A KEYNOTE ADDRESS PRESENTED AT BIGARD MEMORIAL SEMINARY ENUGU, DURING THE 2014 NIGERIAN FEDERATION OF CATHOLIC STUDENTS (NFCS) WEEKEND, MARCH 29, 2014
I wish to begin by congratulating and thanking the organisers of this forum. You searched for me where I am doing the work of a simple curate to address this erudite audience. Well like Amos I can also say “I am neither a prophet nor a prophet’s son. I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. But the Lord took me from shepherding the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel’” (Amos 7:14-15). I do not belong to the academia. But since you have called, answering has become imperative. Discussing the declining reading culture among the youths today is topical especially among those who are to be the liaison officers between faith and science. Christianity has a long history of reading and writing. The founder of the 7th Century Semitic religion Islam called both the Jews and the Christians ahlykitab meaning people of the book. With the books, our faith is preserved.Have you ever wondered why the members of the Church’s hierarchy belong to the clerical state?
The advent of the internet towards the end of the last millennium has created a cyberspace – a whole new word – the e-world. We can now talk of e-mail, e-commerce, e-banking, e-schooling and e- students as well as e-vangelsim. Franz-Josef Eilers, defined e-vangelism as the use of “different possibilities of the Net to proclaim and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Persons who try to devote their life to such an activity are called ‘cyber missionaries’. They move in the cyberspace as their home and share the Good News with everybody whom they meet”. The cyberspace becomes a cyber-church and the members cyber-Christians or e-Christians. Along this line of history and development, we have noticed that our reading culture is waning. It has become a big pastoral concern for us. We have to ask ourselves what has happened along the line since the reading problem also affects Christians of today. Thus, history becomes a diagnostic key towards understanding our 21st Century e-Christians.
Our concept of history here is neither linear (moving from one point to another without bringing anything forward) nor cyclic (running round without any outlet) but spiral which embraces the duo. This follows a discernible trajectory of change – adaptation. Change is brought about by discovery and invention. Ralph Linton defines discovery as “any addition to knowledge” and invention as “a new application to knowledge”.1
Our Christian Faith Down the Ages
The nucleus of our Christian faith is first and foremost an encounter with the living Christ. It is a call- response fellowship with the God of life. God is the principaliter of this faith project. He calls man who in turn responds to this call, submits himself for baptism as a gateway which ushers him into a
1 Ralph Linton, The Study of Man, 1936, New York, Appleton Century Crofts, p. 306.
life of daily followership and fellowship. This Christian faith in its nascent stage began by a way of choice. Christ began his public ministry, preaching and doing wonders and people were drawn to him. Later, a religious atmosphere was created and conversion to Christianity was no longer by mere choice. Christianity spread by a way of osmotic diffusion. Children born into Christian families grew up becoming Christians. Even infants could be baptized in the faith of their parents. Our faith moved on from hand to hand thanks to this religious atmosphere. The good news was spread by people simply living the gospel, and the authenticity of their lives was all the authority they needed.2 Around 50AD, the writing down of the New Testament began. It was not just a matter of writing so as to preserve the faith but primarily to spread the faith and teach the people how to live the faith. A little retreat also shows that this is a kind of repetition of the Old Testament history. Moving across the wilderness of KardeshBarnea, stories of God’s redemptive dealing with the Israelites were around campfires. Tradition was strictly oral. During the time of Solomon, many scribes were trained in the King’s court and there was thus the need to document all that has been passed on orally. All the writings then were on scrolls. Paper was said to be invented around 105 AD by the Chinese Ts’aiLun. This was followed by the invention of printing. Between the 12th and the 15th Centuries, it had spread to France, Italy, Germany and England.3 This is the transition from scrolls to books. With printing, texts can be multiplied and reading and writing culture flourished. Thus, our Christian faith first existed, and was transmitted and preserved in an oral form. We can therefore say that utility is a form of preservation. It is true that oral tradition has its own problem namely corruption, also written tradition is not problem free as faith preserved through writing without being lived out is as good as dead.
With the march of Christianity to the Greek world, philosophical categories were employed to explain and defend the faith at the bar of reason. The Roman Empire was converted in the 4th Century and the evangelization of other parts of Europe began in the 7th Century. This is the dawn of theological and dogmatic formulations – the contribution of the West to the Christian faith. We can thus boast of great intellectuals in the Church of the Dark Age such as St. Augustine, St. Albert the Great, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. In addition to this, external rituals also became a way of preserving the faith. Those who can neither read nor write in this Dark Age can be inspired from the liturgical rites4.
The Renaissance blossomed further theliterary culture and people can now read and write. Faith can be preserved through reading and writing. The Renaissance also gave birth to Christian arts and architectures in Italy. The tapestries, frescoes and stained glasses of cathedrals and basilicas also became a source of faith and evangelization. This Renaissance apart from encouraging reading and writing which in turn helped us to preserve our faith, also dealt a big blow on the Christian faith as Church institutions were regarded as rigid and bureaucratic. Religion was seen as enslaving. Because of the quest for autonomy, to be free was to reject God and religion. This is the genesis of the decay we have in the modern world. This also brought about a disintegration in man because alongside the rise of literacy was the rise of individualism. “This slowly unglues the cohesiveness of collective consciousness, including collective religious consciousness”.5 Social bonding became very weak. The
2 Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, Why Catholic? Understanding our Experience and Tradition, 1989, Bangalore, Paulines, p.126.
3 See Carol and Melvin Ember, Cultural Anthropology, 1993, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, p.308.
4 See Aidan Nichols, The Shape of Catholic Theology, 1991, Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, p. 184.
5Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, Why Catholic? Understanding our Experience and Tradition, 1989, Bangalore, Paulines, p.93.
religious atmosphere declined. Most of the rituals and arts made little or no sense to many people. There was a dissolution of the old ties and traditions in many areas including religion. This led to the era of Protestantism in the 16th Century and the Church in its counter reformation, tightened her belt in the Council of Trent and insisted more on the external liturgical observances and doctrinal bindings.
The Vatican II became an ecumenical journey out of our security to embrace many things. With its many positive fruits, it also brought a negative consequence of blurring our Christian identity. Today, we can ask the question; who is a Christian or better put who is a Catholic? When this type of question is asked, the answers are always multiple and contradictory. A typical consequence is one claiming to be a Christian with little or bonding to the Church. It is therefore a big task today to reformulate the answer on who is a Christian. Rohr and Martos provide the answer to this with word connectedness. A Christian does not exist in an isolation. He is connected to a group that frequently gathers around the table of the Eucharist.
Understanding the e-Christians of our Era
Today, we have found ourselves in an electronic age. This age has facilitated a lot of tasks but it dealt a big blow to our reading culture. The main factor here is pragmatism dethroning our values. It affected our socio-economic life as well as our spiritual life. It was a fertile ground for the flourishing of Pentecostalism with its promise of immediate answers to mankind’s problems. The loss of absolute standards, as well as the vanishing sense of belonging and of a home has become more pronounced. There is much confusion, aberration, and gyrations in the scale of values. There is an extraordinary deterioration of human nature as his faculties become impoverished.6 The modern man moved from value to pragmatism, from contemplation to manipulation and from manipulation to violence.7 The reading culture was badly hit. It was noted that the ICT revolution especially the internet technology discourages people from reading. It has succeeded in making us perpetual adolescents. Physically we are matured, but spiritually and psychologically we are adolescents tossed to and fro by our juvenile pragmatism. Many students today prefer spending their time browsing, playing games, and chatting on social networks to reading. Compared with 25 years ago, more than 50% of Nigerians hardly read. If they read at all, it is to pass their exams. For those who do their assignments, all they have to do is to google but googling is not researching. Online, there is little or no censorship and so are online materials for our faith growth.
Analysis and Strategy
Having thus understood the 21st Century e-Christian, how do we describe him? Joseph Kentenich has this to say. He is a “man of the silver screen – the film man. He is at the mercy of external impressions and his individual actions have no longer any organic connection with each other. It is as though his individual acts no longer spring from his personality. Thus we stand face to face with a human type who in the final analysis represents plain nonsense. He is wavering, vacillating and completely thrown out of balance and rapidly drifts towards the abyss.8 The modern Christian sees God not as a person but as an idea. He is inwardly empty and makes every effort to feel this
6 Joseph Kentenich, Education and the Challenge of our Times, 2ed (trans. Ulrich J. Proeller), 1994, Waukesha, International Schoenstatt Centre, p. 10.
7 Franz-Josef Eilers, Communicating in Ministry and Mission, 2003, India, Asian Trading Corporation, p. 168.
8 Joseph Kentenich, Education and the Challenge of our Times, 2ed (trans. Ulrich J. Proeller), 1994, Waukesha, International Schoenstatt Centre, p. 11.
emptiness by satisfying his sensual desires without any sense of discrimination. In addition to this, Rohr and Martos speak of the disintegration of this era. “As modern individuals, we tend to think on our own thoughts and to guard our own feelings, even when we are together with others. We are not easily caught up into the traditional meaning of our collective symbols. Our sacraments no longer speak to us collectively as they once did, and as a result they do not easily move us together into experience of God”.9 A 21st Century e-Christian is plagued by the individualism of the Renaissance and the pragmatism of the modern age. He is a slave to productivity and economic growth.
