Striking News from Egypt: or the Silence of the Pundits

The news from Egypt (indeed all the “Middle East”) over recent months has varied between being silence (most of the time) and shock-horror (when some new tragedy/atrocity manages to break through Western media’s apathy about the rest of the world. 

Vinoth Ramachandra again does us all a service by posting material written by one of his Egyptian contacts he titles it The Other Egypt. It begins:

When more than 85 Churches and institutions were viciously attacked and burned (a profound blow of disgrace and humiliation in this culture of ‘honour’), the non-retaliation of Christians was both unexpected and unprecedented.

If you haven’t heard about this please read his post! In fact do yourself a favour subscribe to his blog, or visit it regularly. It is constantly sensible and provocative a difficult balance given the topics he covers.

Moral critique of theism?

The Flannagan blog, M&M, can be really annoying or hugely stimulating, it is seldom boring. But the new post There probably are no duties. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life! really is something special. Matt neatly turns all the standard old chestnut Atheist arguments around to attack “moral duties” like the duty not to rape or murder. The post is a hoot and well worth a read, you’ll be chuckling or laughing all through.

Comments are open, but so far no atheist has risen to the challenge. If any brave non-believer is reading this do please provide a response! A one sided argument is less fun :)

Dumb and dumber, or how not to use a blog

I’ve been unusually quiet here for a while now for two reasons.

The first is dumb. Something has “broken” this installation of WordPress and half the editing features don’t work. I have to turn off JavaScript, and save the post, to change from Visual to Text mode, but neither way will “Add Media” work, I have to FTP and handcode to get pictures… all that makes blogging hard work. But I’m dumb, I haven’t made the time to either start again (like I did in 2009) so I suffer through :(

The second reason is dumber! I have been busy writing, two deadlines loomed. One of them was a chapter about the genre of the prophetic books.1 Somehow, being busy and having a looming deadline I did not do the sensible thing and post here (much) about the ideas.

That was dumber, because I am not longer in daily contact with scholars from other disciplines in a real common room. Thus I did not hear a physical New Testament colleague say ftf: “That’s a bit like the discussions around the topic of the genre of the gospels.” That piece of wisdom only hit this morning, when I saw that Euangelion Kata Markon had posted a kind notice (HT James McGrath) to my 5 minute Bible podcasts on introducing genre and prose & poetry.

As I wrote in a comment there:

I am now kicking myself. Disciplinary boundaries so often do us a disservice! I should have thought of the probability that there was discussion of the nature of the genre of the gospels. But I didn’t, and I don’t sit regularly in a scholarly common room, so no one pointed it out to me as I wrote my article on the genre of the prophetic books.. I really should have blogged it as I wrote, then someone would have pointed to your stuff and I’d have been able to weave those discussions into mine, but I submitted the article on Monday :(

  1. Basically I am arguing that, rather than any other genre description like “career biography”, “sayings collection” or even “presentation of a prophet” , it is helpful to think of them as “prophetic fictions”. []

Are convenience and ubiquity killing conversation?

I’ve been posting my podcasts (mainly from http://5minuteBible.com/) to Facebook and YouTube recently, it seems a good way to enlarge the audience. It also seems to have achieved this effectively, with scores of people seeing them via each channel (YouTube seems especially to reach mobile users).

 

Yet both media are less than my ideal. Facebook by its form encourages short swift responses and You Tube enforces this with a strict and tight character limit on comments. The result in both media is that knees jerk and somewhat trite ping-pong arguments result. (I can’t really call many of them conversations, as few have been productive or really informative.)

