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Home > Online Magazine > Online Magazine: Edition 25 - October/November 2008 > Bible Literacy and the Internet (by Dr Jean Carter)

Bible Literacy and the Internet

by Dr Jean Carter

Bible Literacy and the Internet - The effect of modern technology on Christians

Recently I read an article by Nicholas Carr (2008) entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid. He commented that before Google, he could read for extended periods of time and get 'caught up' in the argument or prose. However, since the emergence of the Internet and Google, his concentration tends to drift after a few pages (or even after a few paragraphs), he becomes fidgety and tends to want to 'jump' to the next article. "The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle" (Carr, 2008:2). He goes on to say:

"And what the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way Net distributes it: in a swift moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski" (Carr, 2008:2).

People who regularly use websites to find information exhibit a form of skimming activity that changes from one source to the next after only reading a few paragraphs. Maryanne Wolf, (a developmental psychologist at Tufts University) states that the style of reading promoted by the net puts efficiency and immediacy above all else and could be destroying our capacity for deep reading (Carr, 2008:3).

"The human brain is almost infinitely malleable….James Olds, a professor of neuroscience…says that even the adult mind 'is very plastic'…the brain…has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions" (Carr, 2008:4)

The Internet affects how we interact with the overabundance of information thrown at us each day. We are so intent on skim reading sources for immediate feedback that we do not spend extended periods of time in concentration and contemplation of what we read. The way we think and absorb information is slowly being altered without us realising the peril. This sceptic view on the dangers of 'new' technology is not unique. In Plato's Phaedrus, Socrates feared that as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.

Christians are forgetting to exercise their memory, they are 'skimming' rather than deep reading, and their Biblical literacy is being adversely affected. As biblical information has become more accessible; more on-line bibles, access on the internet, bible search engines etc. people are only 'jet skiing' over the information and not diving deep and remembering the beautiful messages contained in the scriptures.

In an article by Sue Bohlin (2000) she states:

"Along with an alarming drop in basic literacy and cultural literacy in the United States, researcher George Gallup has discovered that born-again Christians are woefully ignorant of some very basic, very important Bible teachings. According to Gallup, less than half of the born-again community can list five of the Ten Commandments. Only three out of five Christians can recall the names of the first four books of the New Testament. Only half of the Christians polled correctly identified the person who delivered the Sermon on the Mount" (p1)

While the examples that Bohlin (2000) used were basic facts from the Bible, they are also indicators that Christians are not spending quality time reading their Bibles on a regular basis nor taking the time to remember precious scripture passages. They are just 'skimming' to find the necessary information and forgetting to spend valuable time in concentration and contemplation on the Word of God.

Neil Postman (1993) decided that the US had become a 'Technopoly': a state where 'the culture seeks its authorisation in technology, finds its satisfactions in technology, and takes its orders from technology'. Unfortunately this phenomenon also seems to be the same in Australia. Our obsession with the immediacy of the Internet, with the ease of Bible passages on powerpoint presentations, and with the convenience of on-line Bibles, has replaced the concentration and contemplation of deep reading, and this reflects strongly in our Biblical literacy. Christians need to seek their authorisation in God, find their satisfactions in God, and take their orders from God - not technology.

I challenge every Christian who reads this article to once again pick up their Bibles and spend quality time reading and reflecting on passages of God's word that are in the context of the whole Bible. If you do not have a Bible, then buy one and enjoy the luxury of lingering over the precious verses found. Become more intentional about your Biblical literacy. Challenge yourself to learn portions of scripture. Challenge yourself to rely more on God and His teachings, and less on Google, for information!



Bohlin, S., (2000). Bible Literacy Quiz. Probe Ministries.

Carr, N., (2008). Is Google Making Us Stupid? Atlantic: July/August 2008

Carr, N., (2008) The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google. Norton; USA.

Postman, N., (1993). TECHNOPOLY. The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Vintage Books: New York.

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