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}

REAL Happy Meals–an Interview in (at) Christianity Today

The current issue of Christianity Today features an interview with me by the truly lovely LaVonne Neff–who really knows how to ask insightful questions–and it’s online now here.

But to tempt you to make your way on over, here are a few samples:

Eating with joy is great, but lots of us get downright giddy—and our joy eventually becomes diabetes and heart disease. Shouldn’t we worry about that?

Diet-related illness is serious, and it disproportionately affects people who are poor, so it’s something to worry about on multiple fronts. Childhood obesity is a problem, too. But I don’t think joy and that old word temperance (meaning moderation) are mutually exclusive. Joy in food should include awareness of the things God cares about. God cares about those who are hungry, those who suffer the effects of a nutrient-poor but calorie-rich diet, those who must work in farm fields and slaughterhouses at low wages and in unsafe conditions. Thinking about the real people and serious issues involved in food can encourage us in temperance.

Joy isn’t a free-for-all. It’s the deep pleasure that comes by slowing down, recognizing God’s gift, remembering those who don’t have enough, appreciating the labor and resources involved in bringing the food to the table, and purposefully eating with others. If other cultures can blend pleasure in eating with relatively low rates of diet-related disease (as do the French, as do the Italians), so can we.

So what do you do if your kids’ grandparents regularly stuff them with things that aren’t good for them?

{click through for the answer}

Some of LaVonne’s other questions:

Is the evangelical community starting to pay more attention to joy in the created order?

You quote N. T. Wright on the importance of “the small but significant symbolic act.” If a Christian wants to eat joyfully, what’s a good symbolic act to start with?

{and you can read the rest here. If you like what you read, it’s always nice to share. xo}

The Best Healthcare in the World

LaVonne Neff, an editor, writer, and blogger I admire, has written an excellent post on healthcare entitled “Rationing is not a four-letter word”; it was called to my attention by my good friend Ellen Painter Dollar.

Ellen writes:

One of LaVonne’s strengths is her ability to write about current policy debates from a faith angle, and to do so convincingly without being strident.

LaVonne writes:

We Americans are smart. We could find a way to provide necessary medical care for everybody. Perhaps someday, when all our present Members of Congress have finally passed away, a totally new set of lawmakers will figure out how to do it. But first we’re going to have to realize that rationing can be a tool used for the common good, or it can be a buzzword used to scare people who haven’t noticed that haphazard rationing–our present nonsystem–is the cruelest approach of all.

and LaVonne again:

When you add government expense to private expense, American health care is 65% more expensive than France’s and 100% more expensive than the U.K.’s. And for that, what do we get?

Well, you know what I’m going to say…

 

The Spirit of Food

It’s been a while since I’ve featured a book for Weekend Eating Reading, so up this week for your consideration is Leslie Leyland Fields’ edited volume The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God. There are essays by Ann Voskamp, Lauren Winner, Kirstin Vander Giessen-Riestma, and LaVonne Neff, among many others.

{LaVonne Neff’s–“My (Self-Righteous) Food-Stamp Fast,” which is about her 6-week experiment in living on a food-stamp budget, was one of my favorites; as was Kirstin Vander Giessen-Riestma’s, which was about deciding whether “eating or abstaining is the highest act of love,” in other words–negotiating personal and ethical food preferences when eating with others. But they are all very, very much worth reading.}

Plus, each essay ends with a recipe!

If you are new to thinking about the intersection of faith and food–or even if you’re not, you will want to put this on your to-read list.

You can listen to an audio interview with Leslie Leyland Fields {here.}

You can read an essay by Leslie that appeared in Christianity Today {here.}

And, of course, you can purchase Leslie’s book {here.}

Enjoy the weekend!