Marshall McLuhan is often described as a English professor or Canadian or just a prescient weirdo when we’re not talking about his prophet-strange pronouncements over the future of communications technology. But in recent years, Christian has increasingly appeared next to his name, even though McLuhan didn’t describe himself like this in the public or academic sense. Even in my own reading of McLuhan five years ago, I was consulting him for his media theory, not his theology. I didn’t discover The Medium and Light: Reflections on Religion—published in 1999 by his grandson Eric McLuhan—until nearly done with my own research and writing. Now when I speak on theology and tech, I often use McLuhans’ startling and perfect quote:
In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same. (McLuhan, The Medium and the Light, 103)
More recently, Douglas Coupland’s 2010 biography highlights the early conversion of McLuhan which Coupland demarks as March 20, 1937 when Marshall is admitted to the Catholic church at the age of 26 over the objections of his Protestant mother. This after his discovery of GK Chesterton while studying at Cambridge:
Marshall, like most converts, quickly became hard core. He went to Mass almost every day for the rest of his life. He recited the rosary. He was a firm believer in Hell. He was disgusted that other Catholics weren’t Catholic enough. Above all, he believed that because God made the world, it must, in the end, be comprehensible (Coupland, Marshall McLuhan, 77)
ps — like my new quote graphic?
Essay: Medium is the Messiah
Dr. Read Mercer Schuchardt (Wheaton) has a great new essay on the influence of McLuhan’s faith on his scholarship. It’s a little dense if you haven’t studied McLuhan before, but worth it. He starts:
To say that Marshall McLuhan was incidentally a Christian, or that his Catholicism was just part of his private life, is like saying that Karl Marx was only incidentally a Marxist. … To put it briefly, the Catholic faith informed McLuhan’s theories in a manner similar to the way Einstein’s C functioned: as the one constant in the universe to which and against which all else could be measured. Everything might be relative, but it is relative only in relation to the one thing that is not relative. For McLuhan, this was not the speed of light, but was the Incarnation of Christ, a fact or “thing” that was not altogether separate from McLuhan’s understanding of what light was.