I seem to be on a bit of a medieval jag. I have been entrenching myself in a number of books, but have been revisiting Regis Debray's wonderful work, God: An itinerary. Here's a quote from Martin Luther that opens up a chapter on the printed word,
"The printing press is God's latest and greatest gift. Through it, God is intent on making true religion known throughout the entire earth, spreading it to all languages. It is the last flame to be lit before the world is extinguished." (Table Talk)
Now firstly, his comments reminds me of the people on TBN who are always touting the fact that Christian TV stations are covering the globe and essentially heralding the return of Christ. Secondly, it is worth noting that when Luther invokes the phrase 'true religion' he is talking about Reformation Christianity in contrast to Catholicism (this is the locus of the conversation about true religion, not the inter-religious debate it has evolved into). None of those points are the focus of Debray's thoughts,
"Upon his emergence from the typographical 'cradle' , in 1500, our God, speaking Latin, formerly polychromatic and couched in calligraphy, cloistered and chained to His shelf, would soon be sprinting through the city in the vernacular. The printing press made the Word 'practical and useful to all'. That new ease caused the Church to lose its monopoly on reproduction and circulation. It would soon oblige it, after the Council of Trent, to unsettle its certitudes and reinvigorate its sources of allure. There was thus propagated, in the wake of the Reformation, an Eternal in black and white, difficult to control, patriotic and erudite, polyglot, and with a certain wanderlust. With the possibility of home delivery. Bad news for the princes of the Church, but excellent for educated fathers of their families. And when the Pilgrim Fathers, in 1620, took it upon themselves to cross the Ocean with the Scriptures in English under their arms, the result was a second Promised Land, North America, an auspicious transplanting of the God of Gutenberg to the Far West."
The God of Gutenberg, a god shaped and formed by technology, I think we underestimate the role that technologies play in our understanding of the divine and the sacred. "The powers that be have always welcomed, somewhat absentmindedly, the medium that would result in their demise." Intense words, those. So are these, "When the arts of memory undergo transformation, it is the soul of God that is transformed." I didn't use Debray or his book in my recent class on Theology and Media Culture, but I made essentially the same point, that our technologies affect and alter the way we understand the sacred. I think half my students thought I was kidding, the other half, much more clued in than me, sat there in the class with me, holding the realization that the soul of God was being transformed before our very eyes.