Neil Postman’s Work from 1985 Provides Surprisingly Accurate Glimpse at Today’s Culture Obsessed with Technology, Says Southern Evangelical Seminary President Dr. Richard Land
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu) President and Evangelical leader Dr. Richard Land was recently organizing his library and came across a remarkable work from the past that offered an insightful and surprisingly accurate glimpse of the future.
Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” was originally published in 1985, yet—to Land’s astonishment—rings glaringly true today.
According to Amazon.com, “…Neil Postman’s groundbreaking polemic about the corrosive effects of television on our politics and public discourse has been hailed as a twenty-first-century book published in the twentieth century. Now, with television joined by more sophisticated electronic media—from the internet to cell phones to DVDs—it has taken on even greater significance. ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ is a prophetic look at what happens when politics, journalism, education, and even religion become subject to the demands of entertainment.”
“As I casually began to peruse the book,” Land recently wrote in a column for the Christian Post, where he serves as executive editor, “memories came flooding back to me of just why I was so sobered by Postman’s insights in 1985. I found myself sitting down in my study and virtually re-reading the entirety of this deceptively small volume. The more I read, the more dumbfounded I was by Postman’s prophetic insights into what was then America’s future and is now too often a painful description of America’s present and may very well portend an even more depressing future.”
Postman started off the book by contrasting the two most dystopian visions of modern civilization’s future—George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949) and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932)
“Postman points out that contrary to popular and even ‘educated’ opinion, Orwell and Huxley ‘did not prophesy the same thing,’” Land said. “Orwell’s dark vision of the future featured a totalitarian state (‘Big Brother’) that suffocated people and extended to managing and controlling every area of each person’s life through enormous advances in technological surveillance. While Orwell envisioned a significantly technologically advanced Soviet-style police state on steroids, Postman observed that Huxley envisioned a future where people came to ‘adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.’”
Asks Land: Sound anything like 2016? Amusing ourselves to death, preoccupied with electronic entertainment and electronic communication?
Wrote Postman: “What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies. …”
Postman concluded that “Amusing Ourselves to Death” “is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”
“Several people have asked me recently,” Land said, “‘How do you explain America’s fascination, or fixation, with celebrities, whether Prince or Donald Trump?’ Clearly, the recently deceased Prince was a marvelously talented entertainer, and Donald Trump is a remarkably gifted marketer who has mastered the language and communication skills of social media and converted them into a successful hostile takeover of the Republican Party. That explains the how, but not the why? Postman provides us with an answer.
“The internet has changed the basic DNA of our culture,” Land continued, “including our social and personal relationships and our information access. It has radically democratized communication, while at the same time condemning any effective editorial or verifying filter as the unwelcome control of a hated elite. Consequently, we are being engulfed not only in a sea of moral relativism, but information relativism as well. The immersion of our culture in ‘internet-speak’ has brought us perilously close to a denial, if not a revocation, of the late, great Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s statement that ‘you are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts.’ Now, opinions too often masquerade as facts, and fewer and fewer know the difference and increasingly fewer care.”
Land also shared the three-decade-old insights with his listening audience on his daily radio feature, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” where he quoted Postman, who wrote: “When a population becomes distracted by media, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversations become a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then the nation finds itself at risk. Culture death is a clear possibility. … For America is engaged in the world’s most ambitious experiment to accommodate itself to the technological distractions made possible by the electric plug.”
Postman continued with these words, “This is an experiment that began slowly in the mid-nineteenth century and, now in the latter half of the twentieth, we see perverse maturity in America’s consuming love affair with television. As nowhere else in the world, Americans have moved far and fast in bringing to a close the age of the slow moving printed word, and having granted the television sovereignty over all their institutions by ushering in the age of television, America has given the world the clearest available glimpse of the Huxleyan future.”
“If that was true of the television age,” Land concluded, “just think how it has exponentially increased with internet, smartphones and social media. How do we respond? We respond by rationing our exposure to mindless entertainment, by encouraging our children to read, by having serious discussions, and by not letting the internet and the smartphone and the other technologies rule us. We should rule them, and we should limit our exposure to them.”