 

As a result of this experience I was saddened by some remarks on Facebook, from a blogger I really respect, explaining that he now blogs less and less, but uses Facebook and G+ more and more. I have little experience with G+, but what I have does not suggest it is a much better way of nurturing conversation than Facebook. And yet “God knows it, I am with them, in some things.”1 Blogging, except for the uber-bloggers has ceased to provoke many comments, the excitement is gone, but the effort required to write a post remains the same. Diminishing returns mean, for many of us, less frequent posting…

 

So, if you accept that YouTube, Facebook and G+ are not becoming venues for real conversation, and agree that blogs are dying as such venues (except for the few who attract large audiences) please tell me how you think e-mediated serious conversations at a distance will continue…

 

If, of course you don’t accept my pessimistic diagnosis, then please tell me that too, and ideally explain why :)

  1. Misquoting Oscar Wilde’s “Sonnet to Liberty”. []

New Media, digital and networked

Among the reading for my MIT MediaLab MOOC, Learning Creative Learning, is the huge report: Mimi Ito et al. (2009): Learning and Living with New MediaMacArthur Foundation.  The executive summary includes this sentence, which reminded me why the term “new media” is so much better than the older “digital” to describe the current cultural shift:

We use the term new media to describe a media ecology where more traditional media such as books, television, and radio are intersecting with digital media, specifically interactive media, online networks, and media for social communication.

Old media like TV and radio (but increasingly also books) are (or at least are at some stages of their production and transmission) digital. But even the most digital TV is not “new media” because it is not networked.1

New media is both:

  • digital:
    • infinitely copiable
    • almost free to transmit or copy
    • malleable (digital media can be changed/edited as well as copied)
  • networked:
    • open to talk back
    • open to reuse
    • open to conversation
    • open to extension


To the extent that something embodies most of these characteristics it is new media, if it mainly or exclusively embodies the first group it is merely digital. The Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary was digital, my 5 minute Bible podcasts are digital moving towards new media. The hard bit, for a media dinosaur2 Is getting the last step. Not Only a Father as a discussable book attempts to be new media, but so far has not generated a community of discussion… I wonder what I can do to encourage that last step…

 

  1. NB I am not here using the term “network” in the sense that the name CNN uses it. But rather of a media environment where communication can and does move in multiple directions. Not just from me to you – a monologue like most traditional TV and radio; or from me to you and you to me – a dialogue – like talkback radio; but between you, me, him and her… severally and sometimes together. []
  2. I grew up with radio, but TV came to our place only when I was almost a teenager. []

Whopper of a Carnival

Bob has produced and directed what has to be the most comprehensive and yet (one of the?) most selected Carnivals yet :)

As he notes the carnivals are a big (actually BIG) job, and it will take me most of my spare time to visit the links he offers that look the most interesting, how he managed such an excellent job of collecting (in view of most of our laziness and failure to recommend more than a post or two, often our own :( is beyond me!

He is unsure what number this one is, we got a bit lost there for a while ;) but it is in the 80s. Since 8 is an auspicious number for many of the world’s people I vote we number this one 88 :)

Blogging needs Facebook

Mark Goodacre posted an interesting comment: The Jesus’ Wife Fragment and the Transformation of Peer Review? which linked to an equally interesting post Le véritable scoop de «l’Evangile de la femme de Jésus»: la transformation des normes de publication académique (peer-review), raising questions about what the Gospel of Jesus’ Wife saga may teach us about peer-review in the humanities. As often happens some interesting discussion of the post(s) took place on Facebook (WARNING you will only be able to follow that link if you are “friends” with Mark G). With blogging software trackback might lead a reader of the originalpost to Mark’s blog, but there is no trackback from Facebook… what blogging needs is a FB app that allows cross posting of comments (if the commenter selects this?) back from FB to the original post on the blog.

Facebook needs blogs for sustained posts that do more than tickle a meme, but blogging in turn needs a decent Facebook app!

 

BTW here are my comments (so far):

The media spotlight certainly impacted this case. But does it actually nullify it as a precedent, could pre-publication with public comment from interested parties (mainly scholars with an interest in the topic) substitute for or complement traditional secretive peer review.
There are certainly vested interests that will militate against such change, but there are benefits, at least for a scholar who thinks their work important, such a process would increase the “impact” of such articles…

Mark responded wondering if the actual HTR process this time was a good repeatable one, I replied:

No, but possibly a very light first round (basically just checking it “looks” scholarly with a skim read) then pre-publication, possible revision before the final decision to publish and definitive citable version…

and:

Computer mediated collegiality :) The old draft: colleagues comment, publish… but with a much wider and less self-selected circle of “colleagues”.

