“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing.”(1) So begins Nicholas Carr’s well-circulated 2008 essay, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His Atlantic article describes the shifting of his own thought patterns; how he once could delve easily into long bouts of prose, but now finds his mind trailing off after skimming only a few pages. As a writer he is the first to applaud the instant wonders of Google searches, information-trails, and hyperlinks ad infinitum. He just wonders aloud about the cost.
University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson is another voice attempting to articulate the current cultural ecosystem, and the minds, souls, and relationships it cultivates. In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education he attempts to describe the turbo-charged orientation of his students to life around them. “They want to study, travel, make friends, make more friends, read everything (superfast), take in all the movies, listen to every hot band, keep up with everyone they’ve ever known… They live to multiply possibilities. They’re enemies of closure… [They] want to take eight classes a term, major promiscuously, have a semester abroad at three different colleges, [and] connect with every likely person who has a page on Facebook.”(2) Edmundson argues that for all the virtues of a generation that lives the possibilities of life so fully, there are detriments to the mind that perpetually seeks more and other options. For many, the moment of maximum pleasure is no longer “the moment of closure, where you sealed the deal,” but rather, “the moment when the choices had been multiplied to the highest sum…the moment of maximum promise.”
There is a phrase in Latin that summarizes the idea that the shape of our deepest affections is the shape of our lives. Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi is an axiom of ancient Christianity, meaning: the rule of worship is the rule of belief is the rule of life. That is, our deepest affections (whatever it might be that we focus on most devotedly) shapes the way we believe and, in turn, the way we live. In a cultural ecosystem where we seem to worship possibilities, where freedom is understood as the absence of limitation upon our choices, and where the virtue of good multitasking has replaced the virtue of singleness of heart, it is understandable that we are both truly and metaphorically “all over the place”—mentally, spiritually, even bodily, in a state of perpetual possibility-seeking.
Of course, for the ancient Christians who first repeated the idiom, Lex orandi lex credendi lex vivendi, they did so with Christ in mind as the subject, aware that the human Son of God was the only object of worship who could ever quiet their own restless humanity. Before any formal creeds were written, the early church held this adage, knowing that the essence of their theology would rise from their acts of adoration, thanksgiving, affections. And they knew that the ways of their worship, the things they said when they prayed, their deepest affections, not only defined their ultimate beliefs, but ultimately defined their lives.
No matter our object of worship, the same is true of our lives today. That which claims the most thorough part of our hearts, minds, and time both reflects and shapes our lives. We most certainly live in a time when focusing our minds on one thing is a challenge met with a constant parade of options vying for our attention. The Christian story introduces a God who longs to gather, whose arm is not too short to save (even from ourselves) nor ear too dull to hear, who is the same yesterday and today.
What’s more, the distracted soul is hardly unique to the age of Google. There was a time when the ancient church father Augustine of Hippo defined his soul as “too cramped” for God to enter. He prayed that God might widen it, seeing too that it needed to be emptied. “You prompt us yourself to find satisfaction in appraising you,” he prayed. “[Y]ou made us tilted toward you, and our heart is unstable until stabilized in you.”(3) Of course, such satisfaction in worship is not likely where God is only one of many possibilities in a never-ending, ever-expanding web of activities and diversions. If faith is only a part of life, then it has become as optional as pursuing one more hyperlink or skimming one more article. But those who fully approach the God of all possibilities find rest and focus, wisdom—indeed, possibility—for their souls.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Atlantic, (July/August 2008).
(2) Mark Edmundson, “Dwelling in Possibilities,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol. 54, Issue 27, Pg. B7.
(3) Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. Garry Wills, (New York: Penguin, 2006), 5.