Nothing stays the same.
Things all around us a changing. Some of this change is imperceptible, because we have become so inured to it. We are sold this kind of change every time we turn on the TV- newer, shinier things- improved and updated. Our economic system is entirely dependent on our continued addiction to the new, and the rejection of the old.
There seem to have been times through history when the general pace of change in the dominant societal forces make a step-change. Perhaps most of the rhetoric about these periods of history arise from the gifts given by hindsight, but nevertheless, every few hundred years or so, it seems the order of things as we know it comes under pressure. New ways of thinking and structuring ourselves mingle with new technology in a chicken-and-egg symbiosis, and many things that seem constant and reliable are tested by the new reality.
And so the age of castles and feudal allegiances became the age of printing presses, industrial production and scientific enlightenment. Empowerment of mass population leads to revolution and democratic endevour. And we see this new reality in the shape of towns, the growth of new organisations, and even the way we seek to understand and study God.
There was a great programme on BBC two a little while ago, presented by Steven Fry, and called Steven Fry and the machine that made us.
The programme was all about the first media entrepreneur Johann Gutenberg, who is credited with the invention of the first printing press at the very beginning of the 15th Century. Guttenberg went on to print the first Bible that was commonly available to ‘ordinary’ people, printed in his native German.
This invention has been credited to bringing about a step-change in western civilisation. Suddenly, written communication went from linear, individualised copies – owned exclusively by those with the time and money to invest in such time consuming frippery – to the mass market. Nothing was the same ever again.
In 20 years, these early printing presses had already turned out an estimated 20 million books. Fry used the wonderful term benign virus to describe the impact on society.
The Gutenberg Bible could be credited with leading almost inevitably to the Protestant revolution. Suddenly everyone could study the scriptures, and everyone became their own theologian. Or almost everyone. It was resisted of course- change usually is. In many parts of the Christian world, the Bibles were banned.
The step-change described above was perhaps one of the key factors that shaped the path of a society in its tranformation from the medieval world to the birth of moderism.
It has been said that we are in the middle of our own step-change, or paradigm shift.
The modern world, with all its assumptions of rational, ordered predictability, is being swept away by a new media revolution. Where is leads us, and how God will meet with us within it, is uncertain.
Like the Luddites, or the medieval church leaders, there are some for whom such change brings conflict and destruction. They faced new industrial realities- economic forces that were bigger than individuals, bigger than families, bigger than communities. No amount of smashed spinning jennies, or smashed printing presses can alter this.
Does this make change good, or bad?
I suppose this depends on your perspective. But ultimately, it is inevitable. It has few moral or value based imperatives, but rather it is the context into which we Christians bring our own values to bear.