A Christianity that is still reeling from Enlightenment rationalism and from contemporary technopoly tends to see the faith in informational terms. Christianity becomes a set of ideas to be transmitted, and if one can see and hear what is being communicated, then worship is thought to be largely occurring. Everything can be reduced to sights and sounds: audio-visual information.
Our technologies have come a long way from when John wrote, likely using a reed-pen on a papyrus sheet, “I had many things to write, but I do not wish to write to you with pen and ink; but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face.” (3 Jn. 1:13-14)
In the centuries since then, we developed better forms of paper, codexes, and the printing press. Still, the delay between writing a message and receiving it was still significant. The electric telegraph of 1837 produced the first nearly instantaneous communication, followed by the telephone in 1876, radio communications in 1907. By the year 2000, the Internet had brought myriads of new forms of instant communication. Increasing Internet speeds have driven the web from being mostly text to becoming the next form of television. In the last 10 years or so we finally have what we’d watched on Star Trek all those years ago: a live, full-colour image of another person we’re talking to.
Skype, Zoom, Connect, Facetime, WhatsApp and many more have added “living” colour to our communications. It has enabled cheap international conference calls, distance education, cheaper broadcasts of live events, and a host of depraved uses, too.
The Covid-19 crisis has forced most churches to use some form of these technologies in some context: whether it was actual services, or video calls with members or leadership meetings. And it has also forced us to ask, how close are these forms of communication to the “real thing”?