In a 1970 conversation with Hubert Hoskins (now called “Electronic Consciousness and the Church”), Marshall McLuhan drew a key distinction between perceiving God and conceiving of God. An excerpt:
MCLUHAN: I am myself quite aware that there is a great contrast between perceptual and conceptual confrontation; and I think that the death of Christianity, or the death of God, occurs the moment they become concept. As long as they remain percept, directly involving the perceiver, they are alive.
… The revelation is of thing, not theory. And where revelation reveals actual thingness, you are not dealing with concept. The thingness revealed in Christianity has always been a scandal to the conceptualist. […]This is an issue raised in the Book of Job, where faith and understanding were put at totally opposite poles. Job was not working on a theory but on a direct percept, and all understanding was against him, all concept was against him, he was directly perceiving a reality, revealed to him.
HOSKINS: If what you are saying is right, I still don’t see how such an activity as theology is possible even in theory.
MCLUHAN: It should ideally be the study of the thingness, of the nature of God, since it is a form of contemplation. Insofar as it is theoretic or an intellectual construction, it is a pure game, though perhaps a very attractive one. It’s a game that can equally be played with any oriental theology. It has no more relevance to Christian theology than it has to Hindu theology.
McLuhan goes on to remind Hoskins that the Scribes and Pharisees “had too many theories to be able to perceive anything.”
His point, of course, is a central one: Do you perceive God as a real, true being? Alive? Or, do you conceive of God as possible or probable?
This could be metaphorized in G.K. Chesterton’s, “Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.” You cannot have a love relationship with an idea. Relationships require Someones.
So, Christians, are you living your lives in relationship? Or are you too busy playing theoretical games?
P.S. One place where you can read “Electronic Consciousness and the Church” in its entirety: The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. (A compilation of McLuhan edited by his son, Eric, and Jacek Szklarek.)