Sunday, April 4, 2021

Chris Yambar (January/February 2006)

In an age during which international terrorism, gasoline prices, abducted children, Supreme Court rulings, and Oprah dominate the headlines, it's sometimes easy to overlook the existence of comic books. It's even easier to overlook the existence of independent comic books. It's easier still to overlook the existence of independent-comic-book writers and artists. And absolutely no one is easier to overlook than independent-comic-book writers and artists who happen to be pop-art painters and Christians.    

Enter Chris Yambar. Not only is he an indie-comic pro and pop-art painter who's a Christian, he's even ordained. (If you don't believe us, you can look under his and his wife's bed, where he keeps his diploma. Or you can check out his very cool website at 
The aggregation of artistic believers over which he presides is called Lion's Heart Fellowship, and their self-stated mission is to "offer an alternative environment of healing and restoration to believers who love God but who have found themselves disenfranchised or unable to freely function within the walls of today's traditional western church setting" and to "offer practical encouragement, creative opportunities for service and artistic expression, and a strong theological base of understanding and applicable education for those willing to become true disciples under the lordship of Jesus Christ." They gather at 2325 Mahoning Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio. Feel free to drop in, BTW. 

Lest you think that, as a Christian, Yambar produces evangelistic tracks a la Jack Chick, forget it. You'd no more find Yambar's work in a "family" bookstore than you'd find the publications of Larry Flynt. Not that Yambar produces comic porn. Far from it. His work is edgy, running the gamut from the acerbically philosophical Mr. Beat and the hilariously anti-heroic masked Mexican wrestler El Mucho Grande to the ambitiously futuristic Orwellian heroine Suicide Blonde and the deceptively primitive Itsi-Kitsi ("Happy Adventure Cat") and Spells Sisters (of Meow-Wow! and Spells: Cauldron of Chills [subtitle: "Mean-Spirited Fun for Everyone"] respectively).  Coolest of all, though, is that Yambar writes for the Bongo Comics Group's Simpson's series ("Simpson's" as in Bart, not O.J., although as a horror-film aficionado Yambar might like to take a stab—er, crack—at the latter).

WITTENBURG DOOR: Lions Heart Fellowship openly solicits creatively and artistically inclined believers. Hasn't the average American evangelical church become comfortable enough with the "creative" people in its midst to render such a specialized ministry as Lions Heart superfluous?   

CHRIS YAMBAR: Don't kid yourself. Creative people still have to put up with a lot of closed-minded utilitarianism in the church. The language of the modern arts is still a "type of tongues" that the church refuses to give any proper voice to or interpretation of.  

DOOR: How do you explain this unfortunate, and lingering, phenomenon?   

YAMBAR: Real art causes conversation, debate, and thoughtfulness. Producing art also requires a certain amount of risk. Sometimes an artist's work will cause a viewer to become uncomfortable or angry. We can't offend a tither now, can we? Realizing that the "tongues of art" are open to interpretation to the unbeliever beyond the walls of the church is still unthinkable to most believers.  

DOOR: Your working with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons on a Bart Simpson comic is probably unthinkable to most believers as well.  

YAMBAR: I refuse to allow anyone to erect any barriers around what I believe or create. My world has no walls or ceiling, but it has a firm foundation, which I walk on confidently in all directions for as far as I am inspired.  

DOOR: Eloquently put, but we were really hoping that you'd tell us what it was like to hang out with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons.  

YAMBAR: Alice, who is a solid brother in Christ, was a dream to work with.  

DOOR: And Gene Simmons?  
YAMBAR: The opportunity came up for me to work on an issue of Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror with a Monsters of Rock theme, so I tracked Gene down and invited him to be a part of it. He jumped at the chance. He's a comic geek too, so we hit it off well and had a good time working together. In fact, I got comp seating at a Kiss concert so close to the stage that I could tell that Gene and Paul were Jewish. 

DOOR: —  

YAMBAR: Anyway, I had given him a copy of my The Collected Fire-Breathing Pope,  which had a story where the Fire-Breathing Pope and Gene have a fire-breathing competition. He must have read the book, which has some invitational (a.k.a. evangelistic) parts throughout, because he decided to "reward" me for my efforts.

DOOR: How? 

YAMBAR: I was sitting at a table with a buddy of mine—he's a Jesus guy too—and Gene stopped by with two attractive young ladies and instructed them to give me their numbers so that when I called them they'd stop by my hotel and show me a good time.   

DOOR: And—?  

YAMBAR: Well, they walked off, but one girl actually walked back to the table and said, "Really, call me, OK?"  

DOOR: Um, you don't happen to have that number, do you?  

YAMBAR: Uh, no. So I said, "Yeah, sure. You take off now," and she took off. My buddy goes, "So let me get this straight: Gene Simmons is picking up trash for you?" I said, "Well, those girls are going to have a fun-filled weekend by themselves, because I can't do that." And he said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I'm going to let them keep whatever little dignity they have—" 

DOOR: Um, that's exactly what we would've done, too. We think.  

