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A Theology of Communication

A Theology of Communication

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Published by Chhurliana
An Article Written by William F.Fore
An Article Written by William F.Fore

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Published by: Chhurliana on Oct 16, 2009
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A Theology of Communication
- William F. Fore
William F. Fore received a B.D. from Yale Divinity School and Ph.D. from Columbia University. A minister in theUnited Methodist Church , he was Director of Visual Education for the United Methodist Board of Missions, thenExecutive Director of the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches in New York City. From1989 to 1995 he was Visiting Lecturer in Communication and Cultural Studies at Yale Divinity School.. His publications include Image and Impact (Friendship Press 1970), Television and Religion: the Shaping of Faith, Valuesand Culture (Augsburg 1987, currently reprinted by SBS Press, 409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511), andMythmakers: Gospel Culture and the Media (Friendship Press 1990).This article originally appeared as Chapter Three in
Television and Religion: the Shaping of Faith, Values and Culture
, pp. 38 - 54.
What Is Theology?
Theology is a statement that tries to make sense out of our lives. Of course, there are moresophisticated views of theology. And there are many different kinds of theology: historical,systematic, practical, black, liberation -- in fact, a "theology of" just about every movement andtopic that requires serious thought and signification.But all theologies have at least one thing in common: they are attempts to deal honestly andlucidly with the way things are, so as to help people understand what life is all about.Unfortunately, theology has become so specialized during the last 50 years that it has almostdefined itself out of existence. Where only a few centuries ago theology was thought of as "thequeen of the sciences," the one discipline that held all the others together and which everyone took with the utmost seriousness, today it speaks only rarely to the totality of the scientific world, and isalmost nonexistent on the horizon of the average lay person. The theologians themselves seem to be disappearing. Not only are the massive systems of a Thomas Aquinas no longer produced, butfor more than three decades we have not seen single systematic theology of the caliber of GustavAulen, Karl Barth, or Paul Tillich.Avery Dulles charges that 20th century theology has been largely a reaction against the corrosiveinfluences of print culture on the faith of the Church. Barthian neoorthodoxy sought to escapefrom the detatched impersonality of the print medium by a revival of face-to-face oralcommunication as it existed in New Testament times. But that movement was fundamentallyreactionary. It sought vainly to operate within a communications system -- primative oralism --that no longer existed. Dulles is right in insisting that the church "cannot wall itself up in a culturalghetto at a time when humanity as a whole is passing into the electronic age."
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This chapter is not an attempt to provide in any sense a genuine systematic theology. It is intendedto provide a viewpoint from which to understand the workings of communication. It attempts tosay what communication "is all about," in the context of what the world "is all about." It rejectssome worldviews, and with them certain ways of using and thinking about communication. It proposes a worldview -- a theological perspective -- which I believe to be consistent with genuine
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Avery Dulles, "The Church and the Media," Catholic Mind, 69/1256 (October 1971): 6-16.
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 biblical and historical Christianity, and which, if accepted by the reader, leads to certainimplications about ways of using and thinking about communication.
What Is Communication
?The dictionary tells us that communication is: first, the act of transmitting; second, facts or information transmitted; third, written information, conversation, or talk; fourth, access between persons or places; or fifth, interchange of thoughts or opinions.
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 The problem with all of these definitions is that they place communication in a third-party role, asif it were something that occurs between two people or things. None gives sufficient emphasis tocommunication as a relationship which involves persons and things, a relationship of which we areall an integral part. Trying to understand communication without these relationships is like tryingto understand a human being through an autopsy -- the life is missing.I find more useful the following definition: communication is the process in which relationshipsare established, maintained, modified, or terminated through the increase or reduction of meaning.This allows us to examine the process of communication in a way which includes the "relateds"and how they are always affected as objects which become subjects, affecting and being affected,as well as the changes in meaning and in messages which become filled or voided of meaning asthe process, and those related to it, constantly change.Another problem is that communication is so integral to what we mean by "human," and even towhat we mean by "existence," that it is easy to use the term universally to include almosteverything, and so to render the term meaningless. Arguments have been put forward thatcommunication is education,
