Saturday, October 04, 2014
A Theology Of Technology
We have entered a whole new world. Truly a brave new world, a digital world, completely new to the human experience. Possibilities are endless, as are the pitfalls.
· Children aged 8-18 consume 7 hours and 38 minutes of media per day.
· Teens 13-17 send an average of 3,364 texts per month.
· Facebook is cited in almost 1/3 of divorce filings.
· First exposure to internet based pornography is age 12 (and falling).
Technological advancement is chaotic. Not all of it is good. Some of it is quite vile. It is alarming that he deeply unloving acts of soliciting sex with children through internet web sites has been perpetrated by those whom we trust. Teachers and others have been jailed for obscene photos of children.
Often television series are based upon real life experiences recorded by book authors. One young U.S. pioneering family had a daughter; Laura Engles-Wiilder( of “Little House on the Prairie” fame) was born in 1867. Later in life, she wrote about being a pioneer girl. She died in 1957 – the year the Boeing 747 went into the sky, before man landed on the moon, the year before Lennon met McCarthy. She wrote about the steam engine like it was some magnificent invention. However since 1957 technological change has been enormous.
And yet the pace of technological change has not slackened, but rather technological change increases remarkably. The impossibilities of the 1968 Star Trek series have largely become realities; such as the hand held communicator, or the computer screen.
1980 brought about the digital divide. Computers, once the province of big businesses such as IBM, have been displaced by Microsoft and Apple, as computers could now be brought into our homes.
1990 saw the commencement of the internet age. Knowledge, information became available to all at minimal costs. The prophecy of Daniel 12 is being fulfilled. Verse 4 reads about the end of time, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase."ESV 4many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase." NASB
Life has changed. The role of the university as the resource for knowledge has been replaced by the portable laptop. Encyclopedia’s, once highly valued as the source of all knowledge, venerated in the reserved public space of the household, has been replaced by, first of all, cheap, then free digital editions, and finally displaced by Wikipedia, the “primary source” for all PhD’s papers.
But how now shall we live? Such an information explosion resourced through new technologies, has changed the way people live. The multiple waves of technological innovations have so crashed repeatedly into human life, that rather than respond wisely to the new innovations with rigorous thought and concern, rather , humanity welcomes all new technologies with an enthusiastic embrace: We are led to assume by the unrelenting pressure of unsought technological innovation that technology is neutral, neither moral nor immoral, and that it is only people who give moral value to things. We are then led to give all technologies unqualified, unthinking acceptance.
Some would distance themselves from all technologies with a strict separation: Like the Luddites who resisted the depersonalizing technologies of the industrial revolution in England, we could distrust and resist anything new.
Or we could use some disciplined discernment: Embrace the virtuous, reject the unwholesome.
Malcolm Gladwell (author of “The Tipping Point”) – was recently asked as to the reason for him writing books? He replied, “Because we are experience rich and theory poor. We don’t think about why things work the way they do. We all have the experience of it, but we never think about the theory behind it.
We tend to think that new technologies are primarily beneficial. We aren’t preparing our hearts for the risk of the not so good things, nor have we duly considered the unexpected outcomes of the technology upon our humanity. The benefits of technology are usually immediately apparent. The risks of a technology are usually only apparent over time. We all have experience with technology; every time we check email or watch television or answer a call on a cell phone we further develop that experience. Many of us have some theory of technology. Perhaps we’ve read a book by Neil Postman or we’ve seen a TV special on the subject. Along the way most of us have picked up some theory of technology. But what few of us have done is consider the biblical perspective on technology, which means that few of us have a theology of technology.
A Theology of Technology cannot be separated from a theology of all things, rather it finds itself imbedded in a theology of all things. Particularly, our theology of humanity and what it means to thrive as a human being is associated to our theology of technology. Any and every technology is an artifact of humanity. It both impacts and is impacted upon by what it means to be human. What does God say about how humanity shall thrive or fail?
1.The Goal of Humanity and its Artifacts is Fruitfulness
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, all the earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
27 So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”
29 God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. This food will be for you,
30 for all the wildlife of the earth, for every bird of the sky, and for every creature that crawls on the earth—everything having the breath of life in it. [I have given]every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came, and then morning: the sixth day.
Socially humanity was made for Community fellowship with God and fellowship with humanity, and fellowship with the created natural world
Morally humanity was created with Conscience.
Mentally humanity was created with Creativity subdue.. to place in order. As God created everything out of nothing, He put in order creation out of chaos. In a similar way humanity exercises creativity in many ways to bring order to his world. Oorder is differentiated here from control.
2. The Guilt of Humanity (and its artifacts) is found in our Fallenness
Socially, humanity created for community experiences isolation and separation. There is a tendency to subordinate relationships to tasks in order to control. Gen 3:8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
9 So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
10 And he said, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
11 Then He asked, “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree that I had commanded you not to eat from?”
12 Then the man replied, “The woman You gave to be with me—she gave me [some fruit]from the tree, and I ate.”
Community has been lost, communion with God has been replaced with separation from God.
Tim Challies writes; “The cell phone, a device meant to enhance my communication with others, can increase my ability to communicate with those who are far from me, often at the cost of communication with my own wife and children – those closest to me.[i]”
Walls separate humanity. Social isolation has overwhelmed much of humanity. Everyone feels someties the depth of loneliness that separates people.
