DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Face to face is the alternative to “alone together”

Written by: on April 11, 2014

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Jardine starts his book, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society by directly launching into the concerns he has about the state of American and Western society. He notes:

My essential argument is very straightforward. First, present-day Western societies are in the grip of a profound moral crisis, and this crisis lies in the inability of modern people to make moral sense of the human creative powers- that is, the human capacities to change the world-manifested in technology.[1]

Admittedly, when I started reading Murray’s book and was met with the lamentation of “a profound moral crisis” in the Western hemisphere, as mentioned in the previous quote, I thought what’s next? Is this going to be another call to galvanize Christians in the Western towards a “moral majority” to just say no? Jardine, is in fact heading a rather different direction with a critical eye and voice armed with the claim:

… that present-day Western societies are indeed facing a moral crisis, and that this crisis is far more profound than most people realize; the danger of terrorism is by comparison minor and indeed is best understood as one manifestation of this crisis. Specifically, I will argue that the source of this crisis is our inability to make moral sense of our scientific and technological capabilities-the very capacities that most people regard as making human progress possible.[2]

So it is likely that the “moral crisis” might not be another rant per se. Even though Murray’s seminal work tracks technological life all the way to pre-modernity, I caught myself immediately drawn to the incredible enginuity of the World Wide Web. I began to wonder as to what extent the moral crisis the author mentions might be connected to the great technological innovations of the twenty first century such as, Facebook, tweeter, Instagram, YouTube, Tumblr, cable TV and so forth. I was curious about virtual reality communities and multimedia platforms that do not encourage a physically “faithful presence”, but rather excessively esteemed quagmire of alone together, even with the facebook culture of accruing numerous “likes”.

In order to provide a well around view, Jardine’s structures the book in way that it “…is divided in three parts, which correspond to the three parts of the three parts of the argument”[3] and the body work is successful laid out in twelve chapters. Jardine breaks down the three parts as follows:

The first part examines in detail the evolution and moral crisis of modern technological societies. The second expands the historical scope of the discussion, examining the emergence of Christianity in the ancient pagan world and the development of modern societies from Christina culture. Finally, the third part discusses what a transformed Christianity would be like, and the concrete social practices such a transformed Christianity would be like and the concrete social practices such a transformed Christianity would undertake to build a moral order that can make sense of modern technology.[4]

But what is this moral crisis Jardine seeks to elucidate? In order to provide a detailed account of the crisis, the author sees it necessary to delve into the historical formation of the moral disaster. Although I am not going to do justice to Murray is impressive historical layout suffice it to realize that in chapter one, Jardine discusses “liberalism, Conservatism, Capitalism, and Democracy”[5]. All these previous doctrines, fallowed the Western societal grounds for the philosophy of individual freedom and thus individualism to take root. According to Jardine:

The terms “liberal” and “conservative” first took on political meanings during the nineteenth century. “Liberal” came to refer to a set of political ideas, or an ideology, and a corresponding political movement, that attempted to replace the aristocratic political and social system then existing in Europe with one that it thought that everyone could develop liberal qualities of Character, and so a political system that provided freedom for all people should be established (“All people” initially meant all men,[may I also add that due to the high prevalence of racism, “all men” was not objectivity inclusive of non-white men] but by the latter part of the nineteenth century liberalism was also committed to freedom of women.” …….  The most fundamental feature of liberalism, then, is its individualism.[6]

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I enjoyed reading Jardine’s overall analysis of Western technological societies because I acquired a better understanding of the issue of individualism and its contribution to the moral decadence in the West among many fascinating themes. Murray asserts, “The most fundamental feature of liberalism then is its individualism[7].

In my opinion, there is a distinction to be made between a healthy dose of individuality and individualism. I believe, the former seeks to be self-aware about one’s embrace of his or her uniqueness, diversity and reality of being a bearer of God’s image in society; while the latter has much to do with protecting self-interests, regardless of the cost on others in society. Individualism is a systemic detachment from community and in the present day, it is at the core of the, “I- generational identity”- well represented in the old saying, “me, myself and I”. No wonder technologically astute businesses, brilliantly capitalize on marketing their products in the I- fashion. For example, “ipad”. But Jardine shows:

“……individualism is the fundamental flaw in liberalism. This is true in two senses. First, as a model of what human beings are and how human beings could ever live, the ideal of the fully independent individual is simply unrealistic. People are social beings, dependent on others in innumerable ways. As infants, people are completely dependent on other humans; as children, they learn how to speak and think from others; as adult they must cooperate with other people to meet even their basic physical [spiritual] needs.[8]……the second fatal flaw in liberal individualism is a logical consequence of the first. As liberalism attempts t put into practices the model of society as nothing more than a collection of independent persons, the eventual result is complete social disintegration. By destroying the social bonds that allow humans to function, liberalism reduces people to isolated, confused, helpless individuals, thus actually destroying any possibility of free action by those individuals.[9]

Indeed, individualism and its excessive expressions that culminate to modes of self-love, are part and parcel of Western society’s profound moral predicament. How counter intuitive such a ideology is! Jardine further refers to Alexis de Tocqueville’s critique of individualism as “rather, paradoxically leading to tyranny.”[10]  Such a collapse into one’s self, “…causes people to become isolated, and isolated people are easily controlled.”[11]

However, for every low there is high, and in contrast to individualism, Jardine, again, refers to Tocqueville’s conception of “voluntary associations”.[12] They can be defined as:

…association of individuals working together to achieve a common goal, such as civic associations, social service organizations, fraternal orders, women’s clubs, youth organizations, conservation groups, volunteers fire departments, and many others. These organizations have historically built and developed schools, hospitals, theaters, libraries, museums, and many other public institutions and services.[13]

So how does the above perspective impact the Western Church and Christianity? Perhaps, repentance from an individualistic Christianity and the politicization of faith, might allow people to catch a glimpse of faith, hope and love along with the ideas that require intentional community. For example, people should be encouraged to take seriously Jardine’s assertion:

“………that the biblical anthropology contains both a conception of human creativity and a conception of moral limits on that creativity……… In particular we need to examine closely how the biblical conception of human agency does place moral limits on human creativity; this is really our central issue.” [14]

Furthermore, that “……the ethical concept of speech-based place, which….articulates the biblical conception place, and show it can be applied to concrete social situations through places of faithfulness. More specifically,……that the Christian ethic of unconditional love or to be more exact, the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love, are what allow this conception of place to st moral limits on human action”[15]

I believe Jardine is attempting to redress the catastrophic nature of “Christian community”, which has it’s genesis in historical misgivings. He also point out the lack of a healthy understanding of biblical anthropology in the Western Church. May God help us all practice a face to face relational life, were we “speak and listen” to one another and strive to spend less of our relational capital on virtual mediums of communication and materialism, which promises a “alone together” sense of community.


[1] Murray Jardine, The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society: How Christianity Can Saver Modernity From Itself, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2004, 9.

[2] Ibid., 14.

[3] Ibid., 9.

[4] Ibid.,

[5] Ibid., 3.0.

[6] Ibid., 31.

[7] Ibid.,

[8] Ibid., 32.

[9]   Ibid

[10] Ibid., 133

[11] Ibid

[12] Ibid., 159.

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid., 235.

[15] Ibid., 236.

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Michael Badriaki

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