Church in the digital age - Nov 13 PDF Print E-mail
2011 - Viewpoint
Friday, 11 November 2011 11:29

Beverly Ann ScottBy Beverley-Ann Scott

Recently I attended my nephew’s prize-giving ceremony at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in San Fernando. The guest speaker at this event was an attorney-at-law Justin Junkere who had the challenge of keeping the attention of an entire school of boys age 7 to 12 from San Fernando Boys’ RC. Early in his speech he asked them what was their favourite video game.

The boys went wild, screaming out the names of the latest Nintendo DS, Playstation, Wii and PSP games. I know of these games only because of my nephews who will argue, and become very upset if they are denied the opportunity to play with their games. I reflected on how different the experiences of children growing up in this digital age must be. When I was about eight or nine I fell in love with Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew books. I could not wait to get my hands on any of these books that I had not read; I am sure I must have read every Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton there was at the time. Now I wonder whether girls at eight or nine even care to read.

This is the challenge of child rearing I presume in the digital age. It is not only a challenge for parents and teachers but for the Church as well. How do parents and teachers engage children to look at a whiteboard or a blackboard or even a book when they are used to spending hours upon hours glued to screens with animated characters jumping, running, firing guns while their fingers move at a frenetic pace? How do we as Church preach the gospel of Christ in a world where the Internet, I-phones, I-Pads, I-pods (all beginning with I) and gizmos and gadgets of every kind are so essential to daily living that they often make it impossible to find quiet technology-devoid moments when the soul can be still and be attentive to God? Matt Swaim in his book Prayer in the Digital Age answers some of these challenging questions.

In an excerpt of his book which appears in a recent issue of the Liguorian he writes: “Whether or not the Church decides to use the latest forms of social communication in the service of promoting her message, her enemies most certainly will. Lust, greed, and envy are in no way new opponents to our pursuit of holiness in the digital age; the digital age just provides them with new playgrounds wherein they can bully people.” Swaim argues that technology provides new tools by which enemies of the Church and enemies of Christ can peddle the same old messages that were peddled in the early Church. Selfishness, jealousy, lust, greed, idolatry, pride; these are not new. They existed in the time of Moses as they exist now. In our society that continues to become more and more focused on material possessions, children learn from an early age the difference between rich and poor. They feel a sense of inferiority when they do not have the games, gadgets and toys that their friends have. I shudder to think of the challenges parents who cannot afford PSPs and Wiis and Nintendos must face. Adults are no different. We enjoy being able to boast of having the latest, device be it Blackberry or Ipad but it doesn’t stop with technology. We measure our success and that of others by the cars they drive, the number of foreign places they are able to travel to, the extent of their education. We are bombarded by advertisements on television that qualify for us what living or having a good life means and we allow ourselves to feel a sense of inadequacy when we examine our lives and find that they lack all of those things the advertisements tell us we should have. In addition we have social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and many others that are linked to cellphones. People use these networking sites not only to network but to share information about themselves and what is going on in their lives and all of this is done in real time.

Media are being used every day to spread a message, which whether we like it or not we are forced to listen to, or read or look at. Swaim in his book says “a proper understanding of how to use particular forms of media is essential if we want to build up the Church in the digital age.” In my parish of Carapichaima our priests are trying to utilise technology by having parishioners receive weekly texts of scripture to their cell phones. An innovative way I think to use the technology that people use every day to get the Word of God across. Catholic News and the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain have websites that allow Internet users to access information about them, the Church, upcoming events. Living Water Community uses radio, television and Internet (iTRINITY). More and more the Church here at home is finding ways to use the media to bring the gospel message to people who through no fault of their own are having this message obscured because of the bombardment they receive from the same media used by secular society and enemies of the Church.

Swaim insists that using the media in this way is not a betrayal or a cop out as some may think since the essence of the message is not what is being changed only the form in which it is communicated. He writes “The Church must shift;… not in the way she is, but in the terms she uses to describe what she is. As rapidly as the ways we have of communicating shift and morph, so rapidly must the Church also shift and morph; not in terms of her identity but in terms of how she communicates her eternal truths to a culture that has little, if any sense of what a thing like eternity might even mean.”

He suggests that it is not sufficient for us to be complacent in our own perceived rightness with God without accepting collective and individual responsibility as Christians for using these new vehicles of technology to “respond effectively” to the challenges posed by the digital age in promoting a culture of life and spreading the Gospel. In other words says Swaim, “it is critical to our integrity as individual members of the Church and as the Church as a whole that we stay ‘on message’ and it is vital to our relevance that we do so in ways that the culture is most easily able to understand. If that means engaging in social networking of the most inane forms possible, then so be it.”

His focus endorses the ideology of inculturation, since he sees the principle of inculturation as it applies to international cultures as applicable to the digital culture in which we live today. We can appreciate this concept.

Little time for silence

Over the last few decades we have been incorporating our Caribbean culture into our liturgy – something that has been encouraged since the Second Vatican Council dealt with the relationship between faith and culture in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes.

Swaim acknowledges more often than not that the persons who know technology often lack moral formation and those that are morally formed are not usually technology-savvy. What we would say in local parlance is that those who have the nuts don’t have the teeth to crack them and those with the teeth don’t have the nuts. Having both the technology know how as well as the moral formation will not only ensure that the message is appropriate for the media but that the media are appropriate for the message. He sums this up when he writes “True, the message of the Gospel must in every circumstance be prioritized; but if done so hastily and without proper regard to the quality or the way in which a particular form of media most effectively operates, such efforts only serve to reinforce secular stereotypes of the Church: that she is backward, ignorant, unhip and just plain old not ‘with it’.”

In the haze of bloggers, Twitter, video games, Skype, Internet access from PSPs, phones that behave like computers and computers that behave like phones, all of which may become outdated or replaced in the speed of a gigahertz, the Church must find a way to continue to preach the gospel message, not changing its essence only using all the media available, (media which are already maximally used by secular society) to communicate it in a world where there is little time for silence. This is a call not only for priests, deacons and religious but for laity and indeed Catholic Christians everywhere called to preach the gospel of Christ. Because according to Swaim “Not only are we called in the digital age to allow our prayers to transform our own lives, we are called in prayer to build up our Church in the third millennium, to bring vigor to our exploration of new media” that “no matter what forms of communication become outdated, it will remain clear that the message of the Gospel will never rust or decay”. – Beverley-Ann Scott is a medical doctor and the author of The Stolen Cascadura

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