did Not Take Place(13) Baudrillard argues that because the Gulf War was a high-tech war, a war that used as its weapons computer guided technology, a war that transmitted its active role by means of the television and media coverage it therefore generated. It was easy for the public and the participants in that war to feel as if they had taken part in some kind of global game and not taken steps to destroy lives and damage a nation. The pilot in the cockpit of an aircraft was able to target and fire his weapons without reference to anything other than the equipment in the plane. The consequences of their shooting were not relevant in any physical way to the individual who caused the event.
Baudrillard warns that the simulation of events, places even emotions or experience, via the means of the computer screen and the potential of cyberspace, creates a “simulacrum” of the world itself that bears no resemblance to reality. In much the same way people use central heating to heat their houses but build or maintain a simulation of a real fire as a focal point for ambience rather than function. The technological advances made by what Marshal McLuhan termed “hot media” in other words media that needed little input from the participant(14) simulate real life and real life decisions, creating a simulated ambience of real life without actually allowing the participant to be touched by it.
This domination of the simulated world, Baudrillard suggests, not only keeps the subject separated from a reality such as that lived by the savage in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World(15) but is likely to change the manner in which people think. The decisions of a computer are based on binary code. The way to instruct a computer is through a series of “yes” or “no” decisions, often by the use of a toggle switch. In a recent episode of the cartoon series The Simpsons(16) Homer Simpson starts surfing the Internet. He visits his local police web site and is asked by the friendly police icon whether or not he wishes to confess to his crime and take his punishment. He must answer “yes” or “no”. Homer replies “no” whereupon he is told by the friendly police icon that since he has answered “no” police cars are already on their way to his home to arrest him for his unconfessed crime. Jean Baudrillard fears a society that will be unable to identify the flaw in the thinking encouraged by the use of computer binary in the process of making decisions or considering dilemmas.
In time, states Baudrillard, all those tuned into cyberspace will learn to discipline their thought processes to think in binary. Once the use of the binary model is imposed on an object in terms of reproducing it then a small but nevertheless important, change takes place and the binary version of the representation enters the realms of what Baudrillard calls the “hyperreal”. The “hyperreal” is that which is always a reproduction(17).
The reproduction of a target on a screen in a pilot’s cockpit places the pilot in the realms of the “hyperreal” and the representation that the pilot sees will have been created by a series of binary codes. The choices the individual makes to fire or otherwise will be based on the binary method. Proposition and alternative will dominate the way in which the project of life, simulated or otherwise, is presented and experienced. The complexities of experience, history, narrative or religion will be reduced to a series of binary decisions of which the human terminal is an integral part. Human beings are doomed to become the incarnation of the language of the machine and as such face a melancholic world which they must support by the act of consumption rather than through the affirmation of their survival in a natural reality.
Baudrillard’s theories are considered by many to be too chaotic to merit real academic consideration, but the vision of the world he proposes demands attention. Any of the pilots shot down by the Iraqis in the Gulf War would probably agree that once you hit the ground the colossal reality of the situation of war is unmistakably real and the individual cannot but be faced with the consequences of their actions. However fewer and fewer people have access to the frontline, and the danger remains that manipulation by the media machine can imply to the armchair participant that the reality of the Gulf War does not have consequences that can be considered important. This leaves the participant in the contemporary ambience with little but an age of melancholia to anticipate and Baudrillard makes few suggestions as to the nature of the cure.
‘In Baudrillard, melancholy is now in the very state of things: objects and events now project a certain sorrow, in the sense of being detached at last from their histories, yet destined to repeat them forever in simulation. In a world stripped of historical finality and direction, hyper-finalities now multiply with a vengeance, as we begin the “microprocessing of all desires” in the era of dead capital, dead Marx, dead language, dead time’. William Bogard(18).
