The Vanishing Word: A Review

“In the beginning was the image, and the image was with God, and the image was God.” Of course, that’s not how it John 1:1 goes exactly, but considering how the visual image has replaced the written word it doesn’t sound so peculiar when aligned with today’s culture.

This veneration of the visual image is the subject of Arthur W. Hunt III’s book, The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World. I found the book to be very convicting both of the culture at large and myself. The thesis of the book is that Western Civilization has devolved from a word-based culture to an image based culture, now resembling many aspects of ancient pagan idolatry.

Hunt makes his case well, first giving a history how both word and image-based cultures developed. He highlights the medieval period’s “Dark Ages,” where literacy was held only by a select few and the general populace was more focused on imagery than words. Hunt contrasts this with the Reformation’s efforts to make the people literate once again by putting the Bible in the hands of the laity as well as setting up schools to be sure that people could read it.

The author goes on to illustrate how show business, among other things, has aided a gradual return to an image-centric culture. Postmodernism, which Hunt defines as “a rejection of rationality and an embrace of spectacle,” has set the scene for an image-based culture to gain even greater influence—and vice versa. While it’s not the most comprehensive definition of postmodernism (after all, “definition” is the chagrin of postmodernism), I do think that it is an accurate one. People who do not read are less likely to be able think rationally, and words lose their meaning. What is left for communication if not the image?

This book really hits home when Hunt speaks of some of the consequences of image-making. Citing Daniel Boorstin’s 1961 book, The Image, Hunt tells us:

“Americans not only confused the copy with the original, but that we actually preferred the copy to the original. News was no longer gathered, it was made. Gone were the days of the traveler, a word derived from travail. Instead we use the word tourist, a mere pleasure-seeker in a sea of fabricated attractions. We no longer have heroes, people known for their achievements. Instead, we have celebrities, persons known for their well-knownness.

The celebrity is, of course, the uber image of the day. Hunt’s thesis is difficult to dispute in light of the popularity of television shows like American Idol.

The Vanishing Word is not a “kill your television” manifesto, but it is an enlightening and convicting book that warns us to be wary of our devotion to images and to cling to the ultimate, written Word of God. Read it.

Marriage Swedish Chef Style

Stanley Kurtz’s article in the Weekly Standard frighteningly shows how the decline of marriage (and subsquent allowance of gay marriage) has virtually destroyed the concept of the family in Scandinavian countries:

SCANDINAVIA has long been a bellwether of family change. Scholars take the Swedish experience as a prototype for family developments that will, or could, spread throughout the world. So let’s have a look at the decline of Swedish marriage.

In Sweden, as elsewhere, the sixties brought contraception, abortion, and growing individualism. Sex was separated from procreation, reducing the need for “shotgun weddings.” These changes, along with the movement of women into the workforce, enabled and encouraged people to marry at later ages. With married couples putting off parenthood, early divorce had fewer consequences for children. That weakened the taboo against divorce. Since young couples were putting off children, the next step was to dispense with marriage and cohabit until children were desired. Americans have lived through this transformation. The Swedes have simply drawn the final conclusion: If we’ve come so far without marriage, why marry at all? Our love is what matters, not a piece of paper. Why should children change that?

Two things prompted the Swedes to take this extra step–the welfare state and cultural attitudes. No Western economy has a higher percentage of public employees, public expenditures–or higher tax rates–than Sweden. The massive Swedish welfare state has largely displaced the family as provider. By guaranteeing jobs and income to every citizen (even children), the welfare state renders each individual independent. It’s easier to divorce your spouse when the state will support you instead.

The entire article is definitly worth the read. One of the scary things is that some in America are putting the pieces in play that would enable our culture to follow the lead of Europe. The decline of the family is no trite matter, as Kurtz has shown. What’s staggering is the number of influences that contribute to its decline. Kurtz identifies such culprits as the welfare state, divorce, gay marriage, and a weak clergy. Sounds familiar…

Matches! We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Matches!

We all have our rare, peculiar hobbies. One hobby I’ve had for more years than I can remember is the collecting of matchbooks. When I was a teenager I started picking up matchbooks from my favorite restaurants. When our family went on vacation I really “racked up.”

