Friday, February 20, 2009

Flickering Pixels: CH 4

In his recent book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell attributes mathematical success of the Chinese people to their alphabet. The argument is intriguing: Because their pictographic language better represents numbers--unlike our abstract numerical symbols--the Chinese have a head-start on counting, fractions, and virtually all other functions of arithmetic (see pp. 228-230).

Gladwell uses language to illustrate that success is an outgrowth of inherited cultural circumstances. Any good Calvinist would nod his head and agree: Our legacies are tainted by predetermined factors.

Case and point, the Western alphabet has done as much to shape our thinking as any other technology (e.g., printing press, clock, steam engine, telegraph, Internet). Perhaps these latter technologies have only sped the progress of Western imperialism, but the alphabet is the cornerstone to a rationalistic-efficient-progressive lifestyle (pg. 46).

Shane Hipps exposes this concept in Chapter 4 of Flickering Pixels, "Dyslexia and Deception." The author himself was the victim of the titled learning disability, a predetermined 'stain' on his primary education. (That his writing is so effective makes a case for a capacity to overcome biological limitations.)

Neurological research has exploded in the past few decades, and insight into the interaction between left- (rational) and right- (creative) brained thinking is a popular topic (see, A Whole New Mind or The Rise of the Creative Class). Dyslexia has its benefits, a stronger short-term memory, ability to see the 'big picture,' and an artistic bent (pg. 42).

But the real contribution of the chapter is Hipps's clear statement that our way of writing and reading 'restructures the worldview of entire civilizations' (pg. 42). In other words, our writing reflects our thinking reflects our writing. Westerners use a phonetic alphabet, so that meaningful letters combined together make meaningful sounds and in meaningful contexts they mean something. This works left-to-right. Hipps summarizes, "[T]he phonetic alphabet is linear, sequential, and abstract..." (pg. 44).

If you follow Hipps's (linear) argument, the way we read/write affects our faith (pg. 45). The rest of the chapter gives evidence to how Western thinking has produced an 'efficiency gospel' (pp. 45-48). One surprising example was the way the alphabet influenced our physical environment. "After the printing press, church seating started to mirror the page of a book" (pg. 47).

But more alarming, Hipps suggests that the work of the evangelist even became a slave to efficiency. He uses words like reshaped, compressed, and reduced to describe the treatment of the gospel (pg. 48). The evangelist became a giver of formulas (confess sins + receive Jesus = heaven), not a teller of stories. Paul became the biblical spokesperson for the Western gospel, whereas the sermons of the pre-literate church tended toward allegory and parable (pg. 49).

The consequence of such literacy is 'a belief that the gospel could be established and received only through reason and fact' (pg. 49). In other words, systematic theology and inductive Bible study dominate emotive worship and meditative prayer.

God is read, not heard.
God is studied, not felt.
Christians are dutiful, not passionate.

Follow this train of thinking (pg. 50) too long, and you have a church filled with Christians who have suppressed their hearts so long that love, energy, strength, and ambition, 'resurrect in the form of something more meddlesome' (pg. 51). Hence we have apologists in our church who abuse their children, and teachers in our classes who cheat on their spouses, and leaders in our youth groups who cut themselves in bedrooms.

Suppressing emotion and ignoring desire is damning. Albeit, rejecting logic and embracing mysticism is likewise foolish. And since every tribe and tongue will worship God in heaven, we cannot claim one language as the biblical language. Mind (left-brain) and heart (right-brain) are both essential to faith.
Integrity Check (these words included):
Hipps words: 61
My words: 632
Percentage: 10.0%

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