Like Baudrillard, Jürgen Habermas also suggests that his interpretation of the rational city as represented by “system world” is to be eschewed as the product of an incapable and dehumanising rationalism where “life world” is a more compatible host to the human mind and its tendencies. Thus Habermas posits a situation not unlike that posited by Baudrillard wherein the world is so dominated by technology that it no longer has an understanding of what is real. Baudrillard suggests that the modern world is losing its language of complexity by entering into a contract with a language system that is based on binary code. Michel de Certeau posits the idea, in a parallel way, that the early forms of editing that were used to structure the written scriptures involved the use of a form of binary. “Scriptural economy”, the simple act of inclusion or exclusion when recording the scriptural narrative began an effort to create a representation of faith that, was, in itself, divorced from some aspects of the reality of faith. The rational interpretation of the world and its universe perpetuated by the language of the Enlightenment had already limited the territory which humankind can describe. The attempt to connect explanations to language that requires legal boundaries is to limit the scope of those explanations and thus preclude aspects of the truth that can be perceived by other means. Baudrillard suggests that humankind is now agreeing to an even more restrictive contract that limits it not merely to the twenty-six letters of the alphabet but to zeros and ones.
The overwhelming impression of the progress of thought since the Enlightenment, then, is that it has meant disaster for any form of thinking that does not base itself on systems developed by that Enlightenment. It is implied that by definition any aspect of thought that attempts a “voice” outside those systems of rationale is therefore not enlightened.
The Enlightenment and technology, it is suggested therefore, have brought about the existence of “system world”. They have provided the Western world with a technology that dominates the lives of the human beings that have access to it, directly or otherwise. However, does that invalidate belief, human thought processes regarding the concept of the Divine, or is all the apparent progress of reason, whilst open to abuse, also open to use by the very “irrational” concepts it purports to eschew? Much of the response to the progress of the new technologies has had a resonance akin to iconoclasm and ludditism and concedes little optimism regarding the ability of the human species to learn a new language and engage successfully with its dangers. It may well be that optimism is too utopian a concept when attempting a guess at the future relationship of human beings with their newly invented technology but pragmatism might be the only realistic way in which to engage the hyperreal.
It is possible that an adherence to scientific structure may well have impacted upon the ability of the institution of institutions of faith to maintain their authority in the context of a world where scientific discovery not only seeks to discredit some aspects of faith and belief, but where it attempts to impose a style of thinking on all aspects of function, within the context of everyday life, including the accreditation of religious belief and faith.
This is not to suggest that the use of reason is, in and of itself, an inappropriate function. Anyone who has tried to reason with someone who has lost their ability to reason, or has not learned to reason will understand the great contribution that reasoned argument can make to any conflict or discussion. Moreover all of us benefit from the application of scientific reason to every aspect of our lives, from the technology that we employ to the healthcare we expect. However the crucial aspect of the existence of technology as a tool for the future, lies in precisely that definition of it as a “tool”. It is a tool that we “employ” an aspect of our lives that, ultimately we do control. A computer learns how to be a computer if it is told how to be a computer and it is human programmers who write the codes for the machines and programming code is, in itself, another form of narrative, another form of fiction.
Baudrillard and Habermas differentiate between “life world” and “system world”, the “real” and the “hyperreal” but this is a perpetuation of the ancient separation of language. A separation initiated and perpetuated by an ancient contractual alphabet that separates the sign from the signified a form of communication that has a referent but which does not directly refer to the referents it communicates. Michel de Certeau suggests that the early creation of narrative forms led to a dependence on scientific imperialism and scriptural economy. A dependence that came to dominate the perpetuation of religious and Christian values in the centuries leading up to and since the Enlightenment.
In 1979 Jean-François Lyotard(19) posited the idea that knowledge would become a commodity, and there is no doubt now that the exchange of knowledge around the world is largely dependent on access to money. When William Caxton began the practice of printing, the dual process of the commodification of knowledge and the increased dissemination of that knowledge occurred. Money financed the printing presses, philanthropy and ethical behaviour determined the greater dissemination of the information. The effect of the printing press on society is a subject itself of excessive documentation but the challenge of print was to make accessible a choice of narratives and thereby to question the metadiscourse presented to the individual in society.