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 that it is the church,
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that it is incarnation,
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 that it is Christianity.
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While each of these connections contain helpful insights, and while in a sense communication is aconstituent of everything, sometimes a more arbitrary and limited definition must be employed if the word is to be of practical value.We need to explore both aspects of communication -- its role as a part of everything, of all of  being, and also how it functions in everyday life. The challenge at this point is a little like trying tounderstand water. Water is essential to all living things, and we need to understand that. But wealso need a theory of hydrodynamics, which tells us how water works. We need both.Therefore, we shall examine, first, how communication is essential to being (its ontologicalaspects); second, how communication functions in society (its ethical aspects); and finally, howcommunication works among practicing Christians today (its confessional, pastoral aspects).
Communication and Being
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Websters New International Dictionary (Springfield: Merriam, 1963), p. 460
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Philip H. Phenix, Intelligible Religion (New York: Harper, 1954).
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Dulles, "The Church and the Media."
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Knud Jorgensen, "God's Incarnation: the Centre of Communication," Media Development 27 (1981): 27-30.
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Johannes Heinrichs, "Theory of Practical Communication: A Christian Approach," Media Development27 (1981): 3-9.
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Most theologians today have abandoned serious attempts to develop arguments for the existenceof God. Instead, they take an existential starting point, agreeing with Kierkegaard that existence precedes essence, that human beings decide in the act of existing. We can no longer begin with atheory of reality or a theory of God, but can only begin where we are as human beings in the midstof all the contingencies of human experience.What we discover is that, reduced to the most basic level possible, there exist only three things:matter, energy, and relationships. And these relationships, whether between atoms and molecules, bees and flowers, or humans and God, are created, sustained, and modified by some kind of communication. Another way of saying this is that everything relates to something, or else it doesnot exist, and within all relationships communication is present.There is nothing outside our experience. Even that which we call the transcendent is understood as"that which exists in its own right beyond our categories of thought and explanation, but notnecessarily that which is entirely outside our experience in all its modes."
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One implication of thisemphasis upon experience is that the deductive, the hypothetical, and the projective kinds of thinking no longer are controlling, but are replaced by the inductive, the coordinative, theanalogical, and the dialogical.It is significant that there is an increasing correspondence recently between Christian processtheology and theories of communication. Process theology holds that things that endure arecomposed of a series or a process of distinct occasions or experience, each one connected to thenext, and each one affecting the next. Nothing is independent and disconnected. All experience isrelated to previous experiences. Everything -- atoms, animals, human beings, nature and theuniverse -- is interrelated. And communication is the fundamental process by which theserelationships occur. Communication is a fundamental given of existence, essential to the nature of  being.In process theology the past is the totality of that which influences the present, and the future is thetotality of that which will be influenced by the present. Each present moment is but a selectiveincarnation of the whole past universe. Our individual choices and actions, conditioned by the past, will make a difference throughout the future. And the mechanism that connects the past, present, and future, is communication. We create our future by communicating our decisions.Since successful communication depends on the reduction of uncertainty, our communicationoptions must be free to create new and wholly unprecedented relationships. This is what is meant by creating order out of chaos.Community is where our human existence takes place. Community is established and maintained by the relationships created by our communications. We establish our relative individuality withinthis community. The more we participate in community, the more we become true individuals, andthe more we become individuals, the more richly we participate in community.
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Community, thefulfillment of effective human communication, is essential to our becoming human.Language is necessary to human beings in community. Language shapes images and hence affectsour actual sensibility and our modes of perception. Whitehead writes that "the mentality of 
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Dorothy M. Emmet, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (London: Macmillan, 1953), p. 66.
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John Cobb and David Griffin, Process Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976), p. 82.
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