Tuesday, July 11, 2006

From a Letter of C.S. Lewis (courtesy of Robert Velarde, Lewis Scholar)

"What is the point of keeping in touch with the contemporary scene? Why should one read authors one doesn't like because they happen to be alive at the same time as oneself?" (6 Jan 1951)

18 comments:

Jonathan Erdman said...

Could we reverse the question:

What is the point of learning about the past? Why should one read authors one doesn't like because they happen to not be alive at the same time as oneself?

Is everything we choose to read based upon what we "like"? Based upon those who agree with us?

nancy said...

I can carry on an extended conversation with someone about a TV show I've never watched or a book I've never read. I can chose to ask pointed questions of the other person and perhaps learn more about her than I would if I had read/watched the item. The point is that I don't have to engage many aspects of contemporary culture to have meaningful encounters with other individuals (BJ - this counters your previous post about justifying moderate TV watching because it facilitates connecting with friends).

Susan said...

People choose to read based on all kinds of things, Jonathan. I think Lewis' point was that there are better reasons to read than simply "keeping up." No doubt those reasons might lead someone to read something disagreeable from time to time as it facilitates education. Certainly Lewis did not read only what supported his point of view. No good scholar does. One must interact with other minds.

BJ the Tornado said...

Nancy, good point. And I do what you describe as well.
But I find that people can often feel more like I am a "real person" like them who they can connect with easier if we have some common ground like that. I know that sounds strange, and in many ways it is good to NOT be like much of culture and stand out as different from it -- but on the other side of it we can simply come across as very alien to many people and we need bridging points. (there are MANY "bridges" of course -- not just TV! But I maintain that TV is one of the primary cultural venues that a HUGE majority of Americans are radically plugged in to, so it's not a bad idea to at least have some clue as to what's going on there).

Joseph J. Truhler said...

BJ,
I couldn't agree more. I haven't watched television in almost a year, and it is getting harder and harder to keep up with conversations happening with people I know, be it at work or church, sadly. Having a basic knowledge of the current content on TV can at least "get you in the door" of a conversation, even if you do (and hopefully you do) steer it on to deeper, more intellectually stimulating topics.

BJ the Tornado said...

Right on Joe, that's exactly what I'm talking about. You know me and so you know that I certainly do as you say " steer it on to deeper, more intellectually stimulating topics." And also keep in mind that I'm not suggesting watching a lot of TV or even that it is neccessary. Just that if one watches a small amount of television with a critical and scrutinizing eye (as I described in my posts on the other topic), it can have benefits -- one of which is that you'll be more in touch with the cultural mainstream of America (even if that cultural mainstream is in a state of decay -- it's good to know what's going on).

Susan said...

BJ and Joe,
I do not watch TV (and this has been the case since before attending Denver Seminary so I cannot be accused of being indoctrinated) All I know about what's "on" is through those at work, mostly, who do or through sometimes inescapable adverts on the internet. I have not found this to be a handicap at all on my part. I ask TV viewers who want to talk about TV to tell me about the show, and usually they are quite enthusiastic about telling me the plot, the most recent episode, and often accompany all of this with some wonderful and passionate commentary. It's far better than watching the program myself, I think! No one thinks I'm odd or uppity for not watching - I don't go on about how TV is bad and evil etc etc... they know I don't watch because when they bring up a show, I always have to ask about it. This often opens the door for an exchange - if I did not watch TV last night what DID I do? Well... I tell them about the book I'm reading or the gardening I did or where I rode my bike or some other thing and they usually give me as much interest as I gave them about the TV program. I have found no handicap at all in not watching TV.

Douglas Groothuis said...

I refuse to talk about television, and I still talk to unbelievers without difficulty.

Jeremy said...

B. Jay and Joe may I offer a response?

The problems with our contemporary culture are not contemporary in the sense that they are new. Rather, the dangers, hurts, distractions, and other evils ad nauseum are perpetual; they merely dart to the foreground from time to time.

