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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Our mediated conscience

Luther can help us navigate in our graceless, interactive world

It should come as no surprise to readers of The Lutheran that we communicate digitally as much as interpersonally in our everyday affairs. What might surprise many, however, is how communication technology displaces people, forcing changes in our interpersonal relationships and, perhaps, even in our faith—in which conscience should be our guide.

Modern-day technology mediates, or dulls, the conscience to such an extent that we can’t stand for truth in a graceless, interactive world.

The last change comparable to the Web in Western culture occurred in 15th-century Europe with the invention of movable type by Johannes Gutenberg, a German metallurgist.

Gutenberg began his career by peddling trinkets to religious pilgrims and later made metal molds to print thousands of indulgences, slips of paper sold as coupons to sinners to shorten their stays in purgatory.

He is best known, of course, for his press and Bible. But media scholars note that the indulgences—the junk mail of the era—afflicted the collective conscience in Europe and led, ultimately, to a revolution in thought, word and deed.

In the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church shaped the collective conscience, dictating moral values and, on occasion, ignoring Scripture to promote special interests. Scholars like Martin Luther, as an Augustinian monk, had ready access to printed Bibles. Soon Luther became aware of the discrepancies between the Bible and church teachings.

His writings, including the famous 95 Theses nailed to the door of Castle Church at Wittenberg in 1517, challenged papal authority out of love for the truth and from a desire to elucidate it.


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