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Amusing Ourselves on Sunday

Why the church must practice a different kind of comedy.

Recently, a CT editor ran across a six-minute clip on Google Video. Its purpose was to instruct people who were joining a particular church what to expect when it came time for them to be baptized. That's not a bad idea because baptism is an alien thing in modern culture. When John the Baptist dunked repentant Jews in the Jordan, he was building on analogous practices: the convert baptisms practiced by the Pharisees, the ritual baths in the mikveh that worshipers would take before climbing the Temple Mount, and the washing ceremonies of pagan mystery religions.

For people raised outside the church, an instructional video makes sense. Unfortunately, the medium is full of hidden temptations. Twenty-two years ago, when Neil Postman wrote Amusing Ourselves to Death, he pointed out that television has the inherent property of turning everything—including catastrophes—into entertainment. Broadcasting fragmented items, connecting them only by "now this … ," the medium itself requires us to suppress ideas in order to make room for stimulating visuals.

Since Postman's observation, we have continued to amuse ourselves with media that have isolated and distracted us. Much of the time, we plug our ears with "earbuds," shut out the noise and bustle of other people, and cocoon into our private sonic world. Or we sit at our computers and surf videos on YouTube, moving disconnectedly from cute pets to harmless explosions of Mentos and Diet Coke. Entertainment, of course, is not the problem—just the way it now dominates our culture.

Pratfalls for Jesus

Which brings us back to that baptism video. It illustrates Postman's thesis that television has become the metaphor for all discourse, and, as Stefan Schoerghofer writes, that ...

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Christianity Today
Amusing Ourselves on Sunday
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October 2007

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