[Jacques Ellul, *The Technological Bluff*, 1990, Chapter XX, “Terrorism in the Velvet Glove of Technology,” pp. 396-99]
To me, however, the churches seem worst of all. Whether we take the World Council of Churches [Ellul was active in the “ecumenical movement”] or the papacy [he was an “anarcho-Christian,” anti-Catholic and inclined towards Calvinist Puritanism], they have become the privileged agent of technological enthusiasm. They are in a panic lest they should be thought to be behind the times, obsurantist, out of things. To show their good faith and broad-mindedness, they defer. Should they have the audacity to confess to reservations and to raise the question of truth, they are put in their place and told that they have nothing to teach anyone. Reference is naturally made to Galileo (wrongly, for Galileo was not prosecuted, as is said, on the purely astronomical issue). At a pinch it may be conceded that the church can express an opinion on the moral plane, for example, in matters of in vitro fertilization or the freezing of embryos or surragette motherhood [as the Church did in 1968, with the encyclical *Humanae Vitae*]. But never must it meddle in basic matters. Happily, the clergy are only too willing to sound the trumpet to the glory of technique [a word important to Ellul, distinguished from “technology”], signalling, as has been said, “the end of the era of suspicion” [referring to the the Church after Vatican II].
Two recent works point the way. First Michel Boullet [a Catholic priest, who had been a philosopher, author of “Le Choc des Medias” (1986) and became the spokesman for the French Bishops] shows that the hierarchy is increasingly open to artificial “communication.” His path is simple. As the influence of the churches diminishes, they need to become aware of the importance of the media, to invest in this sphere, and to train professionals. (Billy Graham made this discovery half a century ago, but the European exodus from the churches has continued!) Boullet makes the remarkable judgement that fear of the media is not Christian. I am not sure what is Christian, but in any event the effect of the media on their audience, and children in particular, is certainly unlikely to involve the transmission of a grain of truth. Pierre Babin, a former collaborator of McLuhan [Babin, also a priest, interviewed Marshall and published the results, which have been reprinted in “The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion,” 1999], goes much further. The actual status of the church, the thinks, has changed in the communication society. The audiovisual irruption has produced a spiritual renewal (a greater miracle than any at Lourdes!) and has transformed catechesis (as is obvious, though without making children more open to the truth). This is a theological debate into which I do not wish to enter here. I am simply saying that the church's spokespersons now favor broadcasting. A technological wager: The official church has not yet taken up the challenge but it can hardly fail to do so given its traditional sociological conformism and the example of the World Council.
But before going into that, let us examine the vigorous thesis of Babin. Television, he says, has replaced the crucifix in the home and the imagination. The faith of the new generation is also marked more by the emotional and symbolic force of audiovisual media than by the intellectual adherence to a doctrine or dogma. These statements certainly merit reflection. Since when has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ been an intellectual adherence to a dogma? Babin's “Christian reflection” also seems to me to be strangely subject to the primacy of fact (i.e. to that which is the basis of all technological procedure). This is the actual situation, and the church and revelation must be adapted to it. Babin calmly states that pleasure, beauty, and symbol will tomorrow be the privileged paths of faith and the knowledge of God rather than learning. What pleasure? What beauty? Works of modern art inspiring faith in God by their “beauty”? As for symbol, we have already studied the fact that the modern world is opposed to symbols . . .
[Ellul (1912-1994), was raised in Bordeaux by a father who was “initially Orthodox Christian, but then a Voltarian deist by conviction.” By his own account, his work was largely ignored in France but was vigorously taken up in America. In particular, he became the go-to “philosopher” of technology for Robert Hutchins (as suggested to him by Aldous Huxley), a man that McLuhan repeatedly turned to for support (which never arrived). Hutchins went from the University of Chicago to operate the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI) in Santa Barbara, which translated Ellul's “The Technological Society” (1964) and organized two conferences on the topic in the 1960s, which McLuhan attended.]
[“The Technological Bluff” was Ellul's last full-length word on these matters. Within 5 years his wife would die and he took ill. Ellul's “hostility” to the effects of technology have made him a hero to many in the Media Ecology world, including Read Schuschart, who took his PhD under Neil Postman at NYU and has co-written “Understanding Jacques Ellul” (2012), as well as working at Wheaton College, where there is an Ellul archive.]
[While it is understandable that Ellul would take Catholic priests to task after Vatican II, and, in particular, with “Communio et Progressio,” he seems to have missed a more significant French link to McLuhan: Derrick de Kerckhove. Derrick was an actual “collaborator” (unlike Babin &al), initially working as his French translator and then taking over the McLuhan Centre after McLuhan's death (and funding it out of his own pocket), then moving to Europe to become its primary McLuhan “spokesperson.” Derrick has probably done more to spread the false idea there that Marshall viewed TELEVISION as the *environment* for an expanding Catholic faith than anyone else — particularly through his 1991 “La Civilization Video-Chretienne” (1991, not translated).]
[McLuhan's entire corpus was derived from his Catholic conversion in 1937 (at the age of 25). Importantly, he mistakenly imagined that *electricity* would “revive” the Church — against the effects of PRINT — since his own first engagement in the 1930s was known as the “Catholic Renaissance.” He didn't see Vatican II coming and was forced to revise his views in its aftermath. He was asked to join the Pontifical Commission on Social Communications — the hotbed of all that Ellul was railing about — but confided to Fr. Mole that he found its “Communio et Progressio” (the Pastoral Instruction commissioned by the first session of Vatican II in 1963) “futile” and asked if he should “say so in public” (which he didn't).]
[In the 1974 letter to Mole (Letters, p. 489-90), he went on to say, “All of their followers [speaking about phenomenology] are still under the illusion that the acoustic world [which he had once “promoted,” contra the visual bias of PRINT] is spiritual and unlike the outer visual world, whereas, in fact, the acoustic is just as material as the visual . . . The “structuralism” of the European phenomenologists [who had a significant role in Vatican II] is the audile-tactile world I know very well, since I use it at all times myself. The logical, rational world is visual, continuous, and connected, but when pushed to its limits, flips into the acoustic form . . . What I am coming to is the question of the Magisterium . . . the whole question of Roman authority becomes crucial . . . The electric transformation causes us to resist and to reject the old visual culture [for what Walter Ong called “Secondary Orality”], regardless of its value or relevance. These kinds of psychic oscillation resulting from large environmental change are no longer necessary, any more than the plague. Psychic diseases can now be treated for what they are, namely manifestations of the response to man-made technologies . . . The psychic effects of TV are no more neccessary than the physical effects of polluted drinking water. As long as people persist in ignoring the subliminal and hidden effects of media on psyche and society, they will attribute these things to the “will of God.”]
Credit: Mark Stahlman – Center for Digital Life