January 29, 2022 Wayne Northey

Marshall McLuhan, the Catholic thinker who predicted the internet, spent his last days praying with a Jesuit

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Nick Ripatrazone

January 28, 2022

photo above: Marshall McLuhan at New York University’s Loeb Center, June 14, 1966 (AP Photo/John Lindsay)

WN: I write in Easter Song and Reflections on the Resurrection:

Jesus throughout history has transfixed lives, making it for starters a challenge to those who deny the Gospel’s transformative power once it gets a hold of one’s life. An illustration of myriad/which is this book published in 2012 by Robert Inchausti (with whom I’m in a discussion group on Ivan Illich and David Cayley about Cayley’s new book: Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey Discussion Group with David Cayley):

Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and other Christians in Disguise. Of it we read:

It may seem a surprising claim, but some of the most brilliant and original critics of modernity have been shaped by Christianity. In Subversive Orthodoxy, Robert Inchausti maps out a tradition of twentieth century thinkers-including philosophers, activists, and novelists-whose “unique contributions to secular thought derive from their Christian worldviews.” Inchausti revisits the lives and work of a stunning array of well-known Christian thinkers as well as figures not often thought of as Christian. From Walker Percy to Dorothy Day, Jacques Ellul to Marshall McLuhan, Inchausti offers a fascinating who’s who of what he calls the “orthodox avant-garde.” Subversive Orthodoxy will be an informative and encouraging read for pastors, laypeople, and students concerned about the Christian response to secular ideologies.

We read further in the Forword by Ward Mailliard:

In poetically articulate voice, [the author] amplifies the revolutionary truth that when principles of great ethical and spiritual tradition such as Christianity are ‘lived,’ they become both “subversive” and “orthodox.”

Another instance of God’s transformative power is Francis Thompson in the brilliant poem, The Hound of Heaven, that indicates there is nowhere left to run, and in “majestic instancy” God’s unrelenting Love inexorably pursues us! The opening verse reads:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbèd pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,

They beat—and a Voice beat

More instant than the Feet—

‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

The poem incidentally was set to beautiful music by Anglican priest and composer Ronald Corp here. There is also a theatrical production of Thompson’s life and poetry:

The only hell there is, as Eastern Orthodoxy understands it, is the fire of God’s ceaseless Love poured out towards us! So there is endless hope! And Jesus of course, like hot knife through butter, descended into hell according to the great Church creeds, precisely to initiate Love-infused full Infernal Meltdown–in order to rid hell of its contents forever! Amen! And Amen!

Bluntly: Love wins!

excerpts:

Marshall McLuhan, the pop culture sage of the electronic world and a Catholic convert, spent the final days of his life with Frank Stroud, S.J. During those last days of 1980, they read, laughed, drank wine, smoked cigars and prayed together—a fitting end to a life shaped by faith and anchored in the Ignatian tradition.

During the height of his influence, McLuhan was the most public of intellectuals. He toured the United States and Canada, appeared on television and radio shows, chatted with John Lennon and Yoko Ono and was the subject of feature articles in magazines as varied as Esquire, Vogue and Harper’s. The New York Times ran 27 articles about him in 1967 alone.

The entertainment, media and academic worlds of his heyday had good reason to miss the Christian foundations of his theories, for there is evidence that McLuhan, sly rhetorician that he was, made subtle his religious sensibility. Yet it is telling that some of his earliest and most vocal defenders and explicators were Jesuit priests, intellectuals equally comfortable wading through esoteric theology as they were moving among the secular masses.

McLuhan’s Christian belief and worldview are no mere biographical footnote. They offered him pliable metaphors for the intersection of the material and the spiritual, engendered in him the confidence and determination of a religious adherent and compelled him to react to the rapidly changing electronic world around him. Any honest and thorough analysis of McLuhan’s paradigm-changing views must not merely begin with these religious considerations; it must also examine how his belief sustained the development and dissemination of these theories. McLuhan’s vocation was to understand how the environments created by media shape our perception of the world.

Always more artist than scholar, more poet than academic, McLuhan would likely appreciate that his final act occurred as the year turned to its close. Those last days of the calendar year are often bittersweet: hope for the next year tied inextricably to the melancholy final hours of December; the great joy of Christmas followed by the protracted, almost metronomic waiting of New Year’s Eve. Even our best years never feel quite good enough.

Please click on: Marshall McLuhan, The Catholic Thinker

Wayne Northey

Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.

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