However even Caxton’s printing presses only challenged and disseminated the metadiscourse of its host culture, Western Christianity. The dual use of the printing press was to both sell and disseminate narrative. Lyotard has observed that in the latter half of the twentieth century perhaps the prime motivation of the new inventors of modern exchange of knowledge is to make financial profit from that knowledge(20). It is therefore important to the financiers to both come to terms with the variety of narratives that pertain in the modern world and to provide their own metadiscourse, their own game, whereby the global village understands the rules of that game and can then access the variety of narratives that are contained within it.
The reality behind all of the information industries is to trade information for profit. It is therefore in the interests of the information brokers both to persuade the world to play the one game and that is to use the hardware and software that they provide and ultimately to use the same language and to ensure that all this can be universally compatible. However in order to achieve market success they must also acknowledge the variety of interpretations and narratives there are in the individual cultures and religions and to allow that to be inputted into the hardware in order to encourage global participation. The transmission of religious knowledge then is a money-making commodity and narrative is its software.
The situation for the human species in this millennium is that it must face up to a world that is technologically sophisticated but still rooted in the practice of everyday life. A sophisticated system of language characterises the human species. It has been used and developed down through the ages as a means of communication. As language has developed, it has formed the basis not only for the communication of concepts and the discussion of ethics but for the scientific progress that has dominated the development of the Western world.
The ethos then of this thesis has been one of nostalgia. The voice of the mystic, according to Michel de Certeau has been relegated to rejection by the imposition of “scriptural economy” that operates within the writing down of the scriptures; and technology has progressed so far, according to Jean Baudrillard and Jürgen Habermas that the complex nature of humankind itself is under threat. In the context of the post-modern marketplace it appears to many that the only universal philosophy that can be propounded is one that accords all narratives, all religions and all philosophies the right to be presented within a plural context.
The electronic age is able to reproduce exactly, as in the manner of the old oral tradition, and to transmit immediately to millions of people a narrative that need never change and could remain in exact form for centuries. However, there are those such as Jean Baudrillard who would suggest that the process of societal re-invention is now so far advanced that the relevance of institutionalised faith must now be addressed to a post-modern age rooted not in physical culture but in cyberspace. The implication for a culture now so able to reinvent itself without reference to mediaeval unity or even to a tradition or common history is that it must now tolerate a variety of discourses and oral traditions without necessarily being able to adjudicate their relevance or truth as a universal application.
‘If reality is always and only invented by language and encoded in narrative, then all reasoning must subscribe to faith. All reasoning is an act of faith within a particular mythos, a particular story that transcends reasoning.’ Graham Ward(21)
Much has been said in this article about the nature of language, its development and its use within the context of the Christian faith and its presentation as a significant attempt to explain and provide contact with the source of the metaphysical Other. Michel de Certeau appeals to the mystic fables that have been “forgotten” by the religious impulse that once created them, an impulse that has been so crucial to humankind’s communication with the Other.
‘Christian texts today have the weaknesses – but also the potential force – of “fable”. Their prescriptive, quasi-legal power is by and large becoming negligible. They may, however, continue to beckon to their readers or listeners. They may, as “fables”, touch us within and work upon (“convert”) the faculty of the will. These singular fables will not work for every human subject. Where they do, however, their effect is liable to be more far-reaching than that of any single prescriptive law.’ Jeremy Ahearne(22)
In a world which is now able to transmit narratives across the globe at the speed of light, the Christian narrative and a nostalgia for that narrative may be the only aspect of its unique contribution that can maintain a link between it and the “lifeworld” of those who function within everyday life and within the “system world” that they are now forced to employ. There are many who still do not have access to the new marketplace of commodified information and narrative and there are those whose only access to Christianity and any religious praxis is precisely through that marketplace. In the current technological revolution access to the social requirements of the contemporary age, means access to the language of computers. The computer revolution provides an opportunity not merely to provide education and access but to perpetuate the language of theology by the medium of instant communication.
