Welcome to GodBlogCon! I am going to be “live”-blogging as much of the conference as possible (I typed this earlier and then got in a heated conversation with Joe Carter about universals and forgot to post it). Dustin Steeve and Kevin Wang have done a great job of putting things together this year, and I am extremely proud of them. I am also very excited to be able to relax during the conference and talk with the people that I wanted to spend a lot of time with last year, but couldn’t. It is really good to see friends John Schroeder and Andy Jackson again. Without further ado, then, here are notes from Dr. John Mark Reynolds’ opening talk.
First Major point: We are in the last throws of a revolution. We are in a settling period, where new media is being taken for granted.
We don’t know where things are going. We need to have a conversation about where things are going, which Christians didn’t do about Hollywood. That’s what GodBlogCon is about.
New Media is a great opportunity for marginalized communities to get a place at the table of new media. But that window is closing. The revolution is in its final stages.
The solidification of technology in the hands of the few who have managed to use it well is the second stage of a revolution. The standards at the beginning of the revolution were extremely low, but they are now rising. What used to be acceptable for online video is now no longer acceptable. The standards are going to squeeze out small players. Most of the time, most of us have very little to say that will help people.
Portals—people who are sorting out for people what they need to see—are growing in might and influence because they sort out what needs to be read. People will want order brought to the wild west of the internet, and that may not be good.
Will Christians have a place at the table? Probably not. Professionalization will reward the Andrew Sullivans and penalize traditional Christians on the left and right. The old media has big money still, even though their ad revenues are declining. We are not driving the agenda in the new media sphere, and their big money will make our websites look second-rate.
Second major point: we haven’t taken the “virtual” in “virtual reality” seriously enough. We too often reflect the universities we attended, the media we consumed, the “reality” we grew up in. We do not create a new reality—creating a broad interpretative framework for facts—but react defensively to the old reality.
For instance, ID cares about “legacy journal” opinion rather than create their own journals and acting as if they are right. We want to “Christianize” the NY Times, rather than create our own. We should present an alternative vision of the way we wish the world was. We are not people who deny truth, but people who think in new paradigms—it’s a matter of creating a new Christian mythology over the internet.
Third Major point: We should ask ourselves hard dialectical questions about the relationship between a Christ centered Christianity and our political positions. We must always be looking at what we believe and asking ourselves if what we believe is true. For proof that Jesus does this, see the Road to Emmaus in Luke 24. There is no place for people within Christianity for those who will not hear difficult questions, and then affirm “This I believe” with the tentativeness or fervor of our commitments.
Christian Godbloggers have not been willing to put a full-orbed Christianity on the line and subjected it to the criticism of others. Treat the blogosphere as a simulator—no one dies when architects create bridges on computers. Let a thousand flowers bloom, take the risk of professional shame and scorn, and take the risk of being wrong. But then we have to move beyond hypothesis and dialectic and begin to tell a Christian myth. We have the ability to create a virtual reality that is more real, more lasting, more important than what appears in a newspaper. The Christian blogosphere shows precious little poetry, and precious little fiction. Lenin told a story of peace, land and bread in a time of revolution and swept Russia.
Final plea: ground Christian blogging in the context of the old. Bring forward the best of what has been and build a new vision of the world on the internet.
Joe Carter: How do we tell stories in a non-fiction context?
Reynolds: DANTE! Hoorah for Dante! (Okay, so I didn’t follow that as well as I should have).
Mark Roberts: Maybe the sphere will widen out again because the technology is so easily.
Reynolds: Email—everyone used email at the start, but once it hit the tipping point, we quit doing creative things with it. YouTube is the latest email—people will flock to it, will forward videos, etc. but then everyone will take it for granted and high quality video will rise to the top. Most of us will settle back into the same pattern of life that was going on in the 18th century. Giving everyone a laptop won’t create more Shakespeare’s. Wikipedia makes use of the aggregate power of the internet, but YouTube is just old media moved online. YouTube is an a new delivery mechanism for old media content. People are successful in EverQuest who aren’t successful in their own lives, but that is totally new. And EverQuest money has real value. The problem with EverQuest is that its mythology doesn’t work well. If we capture the imagination of the next generation then Christian witnessing will be easier. If EverQuest wins, then it will be harder.
The cyberspace world should paint a picture of the world such that people want to live in the real world and transform it. Virtual reality can never replace reality because of pleasure, but because you can not make meaningful pain in virtual reality. Virtual reality will present a reality that will not sedate people, but will baptize their imaginations and help them avoid sin and vice in reality. We run the risk of attacking gaming, or attacking reality tv, and coming to the game too late.
A summary of tonight’s talk: The Velveteen Rabbit.