Is it possible the Bible is gathering dust on most shelves today because society can no longer take the time to comprehend the deep beauty and power of its words? In his scathing analysis of the fickleness of our postmodern times, author/historian Michael Hoffman argues that we as a civilization need to once again dwell inside the great books of history, beginning with the greatest of all: the Bible. Yet sadly, he observes, we have set it aside because we have lost the aptitude for critical reading with deep concentration because of our near-total immersion in electronic media…
In contrast with (the mediocrity of the modern public), is the precocity of Puritan children who spent a good portion of their youth reading and rereading the Geneva Bible. When Jonathan Edwards gave his famous 18th century fire-and-brimstone sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, members of the congregation clung to the beams that supported the choir loft, lest they be swept away by the power of Edwards’ preaching. What made the Puritan preacher’s homily so awesome? No doubt modern people imagine he was a spellbinding orator, a master of rhetorical flourish, podium-pounding, Bible-thumping and arm-waving.
In truth, Edwards had poor vision, wore eyeglasses and read his sermon from a prepared text, which he held close to his weak eyes, obscuring his face from the congregation who saw nothing more dramatic or fixating than the torso of a man holding a sheaf of papers. It was Edwards’ verbum alone, delivered no doubt in stern and sincere tones, which overwhelmed the people.
The achievement rests in both parties, homilist and auditors. The Puritan preacher was a fine writer and scholar and the congregation was clear and centered enough to permit his words to strike their hearts like the clanging of a great bell. This level of concentration emanates from a degree of attention that develops in the absence of artificially-stimulated, sensory overload. I have said it before but it is worth restating: the hidden wisdom of this age lies not in which we invent but in what we avoid. The assault on our spirit and mind by the multi-tracked stimuli of the modern electronic world is toxic at nearly any level. The sheer accumulation of millions of images swelling like a tide through the circuits is of itself desensitizing. (…)
Those who have spent their lives in front of a television screen or a computer monitor, for the good intention of education or the sordid pursuit of depraved amusement, are both like the cadaver of Frankenstein, they must have ever greater electric shocks administered to them in order that they might come alive. (…)
In the face of this numbing process, information of whatever quality becomes just so much colorful fingerpaint splattered on a wall by a spastic chimpanzee. The poisoned percipient gazes for a second, nods, and then hurries off into an adjacent room to see what’s next. (…) (These days) we can’t endure anything that is too profound. It must first be predigested and packaged in segments and dispensed through computers and videos in bright, pulsating dollops. One does not acquire learning by such means, but rather the illusion of learning. The act of sustained contemplation of the printed page has become a chore, when it is performed at all. (…)
When the Bible calls something holy, it is almost always that which has been set apart. If we aspire to be God’s people, we should set ourselves apart from the empire of the digital. We should refuse it. If we dumb ourselves down to such a degree that we are no longer the People of the Book, or of any books, then on that day we will write our last meaningful word, an epitaph, finis to this civilization of ours.