Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Too Much Information Gets Processed...

Reading why so many young people are leaving/have left the Church (like there is no shortage of articles from that perspective), I encountered the response of a twenty-something who suggested that young people are adept at processing information or, to put it literally, cutting through the crap to get to the point.

My generation grew up in a world inundated with information. We process so much of it that we've become very good at sifting through what is meaningful and true and what isn't. Necessarily, we intuitively detect any sort of falsehood or duping and are repulsed by it.

After thinking about that statement, I am more and more convinced that this is the conventional wisdom but it is patently false.  Young people surely have grown up in a world inundated with information -- who would dispute that?  The internet has spawned a new era of information overload.  What I challenge is the idea that that they have learned to handle such information well, sifting through what is meaningful and true and what is crap, or that they have innate sensors to detect and reject half-truth or falsehoods.

I believe that this is exactly the problem with youth (and those not so young).  They are NOT good at sifting through and have made very poor choices about what is truth and what is falsehood, what is urgent and what is trifling.  If effect, we have learned in our information age to gorge ourselves at the altar of insignificant knowledge while ignoring that which is important and life-transforming.  All the media available to us have not made us wiser or helped us make wiser choices.  They have helped us escape from meaningful choices and hide in the shadows of the inconsequential.  Read over the usual stuff posted on facebook or tweeted and you do not find eloquence or wisdom but mountains of triviality and self-indulgence.  I do not blame them and I do not blame the technology but neither can I ignore the false images that have accompanied our foray into social networking, 24/7 internet, and lives defined or lived out on YouTube.

Young people are rejecting the Church for various reasons (hardly any of them really new or different from the same temptations that have plagued youth all along).  But it is hardly because they are better at sifting through the crap to find what is true and treasure.  Just the opposite.  Youth and those not so young have the common problem of being blindsided by so much information, by an instinct guided more by desire and feeling than fact, and by a sense of truth which generally only one person wide and one moment deep.  In the face of this all, it often requires a life changing circumstance or threat to awaken us to our own weakness.

I wonder if you cannot hear some of this in Steven Jobs' address to graduates that has been making its rounds of the social media and internet.  He laments a past which was lost to him until the threat of death made things more clear to him.  In my own heart, I hope and pray that this is an oblique reference to the Small Catechism and its teaching of the Gospel in that Lutheran faith in which Steven Jobs was raised.  God knows, I do not.  But his point is not lost to us.  All the I-stuff in the world makes little difference if the I we are is a lie.  It seems to me that youth and those not so young are equally situated to live the lie rather than in the light of Him who is the way, the truth and the life.  What I pray for are those teaching and teachable moments created when technology, feeling, and desire cannot fix what ails us, when we look into the mirror and find that the emperor's clothing is a myth and we are still naked, vulnerable, and subject to death.  When that happens, the Gospel becomes the one and only word that makes any difference.


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think I'd modify this - I think as young people today have to sift through so much information, they are more inclined to make snap decisions and quick judgments... this doesn't say anything about the quality of those decisions - but quick judgments tend to be standard. And there isn't even a focus on "reevaluation" -- if your mind is changed, it is because of another snap decision (and the former snap decision is forgotten). This also explains why there can be such inconsistency -- there is a consistency of the method of decision making, but not a logical consistency of thought or principals. It's totally reactionary based upon the likes of the moment.

I'd also chalk part of this up not just to information overload and the internet, but also the way education has moved. There has been more of a movement to hearing how a person responds, how they react to information rather than having them learn information and then analyze it. The question that is common is no longer "what does the mean" but "what does this mean to you." We've been taught to respond before we are taught to evaluate... so the art of actually evaluating, of breaking down information has been lost.

All that being said - society has worked much on bombarding people to entice them to make a snap decision. As such, when a rank amateur (such as someone who wants to be trendy or authentic or whatever the hip word is now) tries to entice that snap decision, more people are able to see that it is poor... not on an absolute "is this truth" level, but on a "does this move me - does this speak to me" level.

Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

The spirit of the age is cynicism, which is typically mistaken for wisdom. The overwhelming amount of imformation (good and bad) available on every subject tends to fuel the overall impression that either all is a lie, or there are many 'truths.' Either way there is nothing you can be sure of which tends to leave young people with what appears to me to be chronic despair. What they need is what is sure and true, God's name, God's Word, Christ the perfect atonment for their sins. The way the truth and the light, just like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Youth in our culture do not believe
in absolute truth. Everything is
relative. You have your truth and I
have my truth and nobody is wrong.

The problem is this: Our youth do not
accept Biblical truth as absolute.
For example Co-habitation is a sin
against the 6th Commandment. But
youth believe the 10 Commandments are
obsolete and do not apply to them.
Everything starts with Biblical truth

Terry Maher said...

Pastor Brown is exactly right. And, so is your point that these challenges are nothing new. Every age is an information age. What is different about ours is the quantity of it and the means of dissemination. The challenges remain the same.

Ever since the ancient Greeks how to evaluate information has been an acknowledged factor. This is an issue, Christian or not. What is a strong argument, what is a weak argument, how can a weak argument appear strong, how can an argument that is strong appear weak -- these are things one learns, they are not native.

To be learned, they must be taught. They are not being taught. And that is the problem. We routinely say "I feel" when we mean "I think", which is far from a conversational convention but exactly reflects a shift from "What does this mean" to "What does this mean to me".

What if it means nothing to me, but it should? What if it means everything to me, but it shouldn't? What if what it means to me is not what it means? What if I have accepted as a strong argument one that is in fact weak. or vice versa?

Not only is how to evaluate -- process, as they say -- information not taught, the Weltanschauung does not believe there are such things to teach. Existence precedes essence. Meaning is created, not inherent.

Thus we have information as never before, but less knowledge than ever.

Terry Maher said...

Everything does not start with Biblical truth. Christian and non-Christian alike have the same problem. A person who does not think there is truth will hardly have ears for one who claims to have it to share. The sharer becomes just one more voice trying to make his subjective the objective for everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I blame the parents. The youth were never taught absolute truth and most have been socially isolated much of their lives. They have smaller faith communities and spend less time with family and church family than they do in the public school, watching tv and secular activities. We have isolated them from those who teach the truth and drowned them their entire childhood in anti Christian culture. Why would we be surprised that young people raised in a 95% anti Christian environment with little support or meaningful contact with Christian ideas or Christians end up ignoring the little Christian content he was exposed to?

Also, the anti marriage message is almost as rampant in churches as it is in the secular world. The message from the church is not the healthy Christian message of getting married rather it is abstinence. Well of course the alternative is more attractive than abstinence. It also makes youth suspicious when the biblical message of marriage and family is such and extreme contrast with the actual message taught at church which is abstinence and college and careers and materialism, which is eerily similar to the message of the world except with what seems pointless loss of consortium added in.

Anonymous said...

As we celebrate the Reformation
this month, we remember that Martin
Luther started with Biblical truth
to make his stand against Roman
Catholic man-made tradition and
papal decrees. Roman Catholics
place Scripture and Tradition as
equals. Lutherans say nothing is
equal to Holy Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Steve Jobs address to Stanford
University graduates in 2005 was
a capsule summary of Zen Buddhism.
"Don't trust the dogma of others,
simply be true to your inner self and
find your own way

Terry Maher said...

Actually, Catholicism does not place Scripture and Tradition as equals. It is Revelation, which comes in two aspects of the same whole, Scripture and Apostolic Tradition, neither of which are assuredly understood apart from that to which Revelation has been given, the Church. From this mindset then, sola acriptura is a recipe for disaster, ripping Scripture apart from the fulness od Revelation and out from the context in which it is revealed.

The two concepts are actually farther apart than most Lutherans think. And the debate in Luther's time would not happen at all now, when that there is a truth is not a universal belief, within which it can be argued that it is Scripture alone or Scripture and Apostolic Tradition as one revealed Truth.