Another Curious Convert

Marshall McLuhan’s birthday is noted in today’s Writer’s Almanac. I knew he was a Catholic but I didn’t know, as is pointed out here, that he converted after getting knocked upside the head by the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He also qualifies for our “So Many Children” file.

It’s the birthday of Canadian media theorist and educator Marshall McLuhan (1911) (books by this author), born Herbert Marshall McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta. He coined the phrases “the global village” and “the medium is the message.” He studied at Cambridge University, and while there, he encountered the writings of G.K. Chesterton, which influenced his conversion to Catholicism; he’d previously been agnostic. He spent most of his professional life working in academia, although he did work in advertising from time to time to support his wife and six children. In the early 1960s, he predicted the eventual decline of the print culture and the rise of “electronic interdependence,” which would bring the world toward a more collective, less fragmented identity. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in the late 1960s; it was treated successfully. Ten years later, he suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, and he died in 1980.

He wrote: “The printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information.”


  1. There is a book called The Medium and the Light which collects a variety of McLuhan’s writings on religion. In includes some material related to his conversion, as well as a perceptive essay on Chesterton. It’s worth tracking down if the fancy strikes.

    • Jonathan Potter says

      Thanks, that’s good to know. I’m looking it up right now.

      And he’s another curious Canadian, to boot! By the way, I think Walker Percy says somewhere that Canadians, like the Jews, have not been subsumed by their category. They remain a mystery and a sign of God’s gratuitous funny business.

  2. Chuirchill says

    Has your readership increased?

  3. Tom Wolfe has a hilarious piece – lampooning not so much him as the modern tendency to look for the Next Big Idea as the one that will solve the universe’s problems.

    The illimitable Hugh Kenner writes eloquently about McLuhan too.


  4. Jonathan Webb says

    More here:

  5. Jonathan Webb says
  6. Jonathan Webb says

    In answer to your questions Lady Churchill, yes, our readership has increased. And not just among Canadians, Obama reads us too. David Cameron has been “fingered” on our website. And past PMs too. We’re growing. A lot is happening (more than you would know). You are making the right decision sticking with us instead of going to other leading sites. We’re meeting for a writer’s conference and there will be real writers there like Joseph O’Brien and Matthew Lickona and The Pot. Quin Finnegan is a soon-to-be published novelist who I know personally. For you gals, we also have a very prominent female Catholic writer who is part of the team. Readership is increasing thousands of percent.

  7. Jonathan Webb says

    The Mystic is the Andy Rooney of the blog. A very key component.

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