YAMBAR: "—because they're probably going to forget about this in three more steps. I'm not calling them." He said, "Man, you sure love your wife!" I said, "I have to be honest with you: my love for my wife has absolutely nothing to do with my decision. It's my love for those girls that prevents me from looking at them as, and treating them as, objects. How do I exhibit Christian love while I'm abusing their bodies? Besides, later on they're going to find out—somewhere, somehow—that I was a Christian, and what's that going to say to them? I'd be destroying anything that God wants to do with them. I'm not going to be responsible for that."   

DOOR: As fans of Jimmy Swaggart, we're very impressed.   

YAMBAR: I'm not some great saint or anything, but I've had to come up to the line so many times, and I know that once I get into the pool, I'm going to have to swim around with Dr. Frank N. Furter.   

DOOR: Uh, our Amish readers might not know who— 

YAMBAR: Dr. Frank N. Furter is the "sweet transvestite from trans-sexual Transylvania" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.   

DOOR: —  


DOOR: Some Christian parents would probably consider the nature of some of your comic scripts too "worldly" for their kids.   

YAMBAR: First, 90 percent of comics today are not being read by children. Second, I don't create my work to make points with Christians. Too many Christians are so uptight they wouldn't recognize a good joke if it bit them in the [hiney]. We've got too many people in the Body of Christ who are socially unable to get beyond the imposed rule books and mental boxes designed by their church-ghetto leadership.  

DOOR: Please feel free to say what's really on your mind.  

YAMBAR: You'd be surprised how many people are not practical in their understanding that Jesus—the heart and mind of the Father—came to live here in a physical form just like us. They don't get it.  They've turned Him into some mythological, effeminate Thor character. I mean, I've never seen any Jew that looked like the paintings of Christ that we have here.   

DOOR: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley certainly don't. 

YAMBAR: One of the greatest images I ever saw painted of Christ was issued by Larry Flynt. It presented a traditional Jesus laughing as if He had just heard a good joke. God bless Larry Flynt for that!   

DOOR: Uh, we somehow missed that issue of Hustler.  

YAMBAR: I did too, but it's in the movie The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Anyway, there's a lot of joy missing in today's modern church world. When my job mandates that I make people laugh, there are no sacred cows. I make burgers. I believe in the sobriety and sacredness of the Gospel, but I also celebrate the moment that I live in, too.  

DOOR: A lot of Christians would be uncomfortable immersing themselves in pop culture to the extent that you have. 

YAMBAR: We are in the world and not of it. Pop culture is shallow and continually changing, and coolness and fashion are uncatchable demons, but you can focus on strengthening the things the really matter, the things that will remain when this outhouse goes up in flames, the things important to our heavenly Father. That's what will keep us from being swallowed by our culture. Ironically, these are the same things that will make us able to impact it and make it come alive.  

DOOR: In the postscript to Suicide Blonde, you say that you read "40-plus non-comic books a year." Can you identify three that have significantly affected the way you look at the world?  

YAMBAR: More Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Lynch on Lynch.  

DOOR: Is Lynch on Lynch more pornography or a chronicle of racist hangings in the Deep South?  

YAMBAR: Uh, that's by David Lynch, the director. He's just basically talking about himself. I find him to be absolutely fascinating. He deals with truth but from the dark side.  

DOOR: Do tell.  

YAMBAR: Sometimes, I think that you have to fire a blank gun in church in order to wake some people up. There has to be some sort of device or mannerism used in order to hook somebody, and not just tap them on the shoulder but take them by both sides of their face and aim their attention. David Lynch's films have a tendency to do that.  

DOOR: What made you opt for Christ back in the '70s?   

YAMBAR: When I was younger, I was on a quest for truth—Absolute Truth: who, what where, when, how, why, and how much. I was raised Catholic but grew disenchanted early because everything was written off as either 1) "That's just the way we've always done things, so you're just going to have to accept it" or 2) "It's a mystery of the Church." I got so fed up hearing that jive that I once told a priest that he should consider hiring Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys so they could get to the bottom of all of this mystery mess.   

DOOR: The Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew?  

YAMBAR: I went on to study Buddhism and Taoism, but that just turned out to be man-made philosophy. The Buddha himself even made this declaration. Socialism proved itself to be as much of a blown tool as capitalism. It's all about caste systems. Finally, a friend handed me a Bible in a parking lot, and I took it home to read it for myself. I figured that if I was going to reject something, then I'd better reject it from the source rather than from the byproduct of the source. After reading the Bible for myself, I was stunned at how much I didn't know about any of it and what a screwed-up understanding I had about who Christ really was. I gave my life to God in 1978 and have been actively looking for a way out ever since (laughs).   

DOOR: We know the feeling. 

YAMBAR: But I made a pact with God that I would continue to follow Him through Christ as long as Christ stood up to every possible question, and I haven't had to go any further. But I must say that if it weren't for the reality of Jesus, I'd have left Christianity a long time ago. This generation of Christians is a real letdown.   

DOOR: We know that feeling, too.  

