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Issue Date:  February 11, 2005

From the Editor's Desk

Partway into uncharted territory

A friend recently provided an image that describes how most of us are only scratching the surface of the possibilities of the technologies that are all around us today. She said imagine that you’ve spent a lifetime riding the bus and all of a sudden someone gave you a car. And now you use the car to drive to the bus stop.

Environmental sensitivities aside, that is often how I feel, as if I’m technologically only partway to somewhere, knowing that going past the bus stop puts me on unfamiliar terrain.

Richard Thieme, in his essay (see story), grabs hold of the wheel and zooms into uncharted territory. I will leave that image behind, since it becomes totally unsuitable quickly to the kind of contemplation he does on an age of horizons expanding beyond anything we’ve known before.

A favorite performer I would catch in a small coffeehouse on Philadelphia’s Main Line some decades ago would marvel at the evidence we were receiving, courtesy of the space age.

What was becoming visceral in those lovely photos of the Planet Earth was that the old hierarchies -- the notions we once derived from what was then natural law as we observed the world around us -- were crumbling. There is, we learned from our new perspective, no up or down. Earth was amid. The model we used for figuring out who was higher or lower and how we ordered ourselves gave way to something new that we’re still trying to figure out.

One can feel it in the tensions of our institutions, in the unsettled state of authority, in the tug of some to a simpler time with clear lines as they pull against those who want to move beyond the bus stop.

The performer, in his song intro, would breathe into the microphone, “And they’re giving me jazz about passports.”

So now we have this layer of instant communication that would laugh at the notion of passports and boundaries and borders.

Is it all just at the service of convenience or are we amid a revolution that is shaking us to the bone? Are our perceptions being so fundamentally altered that we really are passing through, as Thieme describes it, a firestorm that could ultimately lick at our beliefs?

It is impossible to be prescriptive, of course, and he isn’t. Just very provocative.

~ ~ ~

Someone here suggested that we might want to start reserving space for the outcast cartoon character of the week. The first to come under attack was SpongeBob SquarePants, alleged by some far right religious groups to be pro-homosexual. (His creator explained that such an interpretation was a mistake.) Then followed Buster Baxter, an animated rabbit who visits different states and sends video postcards home. His mistake, apparently, was in visiting children in Vermont for a segment titled “Sugartime.” The rabbit and Public Television, which distributes the series, got tripped up because the Vermont segment included lesbian mothers. New education secretary Margaret Spellings came out swinging against the program, saying she knew that parents would not want children exposed to a lesbian lifestyle.

Ah, the energy we spend trying to keep certain realities at bay. The new secretary of education is going to be very busy.

Such an ugly campaign. The saddest part, of course, is that leading the charge are those who do it in the name of Christ.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, February 11, 2005

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