SES explores ethical issues through its “Ethics in Emerging Technology” program; for more information, visit www.ethics.ses.edu. Southern Evangelical Seminary also recently unveiled a new apologetics blog at www.WhyDoYouBelieve.org, where Land and other SES voices address the most pressing issues of the day.
Southern Evangelical Seminary recently announced its 23rd annual National Conference on Christian Apologetics hosted by Calvary Church in Charlotte, N.C., on Oct. 13-15. SES will welcome such top name speakers as Norman Geisler, Richard Howe, Richard Land, Josh and Sean McDowell, Hugh Ross, Jay Sekulow, Lee Strobel, Frank Turek and J. Warner Wallace, along with many others. The theme of the 2016 conference, “The Defense Never Rests,” focuses on the ongoing charge to Christians to defend their beliefs rationally, intelligently and lovingly. For registration information, visit conference.ses.edu/registration.
SES is a leader in apologetics education—teaching students to defend their faith and talk intelligently, passionately and rationally about what they believe and why they believe it. Many courses focus on societal issues from a Christian worldview, delve into scientific apologetics or contemplate creation research.
Land is featured in his nationally syndicated daily radio commentary, “Bringing Every Thought Captive,” which airs on almost 400 stations nationwide, including nearly 200 on the American Family Radio Network and 100 on the Bott Radio Network. “Bringing Every Thought Captive” is also podcast daily on the free SES mobile app and airs locally in the Charlotte, N.C., area every weekday. The “Bringing Every Thought Captive” television program, hosted by Land, airs on the NRB Network Wednesdays at 8 p.m. and midnight EST. “Bringing Every Thought Captive” also reaches nearly 2 million households in the Chicago area on the Total Living Network. For details about stations, times, downloads and more, click here.
Land has taught as a visiting or adjunct professor for several seminaries and has authored or edited more than 15 books. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University in England and his bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) from Princeton University. Land also earned a Master of Theology (Honors Program) degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he received the Broadman Seminarian Award as the Outstanding Graduating Student. Dr. Land was the 2013 Watchman Award recipient from the Family Research Council for his leadership on moral and cultural issues. He also received the Phillip E. Johnson Award for Liberty and Truth from Biola University in 2010. Land served previously (1988-2013) as president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, the Southern Baptist Convention’s official entity assigned to address social, moral and ethical concerns, with particular attention to their impact on American families. In 2014, he was appointed as a Senior Research Fellow of the ERLC’s Research Institute, and in 2015, he was named in the top 15 of Newsmax’s “Top 100 Christian Leaders in America.”
Southern Evangelical Seminary invites visitors to its web site to join the more than 20,000 people who have already downloaded the SES Apologetics App for Windows mobile devices and Android and Apple phones and tablets. Those with the app can get the very best news and information in Christian apologetics, including articles, audio, video, blogs and more from today’s most able defenders of the Christian faith—William Lane Craig, Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, William Dembski, Frank Turek, Hugh Ross, Gary Habermas and other well-known speakers, authors and teachers.
Southern Evangelical Seminary has been ranked as one of the top graduate programs for General Christian Apologetics by TheBestSchools.org’s “Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics.”
For more information on SES, visit its web site at www.ses.edu or its Facebook page, follow the SES Twitter feed, @sesapologetics, or call (800) 77-TRUTH. For more information about SES’ “Ethics in Emerging Technology” program, visit www.ethics.ses.edu.
For information on SES or to set up an interview, contact Beth Harrison, 610-584-1096, ext. 104, [email protected], or Deborah Hamilton at 215-815-7716 or 610-584-1096, ext. 102
Southern Evangelical Seminary is a leader in apologetics education—teaching students to defend their faith and talk intelligently, passionately and rationally about what they believe and why they believe it. The accredited Christian college and seminary offers a wide variety of bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees. Programs can be completed through residence in the Charlotte area or online. The award-winning education at SES is distinctively Christian and focused on evangelism and world-engaging defense of the Christian faith—Christian Apologetics.