Thursday, October 20, 2011

Teleprompters and Illiteratocracy

The latest line of attack against the current President among the mosh-pit gaggle of Grand Old Party candidates appears to be a resurfacing of an old thread.  The issue:  Obama uses a teleprompter.

What that means, according to those seeking to defeat Obama in 2012, is two things.  First, that he lacks a solid grasp of the issues.   Why should he need a teleprompter if he knew what he was talking about?  Second, it means that he is inauthentic.  Why not just speak from the heart?  Is he afraid he might reveal that he's really a socialist nazi communist in league with big banks and business?

Hearing this unusual line of invective from Bachmann, Perry, and Cain, it rings somewhat familiar in my ears.  I think, in fact, I might know where they got it.

They got it from their pastors.  Or, if you're Herman Cain, you got it from yourself, him being an Associate Pastor and all.   Ain't just the Godfather of Godfather's, kids.

In much of the evangelical world, you see, presenting a sermon from a written text is often interpreted as a sign of inauthenticity.  The best sermon, according to the charismatic/evangelical understanding of preaching, is one that pours out from that moment.   Or from the outline you prepared that morning, or, if you're leading a big-parking-lot church, from the Powerpoint your AV team prepared.

If you write it out, then you're clearly not authentically moved by the Holy Spirit.  Working from a written text is just a sign of artifice, a crutch for the spiritually inert.

As someone who's preached from texts, from presentation software, from outlines, and off-the-cuff, I can say this: this line of reasoning is plain ol' wrong.  Why?  Well, there are several reasons.

First, writing things out makes sense if what you say matters.  If you're dealing with the complexities of geopolitics, and you're tired and you have a bad cold, you don't want to say something that will cause a shooting war in the Taiwan Strait.  That important if you're the POTUS.   It is also, I would contend, important if you're a pastor.  If you're trying to authentically interpret a sacred text, and to teach that interpretation, then writing it out gives you an opportunity to prayerfully consider whether you are preaching the Gospel, or just pitching out veiled digs at that Deacon who's been a thorn in your side.  It's the difference between being deliberate, and being impulsive.  Measuring your words is a mark of wisdom, after all.  There must not be much preaching from the book of Proverbs in Red State congregations these days.

Second, writing something out before speaking means you have a record of what has been spoken.  It's right there.  You can repeat it as needed, or tweak it, or edit it for other uses.   That is, in fact, the point of writing.  

Third, I'm a bit berfuddlepated that the folks pitching this line of attack are almost uniformly evangelicals.  So you are telling me, Representative Bachmann, that writing something down makes it less trustworthy?  That the process of creating a text is not as valid as just speaking?   Should we not believe anything in your books?  More pointedly, how does this relate to a Bible-based faith?  That book of books wasn't just spoken directly onto the audiobook version you listen to on your campaign bus, dear sister.  It was written down.  And then edited.  And translated.  And re-edited.  Is the Bible inauthentic?   You really want to go there?  No, of course not.

Lord have mercy.

In a culture that is increasingly post-literate, I suppose we deserve this.