YAMBAR: It's all about self-preservation and personal gain with many of these people. Christians today are more offended by cuss words than they are about words like "hunger," "hate," and "greed."  

DOOR: We ...  

YAMBAR: And the lack of practical Bible knowledge in the modern church is frightening to me. When I compare my Biblical understanding of Christ to the popular Western version I hear preached so often here in America, I can't help believing that there are two Christs walking the earth.   

DOOR: The "mythological effeminate Thor" Christ and—  

YAMBAR: The one with the dirt under his nails, no pun intended. And in the end, my money's on the one with the dirt under his nails.  

Friday, April 3, 2020


This 1995 article of mine obviously isn't an interview.  But it did appear in the Door.  And, if only for my grandson to stumble across someday long after I'm gone, it may as well be online.  

When it comes to prayer, the Church consists of two kinds of people: those who hate to pray but do, and those who hate to pray and don’t.
Among those who hate to pray but do, there are those who do it and get answers and those who do it and don’t.  The former never tire of explaining to the latter that God answers prayer in three ways: “Yes,” “No,” and “Wait.”  “Yes” (they say) is God’s way of saying, “Funny you asked about that—I was just about to give it to you!”  “No” is His way of saying, “Yeah, right!  In your dreams, Pedro!”  And “Wait” is His way of saying, “Yeah, right!  In your dreams, Pedro!” over a long period of time.
Among those who hate to pray and don’t are those who feel guilty about it and those who think not praying is a great achievement.  Orson Welles, for instance, not long before he went belly-up, said this about his prayer life: “God is an artist.  I don’t want to bore God.”  This from a guy who made an art out of muttering “Rosebud.”  (By the way, kids, damning God with faint praise is not a smart thing to do right before your lifetime habit of eating enough for a small army does you in.)
Among those who pray and get answers are those who admit that they hate it and those who lie and say they love it.  They lie because they don’t want the people in the churches they pastor to become people who don’t pray—something they would certainly be tempted to become if they ever found out that even the “good” pray-ers would rather be skiing…or using the thigh-master…or hanging upside down by their toes over a valley of razor blades.
As a new Christian, I hated to pray, knew it, and didn’t get answers.  I eventually became a person who hated to pray and therefore quit.  But I felt so guilty about it that I eventually started praying again.  I even began getting answers—like this article, for instance. Just this morning I said, “Our Father, please make The Door print this.”
People who get answers have a name for themselves: “prayer warriors.”  I’ve often wondered what people who never get answers should call themselves: prayer pacifists? pathetic pray-ers?  Perhaps the initials of either (P.P.) would suffice.
Of course, from P.P. it’s not far to B.S.—which is all most Protestant public prayer (P.P.P.) amounts to.  (I’ll get to Catholics soon, so hold your theses.) When Protestants aren’t using the occasion of public prayer to show off the progress they’ve been making with their Verbal Advantage tapes, they’re sending theological zingers to other Protestants in the room.
My uncle, a rabid Calvinist, and my dad, a rabid Arminian, used prayer this way.  When we ate at my uncle’s house, my uncle would pray over dinner with sentiments like “Our Most Sovereign Heavenly Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast predestined us according to Thy will to enjoy these pork chops and this Del Monte canned corn.”
And when my uncle ate at our house, Dad would say prayers like “O God, from whom we can all freely and irrevocably fall away if we so choose, please bless this bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken to our bodies’ use.”
Protestants also use prayer to zing Catholics on those rare occasions when the two can stand to be in the same room.  As a Catholic teacher at a school run by Reformed Presbyterians, I hear a lot of this: “Our great and gracious God whose mother no virgin named Mary art, we thank Thee that in Thy Word, the holy and inspired 66 books—and only 66 books—of the Bible, Thou hast revealed to us the inefficacy of sacraments and the superiority of Davy and Goliath over Mother Angelica.”
When not publicly praying themselves, Protestants mentally critique the public prayers of their brethren, tallying every redundant “Father-God,” “just,” “really,” and “traveling mercies,” and silently rejoicing when the verbally inept pray their way into cul-de-sacs and have to hem and haw their way out.
This, of course, is where praying in tongues comes in handy.  If you can automatically switch into a language that sounds like backward masking or a dyslexic kid trying to read an eye chart, no occasion of public prayer need rattle your self-esteem.  And if you can pray in tongues and sing like a boy going through puberty at the same time, you can win a yodeling trophy.
Of course, if tongues seems too weird, you can always hiss “Yesss, Jesusss” throughout everyone else’s prayers and come off spiritual (even though you’re really just annoying those who are trying to keep track of the redundant utterances of “Father-God,” “just,” “really,” and “traveling mercies”).
As a new believer, I hated prayer because it took forever even to come close to following all of the advice I’d ever gotten on the subject: “Martin Luther prayed for four hours a day” (a wonderful reason for becoming Catholic); “Jesus sometimes prayed all night” (not that His actually being God helped or anything); “Make a list of everyone and everything you want to pray for” (which only amounts to a few million items, give or take the inhabitants of a famine-stricken continent or two); and, my favorite—from the Bible, no less—“Pray without ceasing.”
Now, “Pray without ceasing” can mean two things: “Pray continuously” (twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, even during burps, hiccups, and sneezes) or “Pray continually” (often and regularly).  Some Christians assume that, since the Bible is full of other commands no one can keep, “Pray without ceasing” must mean “Pray continuously.”  When they fail at this (as they do, for instance, whenever they nap through a sermon), they just shrug their shoulders and thank God they’re saved by grace and not works.
