Lesson 19: The Political and Technological Environments

Technology and GodFather Jude caught my attention when he described the State as being the environment in which the Church exists. He reported that he framed his argument this way in order to make clear the Church has to play by the rules of the State. Be assured, he is speaking about the Church as a human institution operating in a political system not a believing community responding to the living Christ. After all, he is a monk. He is simply asserting that the First Amendment was primarily designed to protect the individual citizen from religion and that freedom of religion was meant to insure an individual more than an institutional right. A great deal of our national founding was rejection of the alliance between monarchy and church that had produced oppression and warfare for centuries.

“Environment,” as Father Jude uses the term, does not refer to nature or locality but to a political society that is artificial in the sense that it overrides the natural dominance of the strong. Our forefathers and mothers tried to create a civilized community in which the weak would be protected and even given opportunity. One way they achieved this was to place checks and balances on powerful institutions that threatened the weak. We do well to remember this is the primary attribute of a society operating by law rather than privilege.

However, the term especially grabbed me, because scholars in my circle speak of modern technology creating an artificial environment that has become so pervasive that it controls, in many ways, both State and Church. In one sense, a technological environment is perfect for a democratic society, because it makes possible all sorts of opportunities for pursuing happiness. Technology is all about problem solving that enables you to get what you want.

On the other hand, modern technology has become so powerful that it threatens democracy. Just as Hiroshima and the Holocaust have become two examples of the tremendous power with which evil can operate in our time, so the recent presidential election offers a third. The rise of Trump would not have been possible without the use of modern technology to investigate, manipulate, control, and deceive. There is a real question if democracy can survive in this environment.

This environment also threatens religion. Efficient problem solving involves disregarding anything but the problem and that includes religious values. Everything is reduced to economic and political goals. Science becomes fundable research, bioethics becomes biopolitics, and truth becomes whatever knowledge brings the result I want.

But more about that later. We should look at the rules of democracy and technology to which Father Jude alludes. I think the first is the freedom of all persons that necessitates obstructing any institutions that try to prevent their pursuit of happiness. Every citizen has the right to the opportunities provided by modern technology if they do not harm others. This challenges the voice of a monarchy that denies the equality of women and laity and would seem to call for a structure based on a theology of the people. A good beginning would be acknowledging what has been defined as clerical abuse is rape that must be reported to the civil criminal system.

I think a second rule is openness to all creative thought. In the present environment this is characterized by a form of scientific reasoning that is always open to critique. It follows the data available and is always ready to change if the situation calls for it. This rule would seem to call for a theology of the Spirit that has faith in God’s Word being spoken in the present time.

It also challenges what has been passing for eternal truth in some Christian circles. Quite frankly, as hard as I try, I cannot find any basis in Jesus’ teachings for these groups’ claims that their views are central to Christian proclamation. In fact, I find it pretty ludicrous when they bemoan being denied free expression and suffering persecution for preserving the true faith, apparently appealing to Jesus’ Passion as evidence of their orthodoxy. If suffering for truth is to be the mark for judging who follows Jesus, these groups certainly fail the test. It is quite evident they are the privileged. It is their rhetoric that is causing suffering to those who provide or seek abortions and the LGBTQ community.

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  1. Kerry says:

    Thanks for this wonderful series. Looking forward to the next one, and to reading your book! Amazon tells me it’ll arrive tomorrow!

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