In a pluralistic world of today, what do we do as regards our Christian faith and the decline of reading culture? First of all, inasmuch as we try to revitalize the reading culture, we should also bear in mind that Christianity is a religion of the heart and not of the head and has to do with relationship and not ideas. Our faith is authentic because it is secured within a faith community.
The impact of radio, television and internet on our young people is devastating. It exercises a powerful influence on the youth to the point that they are incapable of thinking and making their own judgments. Granted that so much information concerning learning could be sourced online, school children are faced with distractions and poor reading habits in this modern age. Though the communication gadgets play great roles in teaching and learning, there should be enough caution in exposing children to these modern communication tools because of their negative impact on the acquisition of reading skill.
Until the reading culture is revitalized, what should we do? It is not possible to avoid all these gadgets in a world today where children are born with the mouse and the remote control in their hands.
- Our Christian faith must receive a computer aided approach. According to Alain Woodrow,“instead of Churches complaining about their loss in influence and television substituting the former role of religion in many peoples’ life, one should see it as religious broadcasters’ task to attune the institutional churches to the audiovisual media, which speak the common language of an ever growing number of the world’s population”. Before then, the same Woodrow averred that “a programme, which gives food for thought or suggests a religious solution to a social problem is much more effective than a sermon or a dogmatic utterance.”10Radio programmes have great pastoral values for individuals. Televised stories can present and strengthen Christian values and livings.11Thanks to films and cinemas, the effect of images on the illiterate as regards conveying the gospel truth remains invaluable. In his 2002 World Communication Day Message, John Paul II said that “the Internet can also provide a kind of follow up which evangelization requires. Especially in an unsupportive culture, Christian living calls for continuing instruction and catechesis, and this is perhaps the area in which the Internet can provide excellent help”. All these give the pastoral workers additional avenues to serve the people better. This is what Benedict XVI called digital witnessing. The presence of the Church’s hierarchy in the digital world is imperative today. In this way, the Catholic faith should be preserved online. In doing this, the hierarchy has to balance modernism with conservatism for a hierarchy so unmindful of the past that it permits
9 Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, Why Catholic? Understanding our Experience and Tradition, 1989, Bangalore, Paulines, pp. 95&96.
10 See Alain Woodrow, “Broadcast can be Saved”, The Tablet, January 20, 1993, pp. 9-10.
11 Franz-Josef Eilers, Communicating in Ministry and Mission, 2003, India, Asian Trading Corporation, pp. 168-169.
anything and everything to pass itself as Catholic is not fulfilling the office entrusted to it. Shying away from digital witnessing is already a failure in this duty.
- We should try to pay attention to those rituals once again. No matter how effective and useful the media can be in propagating the effect, it can never be “a substitute for personal and communal witness and for community steeped in worship and love.”12Franz Josef Eilers did not fail to mention that the digital world is not a real world. “Faith is lived in reality and not in cyberspace”13. There should therefore be a genuine and organic movement from the virtual world of cyberspace to a real world of encounter with Jesus Christ and human experience. There is need to arouse in the Catholic Church the religious experience of God by the sacraments, rituals and
- Above all, Christianity is a tradition, a whole way of thinking and feeling about life and oneself, a way of responding to people and situations. What the world needs today is more of living the faith than preaching the faith. According to Mother Theresa, a talking point is not a meeting
The fear entertained vis-à-vis our faith and reading culture is a legitimate one. Since it is an established fact that the media distracts a lot, we should at least put off the television once in a while. We should approach the Net with moderation. For the Christian faith to be a living tradition, it must be lived out and transmitted. Along the path of history, the church must adapt to new changes while remaining faithful to the deposit of faith. In doing this, a clear distinction must be made between the text and its media of communication, between the writing and that which is written. Till we revitalize the reading culture, we have to make good use of the possibilities of the Net. Digital witnessing is imperative. Audio books should be listened to. Religious programmes should be encouraged in radios and televisions.
The Pontifical Council for Social Communication noted another fear namely, that while “technology more and more allows people to assemble packages of information and services uniquely designed for them, the question is then asked? “Instead of being a global community, might the ‘web’ of the future turn out to be a vast, fragmented network of isolated individuals – human bees in their cells – interacting with data instead of with one another? What would become of solidarity – what would become of love – in a world like this?”14The church’s presence must be felt on the Net for where the flock is the shepherd must be. Until then, the cyberspace remains a virtual world. The sacraments should be validly and sacrosantly celebrated. Attention should be paid to the rituals and mystagogy should be rediscovered in our Christian life. Thank you very much.
12 Michael Traber as quoted in Franz-Josef Eilers 2003, see p. 170.
13Franz-Josef Eilers, Communicating in Ministry and Mission, 2003, India, Asian Trading Corporation, p. 233.
14Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in Communications, 29. Kenya, Paulines Publications, 2000.