Sensible Christians, on the other hand, assume that Paul meant to pray continually.  But that just puts them back at square one.  How often, after all, is often?  But at least they don’t try to pray while driving (i.e., drive with their eyes shut) the way those in the pray-continuously school do.  They also don’t answer the phone with “Praise the Lord,” “Hallelujah,” or “I’m blessed,” the way some of my black church-going friends do, although there’s no better way to discourage a pollster or a representative of MCI.
Protestants hold Bible studies and Wednesday night prayer meetings.  Both of these provide ample time—ample as in “Dolly Parton has an ample bosom”—for sitting hunched over in folding chairs with your head in your hands, listening to the verbally inept ask God to heal people from minor illnesses that they’d recover from anyway and terminal illnesses that God, in His mercy, has decided to use to usher His faithful into His presence instead of having them get run over by buses or eaten by cannibals.
Boys forced to sit through prayer meetings with their dads become really good at pressing on their closed eyelids to see fireworks.  They also get good at sitting still enough, for long enough, to lull unsuspecting flies into the sort of complacency that makes them frog bait.
Catholics, on the other hand, have all of their public prayers pre-written for them by wizened European patriarchs who specialize in prayer-writing.  This eliminates the need for improvising, a skill that, as jazz fans know, resides in great quantities only among geniuses.  And while Protestantism has produced geniuses, mostly it has produced intellectual colossi of the likes of Benny Hinn, Frank Peretti, Bob Larson, and people who think “X-mas” was invented by secular humanists to “take Christ out of Christmas.”  
Protestants know that Catholic prayers beat theirs up, down, and sideways, so they attack them as “meaningless repetition,” a damning phrase taken from the lips of Jesus himself.  What Protestants fail to recognize about meaningless repetition is that repeating something doesn’t make it meaningless; not meaning something makes it meaningless.  So while “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with Thee” and “blessed is the fruit of thy womb” may be meaningless to some people, they certainly weren’t meaningless to Gabriel and Elizabeth when they said them to Mary the first time.  By the same token, a Protestant mantra like “asking Jesus into your heart,” which no one in the Bible ever said, may be meaningless no matter how many people mean it.
But we Catholics have prayer problems of our own—like what to pray for.  The Pope?  He’s infallible already.  The conversion of the heathen?  Fat chance, what with evangelicals proselytizing South America so fervently it’ll soon look like Virginia Beach, and Mormons out-proselytizing even the evangelicals with those state-of-the-art, family-values commercials on TV—you know, the ones where really good-looking Aryan nuclear families with lots of disposable income fog the screens with their love for the polygamist Joseph Smith.
And though no papally correct Catholic likes to admit it, the rosary—a beaded necklace with Jesus and Mary on it that left-wing Catholic bumper-stickers say will bring world peace—gets boring, specially around the thirty-fifth “Hail Mary.”  Gabriel and Elizabeth, after all, only had to say it once.
Where I live in Louisiana, you can actually watch a TV show called The Rosary.  It comes on at 5:30 on Sunday mornings, right before wrestling.  Each episode features a priest with all the effervescence of a pallbearer leading a TV studio full of old women in the saying of the beads—women who no doubt danced really mean Charlestons in their spring-chicken days but who now couldn’t cut a rug with a chainsaw.  One can imagine the casting call: “Wanted—really tired grandmothers!  Easy-to-memorize script!”
During the rosary, Catholics are supposed to meditate on the meaning of significant events in the life of Christ, but sooner or later—even in church—the mind drifts, becoming preoccupied with deep thoughts like “Have I shaved between my eyebrows recently?”
Still, Catholics do have one big edge when it comes to prayer: the ability to solicit the help of those who’ve already shed this mortal coil and now have nothing better to do but use their “being in the very presence of God” to intercede for us.  Protestants call this “praying to saints,” but that’s just meaningless repetition.  What we’re really doing is calling on the “cloud of witnesses,” referred to in Hebrews, to assist us.  Like, if I can ask you to pray for me about my upcoming root canal, why can’t I ask St. Benildus?  Because I can’t see him?  Does Mike Warnke believe in his feet?
When Jesus’ disciples asked Him for a prayer, He gave them the Lord’s one.  It’s so simple that most believers of whatever stripe know it by heart, although for many, I suppose, it too has become meaningless repetition…which is too bad because, when you think of it, nobody sounds stupid saying it, not even people with Southern Baptist accents.  Even more impressive is the way Jesus tailored the prayer to ask for everything in ways that God could only say “Yes” to.  It would be unthinkable for God to answer “No” or “Wait” to petitions like “Hallowed be Thy name,” “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” and “Give us this day our daily bread” (although those who don’t believe in their feet might want to say, “Give us this day our Deal-a-Meal,” instead).
As with all aspects of Christianity, prayer is hard because it’s a mystery.  Doing it is better than knowing how to do it, and doing it badly is better than not doing it at all.  Besides, Jesus said to do it in our closets.  Apply these same standards to your sex life, and you’ll see how otherworldly they are.
Of course, were folks to take the pray-in-your-closet command seriously, they’d have no reason to meet in church for Wednesday night prayer meetings, thereby freeing themselves up to experience new challenges—like finding less pious meanings for the term “hump day.”
Or maybe not.  Surely any church worth its salt and light could accommodate the few who turn out on Wednesday nights in the closet space it already has just by pushing the choir robes aside.  And if not, they could always pray for more closet space.  The worst God could say is “No.”
Or “Wait.”