Franz Kafka Matches from Prague

My dad began aiding the collection by picking up matchbooks when he traveled on business to “exotic” locations like Arkansas and Atlanta. He soon told his colleagues about my peculiar habit and soon I was scoring matchbooks from restaraunts all over the world. I have some famous locations (Cheers! in Boston) and some rather odd pieces (an oversized pack featuring Ronald Reagan’s face on a $100 bill). When I was living overseas, I collected a few rare finds as well (a “Stop AIDS” matchbook from Gomel, Belarus being one of the most peculiar).

What do I do with my matches? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I have them in a large shoebox and a small tin. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to display them better, and maybe not. The other day I did find, however, that blogger James Lileks has a pretty good and interesing collection on his website. Take a look. In the meantime, if you need a light, call somebody else—matchbooks aren’t worth much if the matches are used!

Indecision and Pretense

Jonah Goldberg on “undecided” voters:

No, I’m not saying that all undecideds are dumb, and I’m not saying that the choices in presidential elections are as cut-and-dried as the strawberry ice cream versus the garden-rake smack. But what I am saying is that the rush to show one’s independence of mind in contests between Republican and Democratic candidates usually stems from intellectual vanity and insecurity, not intellectual discernment or rigor.

There’s nothing wrong — and there’s actually a great deal that is right — with being independent-minded on the issues, on art, on music, fashion, food…whatever. So long as it isn’t a pose. Conformity based upon sound judgment is certainly more admirable than acting like a jackass to prove you’re different. Our culture mocks those who join the herd, to be sure. We exalt the drummer who marches to his own beat. But the herd laughs its butt off at the maverick who prances around outside the herd right when the wolf pack shows up. And we only admire the solo drummer when he’s very, very good. If all he does is smush around a chicken leg on his drum, we don’t applaud, we call a nurse.

I’ve seen this trend in a lot of people. I remember a teacher in high school who lauded the fact that he was a “split ticket” voter. This attitude shows up a lot within Christian evangelicalism. I’ve known some people who, not wanting to be pigeonholed as “Republican like everybody else,” will have to “seriously evaluate” the other candidates before making up their mind.

I’m not saying that one should simply vote the party line all the time, but when the differences between party lines are as staggering as they are today, why should one have to ponder long the benefits of voting for Al Gore vs. George Bush—especially if one candidate’s views line up much more closely with what one believes?

True, there are some decisions that should be more closely watched, but when the difference is night and day, indecision more closely resembles pretense.

Books That Haunt: The Violent Bear It Away

Each Tuesday, until I decide otherwise, TruePravda will feature a different book in the Books That Haunt series.

Flannery O’Connor has always been an author whose writings have intrigued me. I first learned of her in an American Literature class in college. One of the volumes of the colossal Norton Anthology of American Literature had one or two of her stories anthologized. O’Connor, the introductions stated, was a gifted female Southern Catholic writer who died at a young age. I tried to stifle myself from yawning—not exactly the type of write that piqued my interest. I was assigned the short story, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” I thought it would be the usual run-of-the-mill short-story—you know, the kind that ambles off into nothingness while at the same time trying to make a “statement.” I was wrong.

Flannery O’Connor has the unique ability to take you through what seems to be an innocent enough story, and then proceed to violently pull the rug out from under the reader to reveal the sometimes hard-to-face things that lie beneath the surface. For those who thought that Southerners lacked the ability to stimulate thought, read Flannery O’Connor. Her stories can leave the reader reeling and shocked at the end. So it was with this week’s Book That Haunts: The Violent Bear It Away.

The Violent Bear It Away is one of O’Connor’s few novels’the title a reference to Matthew 11:12. The story involves a boy, the orphan Francis Marion Tarwater, who leaves his backwoods home after his uncle, a bizarre self-proclaimed prophet, dies. Tarwater’s uncle has prophesied that the boy too will become a prophet.

Tarwater flees the swampy backwoods, attempting also to flee the effect of his uncle’s prophecy. He goes to the city where his cousin Rayber, a modern-minded schoolteacher, attempts to de-program the religious worldview that Tarwater has grown up learning.

