Prof. Iwan Russell-Jones (Regent)
07 March 2014 (Fri)
According to legend, Thamus, the King of the Egyptian pantheon, criticised the god, Theuth, for his invention of writing. Far from being a positive development in human history, Thamus viewed it as a dangerous new technology that would lead to the impoverishment of memory and consciousness. The God of the Bible appears to have had no such qualms, personally inscribing the Ten Commandments onto tablets of stone, and gate-crashing Belshazzar's feast to write a personal message on the wall for the Babylonian king. Nevertheless, down through the centuries the relationship between communications technologies and culture has often been turbulent. In recent times, many religious and secular critics – including Neil Postman, Jacques Ellul and Jean Baudrillard –have argued that Thamus has been proved correct, particularly with respect to electronic media. It is claimed that television and the internet have created a fragmented consciousness, eroding the distinction between truth and illusion, fantasy and reality, and contributing to a loss of human meaning. Do contemporary communications technologies stand condemned in the courts of heaven and earth? Isn't it possible that such technologies will also contribute to the flourishing – rather than the diminution – of the human spirit?
Prof Iwan Russell-Jones is an award-winning filmmaker, theologian, and writer. He has over 25 years of experience as a producer and director for the BBC, in both television and radio. His documentaries include The Crucified King (BBC1 2003) and American Prophet (BBC2 2008), exploring the religious dimensions of Martin Luther King Jr.'s leadership of the civil rights movement. For four years, Iwan taught at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, where he set up a new department to explore the interaction between faith, media, and contemporary culture. Iwan is currently the Eugene and Jan Peterson Associate Professor of Theology and the Arts at Regent College.