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Quentin J. Schultze (May/June 2003)

Like many of the people who’ve sat for Door interviews over the years, Dr. Quentin J. Schultze is the author of books with really impressive titles and enough colons to keep an army of proctologists in malpractice suits for years:  Communicating for Life: Christian Stewardship in Community and Media (Baker, 2000), Winning Your Kids Back from the Media (InterVarsity, 1994), Redeeming Television: How TV Changes Christians—How Christians Can Change TV (InterVarsity, 1992), Popular Religion (Baker, 1991), and Television: Manna from Hollywood? (Baker, 1986).

He’s co-authored a few (The Best Family Videos: For the Discriminating Viewer; Dancing in the Dark: Youth, Popular Culture and the Electronic Media) and even edited-contributed to one (American Evangelicals and the Mass Media).  Even more impressive, his books have actually been translated into Korean and Indonesian.  More impressive yet, his 1995 video (now CD-ROM) presentation, Internet for Christians, has even been translated into Spanish, German, Japanese, and Finnish.  Heck, we didn’t even know there were any Christians in Finland!

Unlike most of the people who’ve sat for The Door Interview, Dr. Schultze (the “e” is silent) is a professor of Communications at Calvin College in Grand. Rapids, Mich.—you know, the Christian college that recently hosted a concert by the Indigo Girls so that its students could see for themselves that it wasn’t only Christian musicians who made sappy music.  Anyway, when the kind folks at Baker Book House sent us a copy of his latest book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, we decided to have a look-see at what it was that could inspire him to use so much initial alliteration.  Turns out we didn’t have to look any further than the subtitle: “Living Virtuously in the Information Age.”  Always in need of info on how to live virtuously, we dispatched Arsenio Orteza, one of our most virtue-challenged mastheaders, to the Marriott Hotel in New Orleans, where the good professor was participating in various activities at the National Convention of the National Communication Association.

Over lunch, Dr. Schultze elaborated on a variety of topics related but not limited to computers in general and the Internet in particular—especially their increasing role in our ever-changing world.  In addition to proving himself knowledgable about an astonishingly broad range of topics, he also displayed an energy level that helps account for his ability to fulfill the not-always-complementary roles of teacher, writer, speaker, husband, and father.  Tall, trim, bespectacled, neatly bearded, dapperly gray, and bow-tied, he came off every inch the professor.  He even offered to pick up the lunch tab, but our man in the Big Easy lied and told him we’d cover it.

Naturally, Dr. Schultze has a website, and it’s pretty nifty and informative as those things go.  The URL is, and by all means feel free to tell him you first heard about it here.  Just don’t get him started on the extent to which he was misquoted in the following interview.  With his knowledge of computer technology, he just might concoct a virus and embed it in his response, thus making cyber-meat of your hard drive.

THE DOOR MAGAZINE:  What made you want to study communication?
QUENTIN J. SCHULTZE:  Well, I started out in engineering, but I became increasingly interested in communication problems.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  It was amazing to me that two or more people could somehow share ideas, have a life in common, and love one another.  I mean, animals can’t do it.  So I switched from engineering to communication.

DOOR:  Were you a religious man prior to this time?
SCHULTZE:  I grew up in a nominally Roman Catholic family, but my folks stopped going to church when they got divorced, and by the time I was an undergraduate, I was what I called “a-religious,” kind of an agnostic.  It was my interest in communication that eventually led to my interest in communicating with God.

DOOR:  What was the connection?
SCHULTZE:  I reasoned that if we could communicate with each other, and if there is a God, then maybe we could communicate with God as well.  And if in fact God made us, our communication ability might somehow reflect something about the way God is.

DOOR:  What happened then?
SCHULTZE:  I became a Christian, and very much a catholic Christian in the sense of believing that there is a catholic—or Christian—tradition that includes all the different Christian groups all the way back, which I consider myself part of.  So even though I am a Calvinist, I’m also very much a Christian in the catholic-with-a-small-c sense.

DOOR:  We consider ourselves a magazine-in-the-small-m sense.