O’Connor presents us with a clash of worldviews that ultimately leads to climax that will leave the reader with at least one sleepless night trying to put the pieces back together. I finished this novel about two months ago and the shock still hasn’t departed. I’d love to discuss it with somebody. So read it.

Judge Not?

The recent row at the Vatican regarding Mel Gibson’s The Passion is nothing short of strange. The “final word” given by Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz was that, “I told the producers the Holy Father did not make any judgment, because he does not make judgments of that kind.”

If, therefore, the Pope does not make judgments of “that kind,” then what on earth is he doing giving his blessing to a group of breakdancers at the Vatican?

“For this creative hard work I bless you from my heart…Artistic talent is a gift from God and whoever discovers it in himself has a certain obligation: to know that he cannot waste this talent, but must develop it,” John Paul said.

Like I said, very strange.

Just Freeze and Hush!

Your Superior Officer
You are Roscoe P. Coltrane. You do have morals,
they’re just easily forgotten. If your boss
tells you to do something, you jump to it. You
are kind to animals, especially basset hounds.

What Dukes of Hazzard Character are you?

I must confess that I doctored the results of this quiz to be Roscoe P. Coltrane. James Best played what was undoubtedly one of the funniest characters in television history. What was that noise he used to make? Something like, “Gyugyu jjijii,” I believe.

One Rich Heretic

I don’t use the term “heretic” freely, but the wildly popular Benny Hinn doesn’t do anything to help himself avoid the label. He is, to put it simply, a heretic and a shyster. This month’s issue of The Door Magazine has a particularly denunciatory article/expose on the white-suited evangelist:

He has no church. He belongs to no denomination. He’s not even affiliated with any particular religion, although his buzz words indicate he tends to dwell on the freaky backwoods fringe of Pentecostalism. As recently as three centuries ago, he probably would have been burned as a heretic. (To give you some idea of his doctrinal strangeness, he once preached that the Trinity is actually nine persons, because each member of the Trinity — Father, Son, Holy Spirit — is also a Trinity. He also says that God and the Holy Spirit have real bodies, with eyes, hands, mouth, etc.

Various theologians have trashed him, of course, for preaching “new revelations” directly from God that turn out to be, when examined, variations of thousand-year-old heresies.) He thinks of himself as a prophet (even when his prophecies don’t come true) and, in one burst of grandeur, “a little messiah walking on the earth.” He believes that the Biblical Adam flew into outer space, that when God parted the Red Sea He made it into a wall of ice, that God talks to him more frequently than he talked to, say, Moses, that a man has risen from the dead in his presence, that a man turned into a snake before his eyes, that angels come to his bedroom and talk to him, and that the only reason we’re not all in perfect health, living forever, is that there are demons in the world, attacking us.

He’s expressed opinions normally heard only on schizophrenia wards, and he’s done it in front of millions of people — and still they come. They come in such numbers that thousands have to be turned away, and even the ones turned away gladly give him their money.

Read the entire article—it’s really very scary how so many people could be duped into following Hinn. Then again, it’s not that surprising, as we all try to escape truth in our own way. Pray that those who follow Benny Hinn will not be obscured from the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Metro No More?

While General Wesley Clark is busy looking like a metrosexual on the cover of the homosexual magazine The Advocate [see Albert Mohler’s blog today], USA Today claims that the rise of the “metrosexual” has reached its peak:

It seems a market correction, if not a backlash, is afoot. Guys’ guys, the kind who’d rather spend $50 on a pay-per-view boxing match than a back wax, are railing in Web logs against the trend toward fastidious grooming and Rat Pack-refined dressing. They call the foppish fad a “scourge.”

“When my grandmother knew what metrosexual meant, I realized how overexposed the term was,” says trend tracker Jon Hein, creator of

While I doubt that my grandmother knows what a metrosexual is, I am not surprised that the phenomenon is losing its popularity.

I wonder what’s next—the ruralsexual, perhaps? Now there’s a trend that has real staying power. The ruralsexual will be defined as a man who is in touch with his agricultural side. They will dress in “farm chic”, modeled from their favorite TV show, Big Scythe for the Burly Guy. Watch out, Fab Five!