A Chaos of Pure Sensation

Agree or disagree?

“We have entered on a new phase of culture—we may call it the Age of the Cinema—in which the most amazing perfection of scientific technique is being devoted to purely ephemeral objects, without any consideration of their ultimate justification. It seems as though a new society was arising which will acknowledge no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, and no social or religious tradition, but which will live for the moment in a chaos of pure sensation.”

-Christopher Dawson, Progress and Religion; An Historical Inquiry (1931; Peru, IL: Sherwood Sugden & Co., 1991), 228.

9 thoughts on “A Chaos of Pure Sensation

  1. Wholeheartedly agree. Everyone lives for the now and no one truly pays attention to or cares what is real as long as they had a good time or were entertained for the moment.

  2. I think our actions prove this hypothesis to be so. That is one main reason that I personally believe that God has awakened us (Reformed folk) to live ‘holy’ lives in our culture. The weak will not stand when the flesh is not only tempted, but given sin. Thank you for your blog. I appreciate your desire to awaken the living to a righteous life. Tell C.J. we say hi. Kyle and Paige Patterson

  3. David F. Wells presents a chilling explanation of our postmodern culture’s need for ‘sensation’. He compares the despair and defeatism seen in Nazi POW camps to the despair sweeping our postmodern culture…”What is so striking is the comparison that naturally arises between these prisoners who had been stripped of every remnant of dignity and reduced to disposable refuse, and those in the postmodern West who likewise have lost their hold on meaning but for precisely the opposite reason. They have not been deprived of everything, nor have they been treated brutally. On the contrary, they have everything; they live with unprecedented convenience and freedom, but the future in a world without meaning is as impotent to summon up hope and direction as was that of the prisoners who gave up in the camps. The difference, however, is that these postmoderns, unlike the prisoners, have ways of offsetting this inner corrosion. Luxury and plenty, entertainment and recreation, sex and drugs, become the ways of creating surrogate meaning or momentary distraction, or at least some numbness. It is surrogate meaning and distraction to conceal the inner blankness, the depletion of self, so that its aches can be forgotten. –David F. Wells ‘Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World’ edited by John Piper

  4. I think it’s really easy (and comforting to one’s own conscience) to martial support for the “We’re heading to Hades fast” proposition — but you gotta hold things in perspective. I’m very thankful we have all the medical and recreation-related technological conveniences we have. I don’t think having or using most of these things makes us bad people or signifies the end of our civilization.

    I’ll grant that we have different responsibilities and challenges as 21st century Christians than our ancestors in the faith did, but I reject the prevalent notion that circumstances are indicative of the imminent collapse of Christendom or Western civilization. We should be concerned, I think, about many trends, but it seems there’s always a jump to language like Dawson’s: “a new society … which will acknowledge NO hierarchy of values, NO intellectual authority, and NO social or religious tradition.”

    People were pessimistic about the fate of Christianity in America before the Protestant Reformation and before both of the Great Awakenings. Things might get worse, but ultimately the future is unknown. God may choose to act mightily and do a wonderful thing in our midst too — and He might even use technology, as he did with Luther and the (then new) printing press.

  5. Chris I agree with you that we should avoid the “headed to hell” proposition, but I had never thought about the therapeutic solace from guilt that can be found through the resignation to such a statement. My own rationale oftentimes being, “granted I am a sinner, but I am special case because of the temptations available to the 21st century man”. How often do I rationalize in direct contrast to 1Cor10:13 “no temptation has seized you except that which is common to man”
    As for the culture and the fate of Western Christendom, I contend that our current cultural climate is markedly post-modernistic and faces numerous cancerous ideologies including moral relativism which, according to Wells, stems from the 19th century influx of immigrants/world religions, and our desire be non-offensive/politically correct. However I also argue that, given the nature of the prince of this world, this evil climate is not unique to the 21st century. Dawson’s “Age of Cinema” is correct in its portrayal of the cultural climate, but it is NOT the stepping stone towards “no hierarchy of values, no intellectual authority, and no social or religious tradition.” History is replete with sinners seeking to ignore the law written on the hearts of men (Romans 2:15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them) We are merely hedonists with the internet.

    I apologize for the formal tone of my comment, I just finished my Sr. Theses, and that all I can get to come out right now

  6. I think we’re about in agreement, Brent. I am concerned about a lot of things in our day. It is undeniably unique in many ways. Hope your Sr. theses get high marks! :)


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