DOOR:  So, this Internet thang.  The outlook’s rosy, right?
SCHULTZE:  One of the biggest businesses now in information technology is the backup-saving-of-information business.  One of my former students works in it and tells me that every credit card transaction, every medical record at ever hospital, every government record—all of this has to get backed up somewhere, and there are just a few major companies that have set up places underground or in mountains with all kinds of backup machinery where all this stuff gets saved.

DOOR:  Sounds apocalyptic.
SCHULTZE:  He imagines a kind of nightmare scenario that something’s going to happen, and we’re going to lose a huge amount of this.  It’s like Fahrenheit 451, where they go out and intentionally burn the books—but this may be an accident—and it’s gone!  Frankly, I believe that cyber-terrorism is going to be one of the next great war fronts.

DOOR: Why?
SCHULTZE:  Because it’s going to allow you to do a tremendous amount of damage without having to be in geographic proximity.  From a distance you’ll be able to go in and throw off a schedule for a power plant or something and cause the plant to burn up.

DOOR:  With so many storage media these days—zip disks, CD-Roms—why is backing up files such a challenge?
SCHULTZE:  Any medium that exists is destroyable.  A fire or some other weather-related thing will take care of your CDs.  The whole idea now is to have multiple locations, usually with large hard drives, and you hope that something will prohibit all locations from going down.  But there’s a problem with that kind of thinking.

DOOR:  Which is?
SCHULTZE:  Usually these locations are somehow connected through networks.  So then you have the probability of somebody being able to get into those networks and to go electronically to those locations and cause problems.

DOOR:  Isn’t the Internet itself maintained by only a handful of servers?
SCHULTZE:  Yeah, it’s a small number.

DOOR:  And didn’t several of them recently stop working for an hour?
SCHULTZE:  Yeah, for an hour three or four of them were knocked out, and they don’t know who was responsible.  Everything I read by people who are willing to be honest says that our systems are generally very insecure because we’re trying to link everything to everything else.  The Internet is what produced the biggest amount of insecurity in the systems because once one network is connected to another network, people can start to move through them, and the way that you get your security back is to isolate and create networks that are not connected to other networks, which in a sense defeats the purpose.

DOOR:  Were you yourself in on the first wave of personal computers?
SCHULTZE:  I was in on the second wave.  I wasn’t in on the first wave in the late seventies because the computers were too expensive, and I was a poor academician.  I also thought that the expense alone would keep computers from ever becoming something big.  It wasn’t until the early eighties that I realized these data-processing systems were going to become communication systems.  As someone with a doctorate in communications, I realized I had to start studying, writing about, and critiquing these things, because now what was at stake was not just data processing but the very symbolic fabric of our culture.

DOOR:  If you’d lived at an earlier time, do you think you would’ve written books questioning the dangers of the printing press, say, or Edison’s communication-oriented inventions?
SCHULTZE:  Yes.  Both my historical training and my Calvinist instincts tell me that every advancement in human-communication technology will also diminish the quality of human communication and cause unexpected problems.  If you go back and look at the printing press or at a telegraph, you’ll find that there were parallel problems.

DOOR:  What’s the main difference this time around?
SCHULTZE:  The difference today is that the public rhetoric is so overwhelmingly optimistic.  The ads for the new products and services and the guru columns and the public speeches by the techno gurus all talk about progress.  They rarely talk about regrets, which I think, since we live in a fallen world, deserves equal time.

DOOR:  Would you describe the history of communication technology as one step forward, two steps back?
SCHULTZE:  In the past, the time that it’s taken to develop and distribute new communication technology has provided adequate time for reflection, criticism, and some reconsideration of how to employ the technology.  But now, with digital technology, we’ve reached a pace of innovation where the negative effects are just as robust and widespread as the positive ones, and we have less of a grasp of the negative effects than people generally had with previous technologies.  In 1994, for example, the average consumer knew nothing about the World Wide Web, and now we’ve got about seventy percent of Americans on it.  That adoption rate is spectacular from a marketing standpoint, but from the standpoint of understanding what this all means, we’re lost in the cosmos, to paraphrase Walker Percy.

DOOR:  In your book you express concern that the technological revolution will inevitably drive those who can afford the technology and those who can’t farther and farther apart.  With technology continuously getting cheaper, won’t this divide eventually close?
SCHULTZE:  The idea that newer technologies are necessarily going to be cheaper may not be true.  

DOOR:  Great.
SCHULTZE:  We’re now recognizing the increased costs of updating and upgrading every few years, and the rate at which these technologies become obsolete.  During the late ‘90s, we had a free ride.  There was a lot of money coming in to subsidize these technologies on the basis of dot-coms that would supposedly produce profits.  Most of them didn’t, so the real costs of technologies are just starting to become apparent.  Actually, I see a growing gap between the info-rich and the info-poor, which, incidentally, may be a good thing.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  It may be that to be information-rich in our world is to be wisdom-poor.  So we may be deluding ourselves by assuming that we’re a moor progressive society or that we are a more virtuous people simply because we have access to a lot of information.