At the moment the ability of human beings to transmit and repeat narrative is now as powerful as it has ever been. Human beings in modern Western culture are surrounded by narratives. We process advertising, film, radio, newspapers and books and thus our ability to converse in the language of narrative, understand its complexities, appreciate phenomenology, propaganda and subjectivity and to read and transmit those narratives whether via the traditional techniques of writing and speaking or by technological means has never been more prevalent.
‘Nowadays there is almost no such thing as harmless superstition. Instant communications make every nerd a potential neophyte. For most dabblers, astrology and tarot are parlour pranks; but the scale on which they are trusted and the money they make suggest their potential social influence is enormous.’ Fernández-Armesto(23)
The Internet may allow for any “nerd” to perpetuate a set of idiosyncratic ideas throughout the world, as Felipe Fernández-Armesto suggests in his essay The Future of Religion, but it also allows the authorities of various faiths and institutions of faith and those who remain outside it, the opportunity to participate in a new discussion. This discussion is not damaged by the mere ability to use that technology. The ability to use a toggle switch does not prevent the individual from understanding the complexity of issues that cannot be resolved or understood in terms of “yes” or “no”, “save” or “delete” answers. The very fact that a popular cartoon series such as The Simpsons, referred to earlier, can target the problems involved with toggle switch thinking and make it funny demonstrates the human ability to remain able to process complex information.
A discourse on the subject of the “other” becomes a more comprehensible reality when what governs existence is not merely the external reality into which the individual is born but the internal reality which the individual can create. The consistent aspects of a dialogue with the Other and the transcendence of much of the elemental understanding of the Other and the conduct of ethics, both on and off the screen, does persist and may be augmented and re-invigorated by the existence of a new space created by the hyperreal where the transmission of the mystic fable is instant and never more acceptable.
Perhaps then it is a mistake to believe that a tendency to nostalgia, a need to retrieve that which has been forgotten and an attempt to reunify that which has been separated into a unified covenant of language and practice is incompatible with the existence of the systems of technology that now dominate contemporary structures in society. If narrative is the tool of humanity then an attempt to ensure that it remains unified with the ideas that the narrative carries does not need to be hindered by the existence of a technology that requires simple logic with which to function.
The computer has its own narrative and without that narrative it is merely a box. The human being has its own telos, its concept of the Other, without that concept the human being remains an accident of nature. The existence of human technology is the natural reality that human beings have created within the context of the world that they continue to narrate. Thus the human being can now perpetuate the concept of the Other by means of a language as ancient as the human consciousness and with the immediacy of light itself.
1. Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life Trs Steven Rendell (University of California Press, 1988)
2. Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life Trs Steven Rendell (University of California Press, 1988) P6
3. Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life, Trs Steven Rendell, (University of California Press, 1988) P44
4. Stephenson, N. Snow Crash (ROC, Penguin 1992) P240
5. Habermas, J. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Twelve Lectures Trs. Frederick Lawrence (Polity Press, 1987) P110
6. For more on Communicative Praxis see Jürgen Habermas The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Twelve Lectures Trs. Frederick Lawrence (Polity Press, 1987) David M Rasmussen, Reading Habermas (Basil Blackwell Inc 1990) and Lakeland P., Theology and Critical Theory: The Discourse of the Church (Abingdon Press, 1990)
7. Douglas, M. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (Cresset Press, 1970)
8. Habermas, J. :Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays : Trs William Mark Hohengarten, (Polity Press, 1992)P20
9. Mark Gottdiener’ The System of Objects ad the Commodification of Everyday Life: The early Baudrillard’,in:Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Ed Douglas Kellner (Blackwell, 1994) P32
10. Steven Best ‘The Commodifcation Reality and the Reality of Commodification: Baudrillard, Debord, and Post-modern Theory’.in Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Ed. Kellner, D. (Blackwell, 1994)
11. Lyotard, J-François. The Post-modern Condition; A Report on Knowledge Trs Geoff Bennington, and Brian Massumi (Manchester University Press, 1997) P5
12. Steven Best ‘The Commodification Reality and the Reality of Commodification” Baudrillard, Debord and Post-modern Theory in Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Ed. Kellner, D. (Blackwell, 1994)P51
13. Baudrillard, J. The Gulf War Did Not take Place Trs Paul Patton,(Indiana University Press, 1995) See also Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism) Trs Sheila Faria Glaser (Uiversity of Michigan Press, 1995)
14. McLuhan, M. The Essential McLuhan (Harpercollins,1996)
15. Huxley, A. Brave New World (Harperperennial Library, 1998)
16. The Simpsons “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” written by Swartzwelder Fox TV 2000
17. Baudrillard’s definition of the “hyperreal” and his insistence that humankind has become increasingly separated from the “real” in the physical world, is not dissimilar to Jürgen Habermas’s concepts of “systemworld” and “lifeworld”. See Paul Lakeland’s explanation in Church as Lifeworld and System: Towards a Critical Social Ecclesiology, (Abingdon Press, 1990)
