Years ago, Lutheran historical theologian Martin Marty participated in a decade long project exploring fundamentalisms worldwide . One of the most interesting (albeit paradoxical) of his findings was their extreme openness to technological advancements as tools. Cutting edge technology is openly embraced and enlisted in the cause, whatever it may be. Recently I was listening to a presentation on Religion and Transhumanism (a loosely defined but burgeoning thought world exploring what human life is like after “the body,” nanotechnological implants, genetic engineering, consciousness being uploaded etc. –wild stuff), that touched on a similar phenomenon. Fiscal and social conservatives show quite a bit more openness to the exploration of this techno-science, that is, less scruples about potential moral and social issues raised by such thinking according to recent poles. Now cue the nearly weekly addition of another episode of the Mark Driscoll saga, where in he’s been accused of fudging the numbers, so to speak, to get on the NY Times bestseller list.
This got me thinking about a strange resonance here–a continuity worth trying to sniff out…
[Disclaimer: I am not trying to reduce Mark Driscoll to a “fundamentalist.” He is clearly not a Darby-ite , or theologically equivalent to the Religious Right of the 80’s and 90’s, etc. He is however, well right of center on many social issues, which I think evidences a fundamentalism of a certain variety. He has distinct theological and moral affirmations that he consistently uses as religious and cultural litmus tests, a very conservative hermeneutic, and (as Zack Hoag has eruditely shown) increasingly sees his mission as returning America to biblical values–the only thing that might stop the decay. In this sense, he has fundamentalist sympathies and vitriol to say the least.]
Marty’s insights about technology and fundamentalism make sense. Skilled at propagating ideas through media, whether viral internet feeds, or indoctrinational video, the fundamentalist ethos is one which engages the techno-media world for the greater good of dissemination of ideas.
Take Christian fundamentalism. The problem, according to them, is that precisely the wrong teachings having grown out of modernism. The fix? The right fundamentals retaking the high ground. Clearly distilled belief statements, codified moral stances, ideological lines in the sand, fundamentalism is, and trades in, a kind of information and its skillful dissemination. The essentially ‘informational’ nature of fundamentalist ideology is built for media.
Now, I’ve certainly bit off more than I can chew in one post, but I think a strange resonance with these roots rings in Driscoll’s book marketing. The strange resonance I want to point out is how Driscoll and Mars Hill’s recent sketchy techno-marketing campaign, wherein all kinds of devious ways of using technology and media to hit the NY Times bestseller list, is a case of techno-utilitarian reasoning. It justifies it’s techno-marketing with ‘getting the word out’–the precious information dissemination. It seems that the more essential your ideology becomes, the more by-nearly-any-means the task of getting it out becomes. The emphasis is on getting the information out, as Justin Dean the Mars Hill Communications Director notes, “by every means available.”
The nuance of the logic works like this:
We should be very suspicious of culture, especially it’s ‘progressive’ elements: those that talk and think progressively about the human body, gender, socio-political relations, the human relation to the inhuman, save the technologically progressive mediums and marketing tools they birth. These you see, we can baptize and use. This is the kind of progress that’s allowed.
Progressive techno-marketing gets a pass because this is a Laissez-faire theology, with regard to advancements within these arenas. Technology is inherently morally neutral, as economy is right? It’s all about what you’re doing with it. Bodily issues, progressive thought about personhood or whatever, are categorically off limits for review. Technology can be used in a clean, functional, utilitarian way. Techno-market progress has enough of a steely cleanliness too it to where we can make good use of it in our culturally redemptive work. This is the only kind of progress allowed.
Now, villianizing Driscoll or the churches decision making process is certainly not the correct move. Clearly, as Mr. Dean has noted, they try to balance this techno-marketing approach with being “above reproach,” but our emphases always determine our sensitivities and the presumed economy in our theology shapes what we privilege and consider neutral. Going into the deal, the misrepresentation and heaps of money was “above reproach” in the minds of the team making the decision.
It is this move that is scary to me. Call me a primitivist, but I think Jesus seemed much more progressive in his treatment of bodily issues than he would have been with high stakes techno-marketing issues.
What say you though?