DOOR:  American evangelicals were among the quickest to capitalize on television and radio.  Is there something inherent in their mindset that renders them uniquely susceptible to equating virtue with progress?
SCHULTZE:  Because of the emphasis in evangelicalism on the proclamation of the Gospel, new technologies tend to attract these kinds of believers, who think that the technology is the answer, that the right technique will lead you to the result that you want—the salvation of souls or whatever it happens to be.  And that’s a very American way of thinking, too.  So, in a sense, evangelical optimism about technology has greatly shaped American optimism about technology.  In fact, American evangelicals have been behind the development of every new and major communication technology in the United States.  In the 1830s, for example, the Bible-and-tract societies took mass printing and distribution to a new level.  A similar thing happened both in the early years of radio and the early years of satellite TV, with the CBN network and the PTL network, and now it’s TBN and all.

DOOR:  But aren’t evangelicals more the catch-up types nowadays?  By the time Billy Graham started making motion pictures, for instance, Hollywood had already left them in the dust.
SCHULTZE:  The movies were a special case.  The movie houses themselves—being dark, dreary, smoke-infested, and located in ethnic neighborhoods that weren’t very WASP-ish—were seen as evil places.  That slowed down evangelical development in film, though, most evangelicals pounced on the Internet right away and created much more of a religious presence online than any other Christian or non-Christian religious group.

DOOR:  We couldn’t help noticing, by the way, the disproportionate number of quotations in your book from Václav Havel.  Were you aware of him before his emergence on the international stage?
SCHULTZE:  I ran across Václav Havel some time back, I think through his plays, some of which are wonderful testaments to how real communication evaporates in a totalitarian society.

DOOR:  How does real communication evaporate in a totalitarian society?
SCHULTZE:  When we think of a totalitarian society, we think of top-down, hierarchical, control-oriented communication.  And, when you read his plays, you realize he recognized that the communication coming down from on top was laughable and absurd, and that the people were becoming increasingly disingenuous in the whole society as a result.  Then I read his letters to his wife—Letters to Olga—which he wrote in his years in prison, and it occurred to me that it is one of the greatest statements of democratic political philosophy in the 20th century.  So I began reading all of his speeches and everything else, and following his growing political career.  I think he’s a prophetic voice in the contemporary world.

DOOR:  Any other prophetic voices or trends you’d like to give a shout-out to?
SCHULTZE:  During the last ten years, there’s a bunch of books coming out about the importance of the Trinity in our understanding of the Christian faith, and now that theology is starting to influence Christians who write about communication.

DOOR:  How?
SCHULTZE:  That to get a sense of the model of communication, we have to get a sense of the Trinity and what that’s like.  One of the really fine books on that is Colin Gunton’s The One, the Three, and the Many.

DOOR:  We haven’t read that one.  What does it say?
SCHULTZE:  That whenever either diversity or unity in communication becomes too predominant, then you lose communication.  So in the information age I look around and say, “We’ve created our own Babelonian mess, where hardly anybody can communicate with anybody else anymore.  Even though we have common language, we have so many individual vernaculars, versions of reality and truth, and so many different individual experiences that there’s no thread.  So we don’t know what—or how—to share anymore.

DOOR:  Do you think the proliferation of Bible translations is an example of what you’re describing?
SCHULTZE:  Yes.  The Internet makes possible a world where everybody can be their own God, create their own text, their own canon, their own interpretation.  In the seventies we would’ve said, “Roll your own religion.”  So you have all these people creating their own religions online.  Incredible!  And that relates to all the Bible versions, to all the different study versions for all the different markets.  But it also relates to something Rich Mouw once said to me: “Protestants have replaced one pope with many popes.”  The Protestant notion of the priesthood of all believers is becoming the notion of the papacy of all believers because you’ve got your own website and you can publish.

DOOR:  Is there a silver lining to this dark cloud?
SCHULTZE:  I think so.  An interesting thing to me is to see a movement back toward historical interest in Christian liturgy among Protestants, including Evangelicals, who are looking back at the history of Christian liturgy and incorporating elements from the history of the church into “contemporary” church services.

DOOR:  What does this movement have to do with the Internet?
SCHULTZE:  What it has to do with it is that we can use the Internet to find out a lot about the history of liturgy and-or the history of particular saints or whatever if you have the inclination.  Rather than just using the Internet as an extension of your own ego, you can find out plenty about the past and actually learn something.  I think what we’re seeing now in something like the Christian Classics Ethereal Library, which a colleague of mine at Calvin, Harry Plantinga, does.  He’s taking all of the no-longer-copyrighted Christian classics, and he’s putting them all online and making them searchable.  It’s tremendous to have access to this stuff.  So I’m not anti-technology.  I just want to say that the Christian tradition has always said that we have to focus not just on what we can do as people but also on the kinds of people that we are.

DOOR:  You credit American Evangelicals with being the driving force behind our communication technologies.  In your book you mention that pornographers have also been quick to capitalize on the media.
SCHULTZE:  With video in particular.  Pornography really created the demand for the consumer video player.  That’s been well documented.  So, yes, pornography has always been there.  In the case of the Internet, I would say that the quest for God and the quest for sex are probably the two biggest quests that drove the development of the World Wide Web.  There was a time when if you went in the search engines and put in the word “God,” you would get more links than if you put in the word “sex.”  It’s not so now.

