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By Nathan Bierma


Communicating Communication

A roundup from the National Communication Association's annual convention.

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C.S. Lewis may have made the biggest splash in refuting Hume. When his book Miracles: A Preliminary Study was published, he made—imagine this!—the cover of Time magazine. Lewis demolishes Hume's presumption of the "Uniformity of Nature" by arguing that "probability cannot itself be probable." ("Lewis was a master of turning the tables on his opponents," Anderson notes.) Lewis's provocative claim is this: "We have impounded both uniformity and miracles in a sort of limbo where probability and improbability can never come. This is equally disastrous for the scientist and the theologian."

"The only way out of this limbo turned out to be an 'innate sense of the fitness of things,'" Anderson says, a sense Lewis insisted does not replace "close inquiry into the historical evidence," but underlies and informs it. Skeptics, as Anderson summarizes Lewis, "were not able to account for the aesthetical pointers to something beyond themselves and a very closed universe." Sometimes, neither are Christians, Anderson adds:

The evidentialist model of apologetics is very popular in conservative Christian circles. The facts are mustered and the faithful are convinced. This is the method of Campbell. Lewis, while not neglecting historical evidence, shifts the accent from testimony to transcendence.

• After all the jargon and windbaggery of the more empirically-minded NCA sessions (in one session, a respondent bemoaned the fact that most NCAers are subpar in using eye contact, even though "these are practitioners of communication!"), it was refreshing to hear Quentin Schultze's extemporaneous and engaging address to a meeting and dinner of the Religious Communication Association at Moody Bible Institute.

Schultze noted how nearly all of the presentations at the convention—the non-RCA ones, at least—presumed a "naturalistic," mechanical model for human communication: a sender of a message, in response to certain stimuli and for certain functional reasons, encodes a message, transmits it, and a receiver decodes it. Period. Few scholars acknowledged the spiritual side of communication that the work of Ong and Lewis explored, and few acknowledged the phenomenon of miscommunication which so pervades our lives in a broken world. Schultze called this "dissonance"—he could have said dysfunction—and noted that the Jewish tradition tends to capture this with more honesty than the Catholic or Protestant ones (we Protestants, in particular, are infatuated with order). Schultze emphasized that religious scholars must not settle for trite secular models, but should make the most of the window they have on the colorful, bewildering, and transcendent aspects of human communication.

Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture. He writes the weekly "On Language" column for the Chicago Tribune.

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Books & Culture Corner appears every Tuesday. Earlier editions of Books & Culture Corner and Book of the Week include:

"Summer's Ebullient Finale" | A richly varied anthology offers a "spiritual biography" of autumn. (Nov. 15, 2004)
Autumn Books | Some that stand out in this season's plenty. (Nov. 15, 2004)
Reaching the Light | A review of On Broken Legs: A Shattered Life, a Search for God, a Miracle That Met Me in a Cave in Assisi. (Nov. 09, 2004)
The Prayers of a Self-Governing People | A psalm for Election Day. (Nov. 02, 2004)
In Memoriam: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) | Remembering a philosopher who never forgot about death. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Whose Independence? | All the Founding Fathers of America celebrated "independence," but what the word meant depended on who was speaking. (Oct. 12, 2004)
Darkness Visible | An unsparing new memoir by the author of Slackjaw. (Oct. 05, 2004)
After Worldview? | A lively conference offers a state-of-the-art assessment of the concept of "worldview," with both advocates and dissenters represented. (Sept. 28, 2004)
A Forgotten Founder's Fatherhood | Race, nature, and patriarchy meet in Rhys Isaac's biography of early American diarist Landon Carter. (Sept. 21, 2004)
The Great American Hustle | The first volume of an ambitious new history of America highlights the engine of "worldly ideals"—and the role of evangelical religion in creating a distinctive American identity. (Sept. 14, 2004)
The Poet Who Remembered | Poland (mostly) honors Czeslaw Milosz upon his death. (Sept. 07, 2004)
Be Careful What You Pray For | The strange tale of the controversial Bishop Pike and his fatal quest for relevance. (Aug. 31, 2004)
Book 'Em! | The concluding installment of our three-part midyear book roundup (Aug. 24, 2004)
(Not Just) Summer Reading | Part 2 of our midyear report on outstanding books. (Aug. 17, 2004)
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