May I be so bold as to interpret your posts as saying something like the following: Christians may [granting B. Jay's qualifications] be able to minister in a more relevant way if Christians watch TV [let's even say they only watch at most the lowest amount necessary to achieve that relevance]." If you two will allow this without charge of straw man, then I would point you to Os Guiness's book Prophetic Untimliness. Guiness points out that the search for relevance usually ends in unfaithfulness. Now, I'm not stating that there is any necessary causal link between relevance and unfaithfulness, but I think we are all wise enough to grant that there may be a very real accidental causal link. That said, Guiness makes the point that the Gospel is always relevant without bowing to the preasures of pop culture.

I guess my point is that sinners are sinners regardless of there cultural location. Problems are problems, and the Gospel ministers to those problems. TV is merely a fictional diversion that allows people to turn their eyes away from what the genuine problem is. Christians should be there to help turn the eye toward Christ. Why should we get caught up in the fiction? Are we not ministers of reality...ministers of truth?

Jeremy said...

B. Jay and Joe may I offer a response?

The problems with our contemporary culture are not contemporary in the sense that they are new. Rather, the dangers, hurts, distractions, and other evils ad nauseum are perpetual; they merely dart to the foreground from time to time.

May I be so bold as to interpret your posts as saying something like the following: Christians may [granting B. Jay's qualifications] be able to minister in a more relevant way if Christians watch TV [let's even say they only watch at most the lowest amount necessary to achieve that relevance]." If you two will allow this without charge of straw man, then I would point you to Os Guiness's book Prophetic Untimliness. Guiness points out that the search for relevance usually ends in unfaithfulness. Now, I'm not stating that there is any necessary causal link between relevance and unfaithfulness, but I think we are all wise enough to grant that there may be a very real accidental causal link. That said, Guiness makes the point that the Gospel is always relevant without bowing to the preasures of pop culture.

I guess my point is that sinners are sinners regardless of there cultural location. Problems are problems, and the Gospel ministers to those problems. TV is merely a fictional diversion that allows people to turn their eyes away from what the genuine problem is. Christians should be there to help turn the eye toward Christ. Why should we get caught up in the fiction? Are we not ministers of reality...ministers of truth?

Tim said...

Jonathan,

I think you're misunderstanding Lewis. The point is that "because I like it" is a good reason to read a book, but for Lewis that reason didn't hold for (say) Finnegan's Wake. Perhaps there were other, compelling reasons to read Joyce, but "because he's alive now" wasn't one that would pull weight with Lewis.

As far as the past is concerned, this further quotation from Lewis draws our attention to an asymmetry that is worth pondering:

"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books."

BJ the Tornado said...

Good points Dr. G and Susan.

For both of you I need to re-iterate that I am not making the claim that not watching TV is a handicap (in fact, in many, many ways it is a big wonderful advantage in your life). What I am saying is that watching some TV can be an advantage in knowing what's going on in popular culture. Again, NOT a handicap if you don't watch, but, yes, an advantage to those who do watch a bit (with a highly critical eye). The two are not mutually exclusive. Just because I find it an advantage (and, understand I am claiming a very MILD one at that), does not mean that it neccessarily is a disadvantage for you.... understand?

BJ the Tornado said...

Jeremy, nice post. (good to hear from you from the great state of MI brother!).

I posted my last one before yours showed up.

You make an interesting case, but of course I would have to hear what kind of arguments or reason you have (or Os has) for the claim that relevance usually ends up in unfaithfulness. This may the case (and it is plausible)... but so far it is just an assertion. Give me an argument.

But let me make the point (AGAIN, or so it seems to me) that I am not "caught up" in television viewing, that I do not watch much (at all), and that I am really here just trying to offer a moderated response to the line towed by Dr. G and Susan. Namely, that watching TV is not the end of the world. Is it good? No, not particularly. Is it often dangerously bad (for a whole variety of impacts it has we've discussed many times)? Yes, indeed. Should that give us reason to have great caution about it? Yes. Do I? Yes.

