Friday, May 27, 2005

Athens in Cyberland

Before recounting Paul's address to the Areopagus, Luke offers the following parenthetical description of the Athenian climate: "Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (Acts 17:21). This once great city was a draw for people who trafficked in ideas -especially those hot off the mental press. New philosophies were to Athens what fashion is to Manhattan's Seventh Avenue. This reputation for being a city populated by people with a craving for novelty was long-standing. Richard Longenecker, in his commentary on Acts, cites Cleon, a fifth-century BC politician and general, as telling his fellow Athenians: "You are the best people at being deceived by something new that is said."

There is nothing new under the sun, including our ravenous desire for what is novel. Aren't we frequently driven by the lust (and I don't think that's too strong a word) for something new? I think about the time I've wasted glued to some cable news channel fearful that I might miss a breaking story or further developments of a major story already out. In an attempt to keep the viewing audience tuned in, it's not uncommon for the hosts of one news program to talk with the host of the following program. Hannity & Colmes, for instance, after saying about everything that could possibly be said about the major story of the day will ask Greta Van Susteren what's coming up on her show. "Well, Sean, we'll be covering the latest breaking news on the story you've been talking about," she says. Translation: "I'll be taking a few more swings at the horse you and Alan just beat to death." Still, I watch just in case there really is something new.

The hunger for newness is also quite apparent in the church. How many times have you heard someone, after hearing a sermon, say with disappointment, "He didn't say anything I didn't already know" or "I didn't learn anything new"? Those of us charged with the task of preaching and teaching are equally afflicted by the quest for the uncommon. We may, at times, be embarrassed to declare familiar truths to God's people, forgetting that informing is only one goal of biblical proclamation. Reminding believers of what they already know is of equal value. Understanding this is what led Peter to write:
Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder (2 Peter 1:13, ESV, emphasis mine)
The Athenians would love the blogosphere. Some items on others' blogs made me consider how blogging appeals to the Athenian spirit and may even nurture it. Last month Justin Taylor, with tongue in cheek, began a post commenting on a year-old article with these words:

I know blogging is supposed to be cutting edge, commenting on the latest article to appear and what not. I’m also aware that my blogging credentials might be revoked for highlighting an ancient article (from 2004). But I’m willing to take that risk.
In an insightful piece called Recovering Wisdom in the Blogosphere Joe Carter wrote:

Almost every blog has an archive listed by date and category but the average blog reader will never take advantage of this resource. Why? Because we assume that anything that was written in the past (i.e., last month) will be of little relevance today. We accept the absurd notion that the latest news is more necessary for understanding our times than the past. But, to paraphrase the historian Arnold Toynbee, the blogger trying to understand the present is like the man with his nose pressed against the mirror trying to see his whole body.

In addition to making us intolerant of what is old and known, our craving for the current can train us to readily dismiss anything that requires sustained attention. I speak from experience. The confession of an anonymous commenter in response to one of my previous posts could easily be mine:

The scary thing for this "cognitive tourist" is that I find myself scanning for and reading the shortest blog entries and articles most of the time. Even if a blog entry title is something that peaks my interest I will most likely skip it if it looks too lengthy! I almost skipped over [your post] due to it's length... sad, I know. With so many great blogs out there and great links one is left with the sense that there is just no time to stop and think too long. You just have to keep going and going so you don't miss anything, but in the end you end up digesting very little.


Tom said...

I surfed upon your post while sitting in front of my computer, converting old cassette tapes to digital files. I was really enjoying the musical nostalgia trip, having long neglected these babies since the advent of cd's.
As a huge music fan and musician, I've spent countless hours/weeks/months/years hunting down "fresh" new sounds. Tonight was a double-whammy reminder to slow down, and re-visit what I already own/know. Thanks. I think I'll dive into the OT before I go to sleep. :-)

KP said...

You're welcome, Tom. And thank you for your words of appreciation.

Martin LaBar said...

Found your "Athens in Cyberland," thanks to Joe Carter. Let's put it this way: I subscribed to your blog. Thanks.

KP said...

Thank YOU, Martin. I'm glad to have you as a reader but now I have added pressure to come up with something new. :-)