DOOR:  So we’ve noticed—er, heard.
SCHULTZE:  There’s a human drive for intimacy that exists in both the realm of God-seeking and sex-seeking, and the Internet became a way for people anonymously to go after both of those.  And there’s still a tremendous amount of God-seeking., for instance, is the highest-trafficked religious website in the world.  It runs over ten million hits a day.

DOOR:  Enough of the silver linings.  Any more dark clouds?
SCHULTZE:  The problem of authorship in a digital age is massive.

DOOR:  In what way?
SCHULTZE:  Anybody can make digital copies of practically anything, change the author, change parts of the original copy.  We’re going to find that we have major problems on our hands in discerning truth, whether it’s a trial and the records that are presented or a book written by someone.  Did they really write the entire book?  Plagiarism of all kinds has become extremely easy.

DOOR:  So has the downloading of copyrighted music files from the Internet.

DOOR:  Do your kids download MP3s?
SCHULTZE:  For a long time, my son downloaded music free and believed, according to copyright—just as if you and I had a book and went to make one copy on a Xerox machine—that it was legal.  I took the contrary position.

DOOR:  Why?
SCHULTZE:  Because we’re taking real serious money away from the people who own the original by making it easy for anybody to quickly make a copy online, with almost no cost or effort involved.  To go to a library and to copy a chapter takes time driving there, it takes time putting money into the thing and everything else.  There are reasons that would drive down costs.  The same thing with making an audio-cassette copy of something.  There are costs built into this, that make it seem to me to be reasonable to have a personal-use clause.  But I didn’t think we could live with that anymore in the digital age without causing serious problems.

DOOR:  What has the response to your book been like?
SCHULTZE:  Phenomenal.  And the funny thing is, usually by the time I finish writing a book, I’m so sick of the doggone thing that I don’t want to talk to anybody about it.  But this time I thought, “You know what?  This topic still grabs me.”  So I’m working on a follow-up.

DOOR:  Wait, let us guess: Habits of the High-Tech Heart 8.0?
SCHULTZE:  Uh, no.  I’m thinking of titling it something like The Habits of Love in the Information Age.  What I want to do is focus on four Christian practices that we should revive in the midst of this information technology that’s all around us.

DOOR:  What are they?
SCHULTZE:  Neighborliness, hospitality, friendship, and leisure.

DOOR:  What do you mean by “neighborliness”?
SCHULTZE:  Neighborliness, in the sense of the Good Samaritan.  No matter how different somebody is from us, we’re there to help them in whatever way we can and to be aware each day of how we can do this.  Sadly, neighborliness has become whoever’s next door to you, yet there’s a deep Christian tradition regarding who your neighbor is.  Saddam Hussein may be our enemy, but he’s our neighbor too.

DOOR:  What about hospitality?
SCHULTZE:  Hospitality means making room for the stranger, the person who’s different.  The monasteries were the champions of hospitality.  Most of the monastic traditions had as part of their code that they would accept anybody who came to the door.

DOOR:  We’ll still accept anyone who comes to The Door, especially if he’s willing to subscribe.
SCHULTZE:  Part of hospitality is willingness to listen.  When I first got to Calvin twenty years ago, I went to the library and looked up the number of books that we had on speech versus the number of books that we had on listening.

DOOR:  What did you discover?
SCHULTZE:  It was like four hundred to ten, which I find very strange because you can make the case that because God first spoke, listening is the first and most important human communicative activity.  So I thought that was interesting, that even in a Christian college we’d be so out of balance.  In a fallen world, where we all want to get our egos going and our websites revved up for action so that everybody can know who we are—

DOOR:  The Door has a website.

DOOR:  Uh, friendship?
SCHULTZE:  By that I mean friendship in the sense of John 15.  A friend is the person who would lay down his life for you, just as God laid down the life of his Son.

DOOR:  And who would also lay down a lot of other things short of life for you.
SCHULTZE:  Everything.  It’s the suffering servant right there.  Giving it all, rather than, as the dot-com ‘90s would’ve had it, acquiring it all.

DOOR:  Leisure?
SCHULTZE:  I was going to call it “Sabbath keeping” because I’m in the Calvinist tradition, but it’s actually been better developed by Catholics than by Protestants, especially recently by Josef Pieper, the German theologian who’s got a book called Leisure Is the Basis of Culture.

DOOR:  It’s also the basis of some really ugly suits.
SCHULTZE:  God himself established the importance of leisure by working six days then taking the next day off to reflect back on and to express gratitude for what was done.  That concept of leisure can reconnect us with a deep part of what cosmic reality is.

DOOR:  Sounds like a book to us.
SCHULTZE:  What I want to do is, in a winsome, positive way, present these four habits of the heart that have this incredible Christian depth and Christian tradition to them, long predating Protestantism, and see if I can’t develop them in an information-age context, so that people say, “Yeah, there’s something there that I want to recapture for my life.”