Some people “live blog” these things. Or tweet them. Or report back quickly from the frontlines like good citizen journalists. I’ve discovered that I’m more poet and essayist than journalist. I need a week or so to let the dust settle in my mind and figure out the real take aways.
Charles T. Lee is one of the takeaways. He’s the brains and the brawn behind IdeaCamp. And he posted his own indirect response to the event in the article Why Presence Does Not Necessitate Body and Its Implications for the Internet where he says:
“In the past year, I’ve found myself speaking often at conferences about social media and the online world… I’m writing this post because of a common kind of question that arises in most places I speak… Can we really be “present” with people online like we are in person?”
Then Charles defines his philosophical suppositions about what it means to be present:
- I hold to substance dualism. This means that I believe that human beings have both physical (i.e., body) and immaterial (i.e., soul) properties.
- My immaterial soul is who I am. My physical body is the medium through which I interact with the physical world. Although my body is continually changing [ask my wife ], my soul is what allows me to have a constant identity. My physically body is less essential than my soul when it comes to issues of identity. For example, say that John, who recently got in an accident, had to amputate his legs. Would he be less John than before? I doubt that any of us would ever dare to make that claim. John’s primary identity is not the accumulation of his physical parts. His souls gives him identity.
- I also recognize that people may define “presence” differently and carry various criteria for what constitutes presence. For the sake and context of this conversation, I’m referring to a common understanding of presence where people sense that you are with them to varying degrees of intimacy. Whether it’s intimate love or deep friendship, it’s the sense that the person you are being “present” with understands to some depth of who you are and what you’re going through.
There are some ideas here that I agree with whole heartedly. I’ve certainly experienced something like real presence with the folks of HighCallingBlogs.com. Sam Van Eman, Bradley Moore, L. L. Barkat, Gordon Atkinson, Chris Cree, Tina Howard, these are all people I consider real friends.
I don’t mean that in some kind of Facebook-y way. I mean they are actual honest to goodness friends. When I’m struggling with ideas or problems, I can call on these people. Some of those guys are my very best friends right now.
So I’m wrestling through these ideas myself. But I was disturbed by a strange argument some folks made at the Christian Web Conference. They said we didn’t need the church to meet physically anymore. (Charles did not say this, mind you.) They said the church could “gather together” online just as legitimately as it could gather together in a building.
I don’t feel threatened by the idea of internet church, but I’m saddened by people who think it can/should replace physical church. Though really, the conversation reveals how limited our understanding of church has become.
Too many of our churches look like this: A big room with three thousand people. Many of them wander in anonymously to sit next to strangers, read hymns or worship songs from a screen, read verses from a screen, watch a preacher on a screen (even if he is also physically present), pass communion while a bad plays softly, and pay their money into the collection plate. (Of course, most megachurches are built on a foundation of small groups.)
If that’s how little we think of church, then move it online. We’ve nothing to lose.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m no luddite. Good gracious, no. And I attended a megachurch in San Antonio–where I would still attend if we hadn’t moved to Kerrville.
But darn it, I have trouble with the idea of dualism. Kudos to Charles for stating it so bluntly. When we fully endorse Internet Church, we are acting out of a belief in dualism. I’m no dualist.
I’ve always considered my body to be an important part of who I am. For example, I have to do something a bit harsh. Charles talks about John (presumably a real person) who could have lost a leg in an accident. He writes, “For example, say that John, who recently got in an accident, had to amputate his legs. Would he be less John than before? I doubt that any of us would ever dare to make that claim.”
I can’t speak for John. But if I lost a leg, I think I would feel that I was less Marcus than before. Obviously, I would still be myself and still have the most important parts of myself. But I would have lost something that was me. I would be a different me.
Another example, I like zombies. You can laugh, but I’m only partially kidding about the whole zombie theology thing. For me, the scariest idea about zombies is that they contain some tiny piece of who they used to be. They are monsters of course (also imaginary), but they horrify us because they are perversions of the people they used to be. They have an eternal inheritance, but it has no spirit and it decays.
But zombie inheritance has a body–and that body contains some piece of the whole person. Zombies are scary not because they are inhuman, but because they are missing the most important parts of their humanity.
A final example. On Monday, my dog died.
I buried him in the yard next to a new tree. When I picked up his dead little body, I had to hold his head. I knew that the best part of him wasn’t there. And yet, there was value in the body. And that value will pass on to the tree. For us some small part of our dog–however small–will always be in that yard in that tree.
Maybe I’m just a hopeless Romantic looking for dogs under my bootsoles like Walt Whitman.