But, occasionally my wife and I watch a television program or two. Sometimes it is for a laugh or some other form of entertainment or relaxation. When we do watch we watch very critically -- examining the messages sent by television as well as closely monitoring our viewing habits (how much, what content, etc.). Also note that the vast majority of the time we do watch TV (which, again, is fairly uncommon) it is most often an educational type show (like the History channel or PBS, etc) or sports (which, if you turn off the commercials is essentially as benign as going to the events). And us watching TV as described is not neccessarily a bad thing. That's my entire claim.

I simply also noted that a convenient by product of this is that it does give us a glimpse into what a large segment of the population we are preaching the truth to consumes in massive volumes. And this glimpse into popular culture can indeed be helpful.

That's my humble claim. I don't see why it is causing such a stir every time I mention it as a slightly more moderate position on TV than the Dr. G position. As you know, we all agree on our basic convictions regarding television. It honestly blows me away that the little, controlled, TV viewing I describe you all still fight against or else feel the need to defend your non-watching as if my occasional viewing position attacks your position. You all know me -- you know me to be a critical thinking highly engaged with the culture around me. And I watch very LITTLE TV. So if this is how you respond to ME, I can't imagine how you'd respond to most of your fellow church-goers in your local congregations -- the majority of whom most likely watch a startling volume of TV, do not think critically about it nor scrutinize their own TV habits, and probably watch content that is pretty decayed. Seriously -- is it POSSIBLE you guys are holding to firm of a line on this?

Douglas Groothuis said...

BJ:

Kill your television set.

Jeremy said...

B. Jay

As for the Guinness assertion, you're right; it was merely an assertion. If I may justify it a bit, I thought you had read the book, and I know Kate read the book (so I assumed Joe had at least heard of it). I thought I remember us talking about the content. I guess I was mistaken. You should read the book; it wouldn't be a waste of time.

As for the rest of your response:

(1) You don't have to justify your TV viewing to me. (you're the one that has to stand before Jesus for your actions, not me! Just kidding!) Really, I don't have a problem with watching TV for entertainment/educational purposes (although all of the so-called educational channels are usually materialist propoganda machines) as long as it is done with a critical eye for short periods of time. I think we're on the same page as far as that goes.

(2) My original comment was responding to the idea that TV watching is somehow a good evangelism strategy. This is admittedly a bit stronger than your position, but I run into people all the time who do hold such a view. Here's the problem I have: how does one watch TV as merely an observer, and not as a participator? Can one really watch without being affected by the content and/or form? Depending on how one answers these questions, TV viewing may end up biting the viewer in the tail. Here's another assertion for you--You can only watch so much Real World before you get brainwashed--even if the watching is only for "building bridges." (I know you don't watch that trash.)

BJ the Tornado said...

True enough J-dog. I agree with your points. And Dr. G.... that was profound -- thank you.

You know, the more I think about this topic of late the more I am beginning to think that TV watching may an issue that falls under the "Christian Liberty" category (like drinking alcohol). I'm not about to make a case for it -- just an interesting possibility to explore.

Anyway, what is particulary funny about our interactions on this blog over TV is that I keep getting pushed into the corner of being the defending-TV-watching guy. What is funny is that with all of my other friends I am the passionate anti-TV guy and they all think of me as one who is totally against TV (which, as you know I'm not -- but compared to them I seem that way -- yet in this context I'm the one "defending" TV viewing.)

Tim said...

Our family TV broke the summer before I entered fourth grade, when we moved to a new house that my father had just built. We never got around to replacing it, so I grew up without the tube -- I learned what it was like to read books instead.

I can never repay the debt I owe to my parents for not replacing it. But I'm raising my children the same way.

nancy said...

Back to the Lewis comment:

"Lewis is unimpressed with peopole who read all the "right books" because they are status seekers or "culture vultures" ". (Ken Meyers Blue Suede Shoes p 91).