NB for copyright and confidentiality reasons I have not quoted other participants, which gives a one sided view and over estimates my contribution :( a decent FB app would overcome that :)

Biblical studies carnival: Warning notice

Please take note, of this warning, and pass it on to those who may be concerned!

I am “responsible”1 for the next BS Carnival. Unless you want your favourite blogs, or indeed (horror of horrors) your own blog “represented” by only those posts I found most entertaining (which let’s face it given my sense of humour might be none) you would need to get worthy (or of course as usual, unworthy) nominations to me well before the end of the month.

Please pass on this serious warning!

NB the Carnival will be going live at just after midnight as the months change here at GST/GMT +12.

  1. This term may not be entirely appropriate ;) but you will be able to judge for yourselves in a couple of weeks! []

Bible and technology guest post (part two)

It’s probably safe to say that the number of Bible readers is directly related to the number of Christians. In the West (and the best numbers I could find relate in general to Europe and the USA), there has been a steady decrease in the number of self-identified Christians and church attendance. It’s no surprise, then, that Bible reading has decreased, and the only way to reverse this contribution to the decline has to be a revitalization of Christianity in the West. The follow-up question then is, “Can new technologies contribute to the revitalization of Christianity, including the reading of the Bible?”

I think there is also a conceptual factor at work. People still simply conceive of the Bible as a printed, physical book. There is an older gentleman in my home congregation who uses a computer regularly for email and internet, but when he reads his Bible, he pulls out his mother’s RSV Bible from the 1950’s. It’s rewarding for him to have that tangible connection with his family’s history. Even when he was part of an online Bible study group, and I linked directly to biblical texts using bib.ly or Reftagger, he still pulled out his Bible to read the text. It’s not just an issue with older readers, however. Biblical scholars and seminary students have certainly discovered the benefits of working with Bible software, but I don’t know how many of them actually just read the Bible on their computer. How does this concept of the Bible as a physical book affect the number of people reading the Bible? Sales of physical books have been steadily declining in recent years, and just last year, Amazon reported that they were selling more e-books than physical ones. So, if fewer people are reading physical books, and the Bible is primarily conceived as a physical book, we should not be surprised to see a decrease in Bible reading. I believe that the majority of Bible readers simply have not made the shift to think of the Bible as a digital resource.
Now the question becomes, “Can people be enticed to read the Bible if it is delivered in digital forms?”

[More in part three all being well, WordPress problems continue.]

Bible and technology guest post

Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg are holding a Blog Tour on Religion and Media, in this post Mark Vitalis Hoffman (of Biblical Studies and Technological Tools) is replying to this question from me:

Mark, advances in electronic communications technologies and equipment (especially Internet and mobile phones) makes Scripture and the tools to understand it more easily and widely available than ever. Yet at the same time rates of engaged regular Scripture reading among Christians in the West since the reformation has hardly been lower.

Are there technologies or tools you think have the potential over the next few years to revitalize Scripture reading among Western Christians?
He writes:

Thanks for this question, Tim. I know it’s a concern that is near to your heart!

Two or three decades ago, at least in the United States, it was not unusual to see Christians who would regularly carry their Bibles around with them and presumably read them. There was quite a market for Bible carrying cases. A quick check on Amazon shows that there still is a market for them (over 900 items under “bible carrying case”), but there in the fourth spot is a “Leather Christian iPad 2 Case.” My point? As you note, technology is providing more biblical resources than ever, and they are easier than ever to access. So why the decrease in Bible reading?

I am convinced that Christians, both consumers (readers) and producers of content, will eventually get in sync with the possibilities technology offers, but it also is probably going to require some revitalization of Christianity in general. I’m trying to say a few things with that sentence, so let me expand.

[I have been having real problems with WordPress today :( I hope I can post the expansion in another post.]