Sunday, July 26, 2009

Through A Glass Darkly

[With the exception of the July 20, 2009 post, Tranquility Base :: Magnificent Desolation, this is the final installment in a series of five posts that have run consecutively this month beginning July 4, 2009]

Though only three monumental innovations in glass have been discussed above, there is a similarly astounding feature that all three hold in common: Each of these culture-forming glass products was produced by a single companyCorning Glass Works of Corning, New York. As it relates to apologetics it seems fair to contemplate how a single source could have such a far-reaching technological impact on our culture, while the church seems to sit in passive awe of the trends that developed around it. Corning has never been a company bent on the destruction of Christendom. The town of Corning, New York and the founders of the company that adopted its name were each pictures of the great American traditions of ingenuity, hard work, and God-fearing immigrants who brought both to bear in a quest for dignity and success.*

The goods Corning produced were inherently incapable of fostering the humanistic outcomes that sprouted from them. Light bulbs, TV tubes and fiber optic cables are inanimate objects. The culture that these objects helped to form can only be seen in the light of man’s proclivity for abusing them. But it has not always been that way.

Most of the original glass produced by man was used in the realm of art. And some of the most exquisite glass artworks ever made were the stained glass windows in medieval churches and monasteries. Benedictine monks injected huge amounts of time, money and skill into those windows because they saw them as a way to glorify God.* Contrary to the passive, visual epistemology inherent to the TV age, glass was originally a thinking tool that revolutionized modern science.* And though it may have enabled the cause, glass itself did not give rise to the infatuation with the self, the individualism, the human autonomy and anonymity that it was later used to enhance. In fact, mirrors were originally thought to be abominable for their god-like ability to duplicate a living thing.*

It is not glass that sees darkness as a nuisance to be conquered. It is the human who flips the light switch, oblivious to the infrastructure that exists behind it, who has forgotten that God created the light. It is not glass that preys on the self-infatuated consumer of television. It is the humanistic idolater who accepts baser and baser forms of entertainment, unmindful of his own propensity to see his personal choices as his highest aspiration. It is not glass that gladly accepts a disconnected anonymity in relationships. It is the self-absorbed Internet surfer at his isolated desk, clicking icons on his personal computer, who makes the choice to do so.

Glass itself is not evil. The legacy of glass lives on in the way it reflects man’s tendency to use and admire the fruits of his own creative abilities. It is a testament to his being made in God’s image that man can create at all. Technology in general, and glass in particular, shines as a testament to the originality of the human mind and its ability to reflect the intentionality of God. But when the created object diverts our focus, the original image we were meant to honor becomes blurred. Just as a flaw in a mirror or lens distorts the object we seek to examine, so the image of God is lost in a self-generated fog. Glass is just one component of the "worldliness [that] has concealed its values so adroitly in the abundance, the comfort, and the wizardry of our age that even those who call themselves people of God seldom recognize them for what they are."*

As stated at the outset, the physical substance of glass is distinctive. It is not just matter, but a state of the matter’s being. Likewise, the unique story of glass is also a story of the way in which technology can twist our ontological state to be in complete opposition to the way God meant it. This is not unique. It is that same human proclivity that deformed the shalom* inherent in the Garden of Eden into the vile setting that became a killing field for Cain. But in the story of glass we can also seize Paul’s optimistic proposal that though we now "see through a glass darkly," in the future we shall see face to face. Perhaps it is no coincidence that, at the time we will be able to see our Creator in that way, the depiction of the setting we are given is one in which we lie prone in worship before a sea of crystal clear glass. We should approach our technological achievements, and the ways in which we use them, with the eternal perspective of that time and that place, fully before our minds.

{Dyer and Gross, 1-90}
{Macfarlane and Martin, 20, 14, 60}
{Wells, p. 29}
{Cornelius Plantinga. Not the Way It’s Supposed To Be. p. 10. Plantinga defines shalom as more than peace. "In the Bible," he says, "shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight."}

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