Overcoming the Presentism Bias in the Blogosphere

As Maria Popova (creator and curator of the popular Brain Pickings blog) pointed out in a recent interview for Copyblogger, online culture “fetishizes the new(s),” forgetting all the knowledge and wisdom that’s come before us.

Popova calls this “our presentism bias,” which is “anchored in the belief that if it isn’t at the top of Google, it doesn’t matter, and if it isn’t Googleable at all, it doesn’t exist.”

As Popova points out, this “presentism” is often a form of arrogance—one that assumes that “no one has ever grappled with the issues we’re grappling with. Which of course is tragically untrue.”

Lewis argues that Christians need “a standard of plain, central Christianity … which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.”

In Christian culture, this can translate into thinking that the current “hot-button” theological or Church issues are things Christians have never dealt with before.

Ours is a culture where people rush to tweet articles even before they’ve finished reading them, and in the Christian blog and Twittersphere, many of us find ourselves feeling like Rachel Held Evans, who recently confessed to feeling a bit out of her depth when called upon to comment on theological matters and the current state of the church at Christian colleges and on CNN: “[I’m] upsetting apple carts I didn’t even mean to upset, apparently making theological statements I didn’t even know existed.”

This idea reminds me of an essay of C.S. Lewis’ introducing a very old book by a third century church father, Athanasius of Alexandria. Presciently—almost as if he were aware of all the heated blog-and-Twittersphere battles over women’s roles in the church, modesty, sexuality, sovereignty or the atonement—Lewis argues that Christians need “a standard of plain, central Christianity … which puts the controversies of the moment in their proper perspective.”

And to put controversies of the moment in their proper perspective, Lewis argues we need to read old books.

We need old books not because they are necessarily better or somehow infallible (“People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we,” Lewis writes, “but not the same mistakes”) but because to read only new books is to join “at 11 o’clock a conversation that began at eight,” and thus to be unable to understand fully all that is going on.

The New Testament itself is in deep conversation with the Old Testament; it’s difficult to understand the former without the latter; Christianity is a conversation that has been going on for two thousand years.

We can’t even hope to wade into deeper waters in thinking about faith if all we’re reading are the writings of the moment.

As someone who’s still trying to wade into deeper waters, I asked a few experienced readers what resources they would recommend to Christians who’d like to avoid “presentism” in their own reading and thinking about faith, and I’d like to share some of their insights for those of you eager to move beyond the shallows.

{continue reading at RELEVANT}

The Groaning Table

I have a guest post on the Slow Church blog, which is written by my friend and fellow forthcoming IVP author Chris Smith (also of Englewood Review of Books. Chris recently asked a number of friends to read, reflect, and write on Wendell Berry’s essay “Health is Membership.” Here’s my contribution.

The Groaning Table

My grandmother was born at home in New York City in 1925 – exactly the time when more and more women, especially city women, began to choose hospital over home as the place to have babies. It wasn’t that my great-grandmother was afraid of the hospital or of doctors; or that she wanted to keep the baby away from sick people who might have contaminated the hospital halls. Rather, it was that she’d heard that the hospital didn’t have very good food.

I remember great-grandma Katherine the way you remember a dream by the mid-afternoon, in random yet related pieces. When I think of her, I see first a shadowy image of her – a tall, square-shouldered woman – in a chair, which cuts quickly to a snapshot of her smiling over a plump, baby version of me in a garish vinyl seat. There’s also a 5-second clip of the two of us laughing over the black dog, Chloe, who prances and plays a piece of red blanket. And that is it. The rest of what I know is what I have been told.

She was born in the 19th century to a mother who had left Ireland in the potato famine and who then married a horse trainer that she met on the steps of the 42nd Street library. She had influenza in the pandemic of 1918; she spent a year in bed and recovered. This is a fact my grandmother will refer repeatedly to as evidence, first, that we are the inheritors of ‘hardy genes’; second, that resting in bed is the best medicine for a cold; third, that, before going to bed with a cold, you should have a hot toddy made with Christian Brothers brandy, a remedy of Irish Catholic grandmothers, never known to fail.

I want to believe all of this so much; to exist someplace where the advice to drink a hot toddy and go to bed when I’m feeling achy and congested is solid wisdom (not antiquated and vaguely irresponsible) while the advice to take some drops of echinacea and zinc and continue dragging myself through my routines is dangerous and faddish. To live in a world where a woman’s decision to give birth at home because she knows that, at home, the food will be good is sensible, not selfish.

{Continue reading the rest at the Slow Church blog…}