18. Bogard, W. ‘Baudrillard, Time and the End’, Kellner, D. Ed Baudrillard: A Critical Reader (Blackwelll, 1994) P315.
19. Lyotard, J-François The Post-modern Condition : A Report on Knowledge Trs Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester University Press, 1997)
20. Lyotard, J-François The Post-modern Condition : A Report on Knowledge Trs Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester University Press, 1997)
21. Ward,G. ‘John Milbank’s Divina Commedia’ New Blackfriars Vol 73 No. 861 (May/June 1992) P313
22. Ahearne, J. ‘The Shattering of Christianity and the Articulation of Belief’ New Blackfriars Vol77 No.909 (November 1996) P497
23. Felipe Fernández-Armesto Predictions: The Future of Religion Phoenix, London 1997 p7/8
Ahearne, J. ‘The Shattering of Christianity and the Articulation of Belief’ New Blackfriars Vol77 No.909 (November 1996)
Baudrillard, J. The Gulf War Did Not take Place Trs Paul Patton,(Indiana University Press, 1995) See also Simulacra and Simulation (The Body in Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism) Trs Sheila Faria Glaser (Uiversity of Michigan Press, 1995)
Bogard, W. ‘Baudrillard, Time and the End’, Kellner, D. Ed Baudrillard: A Critical Reader (Blackwelll, 1994)
Certeau, M. The Practice of Everyday Life, Trs Steven Rendell, (University of California Press, 1988)
Douglas, M. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology (Cresset Press, 1970)
Felipe Fernández-Armesto Predictions: The Future of Religion Phoenix, London 1997
Habermas, J. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, Twelve Lectures Trs. Frederick Lawrence (Polity Press, 1987)
Habermas, J. :Postmetaphysical Thinking: Philosophical Essays : Trs William Mark Hohengarten, (Polity Press, 1992)
Huxley, A. Brave New World (Harperperennial Library, 1998)
Lakeland, P. Church as Lifeworld and System: Towards a Critical Social Ecclesiology, (Abingdon Press, 1990)
Lyotard, J-François The Post-modern Condition : A Report on Knowledge Trs Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi (Manchester University Press, 1997)
Mark Gottdiener’ The System of Objects and the Commodification of Everyday Life: The early Baudrillard’,in:Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Ed Douglas Kellner (Blackwell, 1994)
McLuhan, M. The Essential McLuhan (Harpercollins,1996)
Rasmussen, David M. Reading Habermas (Basil Blackwell Inc 1990) and Lakeland P., Theology and Critical Theory: The Discourse of the Church (Abingdon Press, 1990)
Stephenson, N. Snow Crash (ROC, Penguin 1992) P240
Steven Best ‘The Commodification Reality and the Reality of Commodification” Baudrillard, Debord and Post-modern Theory in Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, Ed. Kellner, D. (Blackwell, 1994)
The Simpsons “The Computer Wore Menace Shoes” written by Swartzwelder Fox TV 2000
Ward,G. ‘John Milbank’s Divina Commedia’ New Blackfriars Vol 73 No. 861 (May/June 1992)