We have more and greater means of communication than any other age, yet find ourselves experiencing greater social isolation than any other age. We gather together at family and social functions so that we can sit alone and check our facebook updates on our mobile phones.
Morally Conscience set as a guide for humanity, finds itself confused. Man’s creativity in technology provided him the means to cover-up his guilt with things that would never satisfy the depths of his need. Gen 3: 6 Then the woman saw that the tree was good for food and delightful to look at, and that it was desirable for obtaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate [it]; she also gave [some]to her husband, [who was]with her, and he ate [it]. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Mentally humanity was created to be creative, however now creativity is used to control our world and the people in it.
Humanity’s fallenness produces a change in the way people are valued. No longer is fruitfulness in community of relationship the main purpose of humanity, rather it is the tasks whereby are ascribed monetary value to the person; their worth.
Worth is assessed by a person’s ability to “work like a machine”. Vis, Lucy as a factory employee.
Technology is more than just the mobile phone – it includes very artifact of humanity’s culture, whether it be beautiful, artistic, functional, or industrial. Technology is the creative activity of using tools to shape God’s creation for practical purposes.
Efficiency is the new word for worth. Myers staff are made to feel “unworthy” by being reminded that their sales figures are down. They are urged to use relationships as means of being more productive, developing relationships for purely mercenary goals of customer loyalty. I was invited to renew an old and valued friendship, along with several others. We very soon discovered that our desire for friendship had been used for mercenary measures when we discovered we were subject to an Amway sales pitch by our friends. Our souls had been commodified.
No wonder Peggy Lee could croon, “is that all there is?” and the Rolling Stones could complain “I can’t get no satisfaction, though I try and I try and I try.”
Humanity’s fallenness allows humanity to create artifacts with the creativity he has that is marred by his fallenness so that humanity’s artifacts now reflect that fallenness. Some created technologies reflect that fallenness; atomic bombs and hand grenades and explosive mines have only one purpose, the undifferentiated taking of human lives.
When worth is assessed by productivity, then both abortion and euthanasia become meaningful possibilities.
But, still, the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.
Many years ago I was confronted with a way side pulpit sign I have never forgotten. It asked the question “Do you love things and use people or do you love people and use things?”
The heart of the human problem is the tendency that we have to subjugate people to ourselves, using whatever means we can to control our environments and control those in them.
3. The Growth of Humanity (and their artifacts ) has been by Force
Individuals have always been the key to human development. Historically a key typological figure occurs in the book of Genesis very briefly, yet the results of his technological ability is still felt today.
Genesis 10: 8Cush fathered Nimrod, who was the first powerful man on earth. 9 He was a powerful hunter in the sight of the Lord. That is why it is said, “Like Nimrod, a powerful hunter in the sight of the Lord.” 10 His kingdom started with Babylon, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah,
Arrogance Nimrod was known as an arrogant man. He was going to make his way in an unknown world. He would boldly go where no man has gone before. And he built himself cities there. A powerful man. It was no wonder that the families that followed him imitated his prowess.
Gen 11: 1 At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. 2 As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. 3 They said to each other, “Come, let us make oven-fired bricks.” They had brick for stone and asphalt for mortar. 4 And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
Nimrod and his people were people of grat technological ability. Even God recognized their ability.
5 Then the Lord came down to look over the city and the tower that the men were building.
6 The Lord said, “If, as one people all having the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.
The problem was not that they were ambitious, but that they were ambitious without respect to God.
They lived independently of God and His plans. And as such, their conscience’s no longer provided them that balance between morality, community and creativity that would allow them to flourish safely. Consequently, rather than punish them, God scatters them, so that their technological advances may be slowed.
7 Come, let Us go down there and confuse their language so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” 8 So the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 Therefore its name is called Babylon, for there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth, and from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Does this provide us warning that technological advancement is not always in the interests of human flourishing?
There is a sense in which we know this already inwardly.
4. The Grace given to humanity is Forgiveness
God’s purpose for our humanity is restoration.
5. The Genuine Fruitfulness
Genuine Fruitfulness is found in reconciliation in our relationships in a new community, with God, and with others.
For us as individuals we cannot allow the time that could be used in developing our relationship with God through His Word, and the time that we should spend in relationship with others, to be swallowed up in time we spend “playing with” technologies. We must never value things more than people. We must live counter culturally. Genuine Fruitfulness is experienced when we value relationships more than productivity.
Genuine Fruitfulness is found Morally by keeping a good conscience about the things that are important. Our conscience allows us a sense of balance. 1 Timothy 1:5 states something of this balance. Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
Genuine Fruitfulness is found Creatively by discovering the beauty of our ordered world, rather than attempting to impose control and order over our world.
God has given us a beautiful natural world, yet humanity so often surrounds itself with a plastic world, a world designed to control our beautifully ordered natural world. Through technology we may attempt to control our world, in ways which ultimately pollute it. Respect for the beauty of our natural world is a value quickly being forgotten in our plastic technological society. And it is a value that is perishable.
Andy Crouch [ii] encourages us to ask these questions of ourselves about every cultural artifact:.
What does this artifact assume about the way the world is?
What does it assume about the way the world should be?
What does it make possible?
What does it make impossible, or at least a lot more difficult?
And what new culture is created in response?
[i] Challies,T. (2011) The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion