Digital Technologies and Christian Culture

I have been thinking about the way in which digital technologies are changing not just the expression but also the content of what we religious types put online. Here at the monastery we are contemplating some major changes to our web sites, use of social media, etc. One of the things that has struck me is how word (and Word) centred our practice is. Our main web site, like those of many Christian organizations, contains pages of text: information, reflection, explanation, the fruit of our thinking about monastic life and trying to express it in words.

Thinking, words, these are the traditional elements of Christian culture, requiring silence, time and the discipline of logic for effect. But the online world thrives on immediacy, brevity, the interplay of image and sound, action and reaction. I think we can truthfully say that we have tried to take the monastery into that world. The challenge we now face is how to engage more deeply, to be true to our Christian heritage yet at the same time interpret anew the truth by which we live. That raises all kinds of questions about authority and trustworthiness. It goes beyond language, touching on psychology and social attitudes that are not of the Church’s making.

There is no shortage of opinion about these matters. Resources of various kinds abound, with excellent work being done by CODEC and @xiannewmedia, for example. But ultimately, what we do online proceeds from our lives offline, from the prayer, lectio divina and common life of the community. I am not sure what we shall produce over the next few months but I have a hunch that it may be very different from anything we have attempted so far — not because the technology on offer makes new things possible, but because the world which has developed that technology requires a new approach.

As always, I’d love to know what you think.

 

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11 thoughts on “Digital Technologies and Christian Culture”

  1. That is the core of an effective new evangelisation that the world (including myself) need, especially from the monks, sisters, priests, bishops and laypeople who are dedicated to the truth, beauty and good of our Lord and faith in a special and intimate way.

    To keep intact the Truth and the Spirit but to send it into the word in a language that the world uses and requires to understand it more efficiently. Of course we can’t and it is not in our power to “measure” the rate of conversions, saints, etc. throughout new technologies, nor to try to dilute the Truth nor the Spirit to be accepted by the world; but to give light to the world according to the church’s mission, we got to do it from “inside” the world and not from outside…thinking how God has became flesh and saved us from inside of our human nature.

    God bless!

  2. This IS the key, of course : “what we do online proceeds from our lives offline, from the prayer, lectio divina and common life of the community.” This is what shines through all the posts at http://www.ibenedictines.org In whatever other creative directions you extend your online hospitality, therefore, please may Digitalnun remain among them, as she is.

    • I do so agree.
      Not only does this blog proceed from life in community, it also fosters greater life in community. I felt, especially as we approached Easter, that we were journeying together; reading, reflecting and supporting each other.
      The daily prayer intentions draw us together, and teach me how to craft my own intentions built on the happenings of my life.
      As one who struggles to keep up with the digital present, I admire your readiness to embrace the digital future.

      May I put in a request for links to sound files? Yesterday’s tantalising mention of the tanto tempore chant sent me on a fruitless internet search.

  3. Thank you very much for your comments and encouragement. We aren’t thinking of stopping doing anything we do now, so be prepared, please, for more blogging and micro-blogging. Our aim has been to create a ‘monastic’ space on the web. Patricia, please see my comment on SS Philip and James. I’m sorry, but have no firm purpose of amendment.

    • I begin by apologozing for my childish austrian pupils English… Dear Sister Cathrine………You dont immagine what impression your videomessaage made to the participants of the congress “Gott im Web” (God in the web” at the cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. It was a great encoragement for all.
      Reading these lines here my first thoghts (as former Benedictin-Monk) were: maybe know (finally) time has come that the monastic life is becoming not only bettern known but that by means of the new medias there could gruow up a virutal but not less real monastic communion of monks and nuns cloistered at is has always been and laymen and women woho could participate this same life everybody corresponding to his personal circumstances……….

    • How very blessed we are in this time of social media and the possibilities the web affords us all. How very dear to find a ‘monastic space’ on the web. Thank you for the encouragement and gift of hope your web presence allows us.

  4. Many of us will be watching and praying with you as you all experiment with these new ideas. So often the approach of Christians is either full embrace or total rejection of technology, not a thoughtful and purposeful engagement with that will bear good fruit. I look forward to your experiments!

  5. Our esteemed hostess writes, “Thinking, words, these are the traditional elements of Christian culture, requiring silence, time and the discipline of logic for effect. But the online world thrives on immediacy, brevity, the interplay of image and sound, action and reaction.”

    It’s worth bearing in mind that spreading the word of the Gospel via masses of printed text is a very recent phenomenon. Before the invention of the printing press in the 15th century, and the advent of mass literacy in the 19th, the “word” meant the spoken word. Further, at least until the fifth century, and probably well after that, to read meant to read aloud: in his “Confessions”, St Augustine notes that St Ambrose had the strange habit of reading silently, and Augustine spends a page in discussing why he would do something so weird. So, for most of the Christian era, the Word was communicated orally (via music and spoken word) and visually (via architecture, painting, sculpture) – in other words, via “the interplay of image and sound, action and reaction”.

    My point is not to argue in favor of mass illiteracy, but simply to point out that while the medium of the web is something new, but also a reach back to something old that lies near the core of our Christian civilization.

    • As a medievalist myself, I have no difficulty echoing what you say about the oral nature of much Christian culture, Fred, or the way in which previous generations have used pictorial imagery, etc. The distinction I was making was that in the past the words used, the images produced, were the fruit of silence, prayer and reflection, a process that took time. Our online culture today places a premium on immediacy and is reactive; it is also open to all — and not all of us are as expert in everything as we’d like to be. Twitter is an excellent example of the way in which the power of the internet can be used for good or ill. I’m not advocating a return to a clerical monopoly of learning but pointing out that the cultural shift of our times brings with it a challenge that we in the monastery will be devoting time and effort to trying to meet.

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