Lesson 11: Hope (Part 2)

man wears VR goggles missing the rainbow and ocean view.Last week, I critiqued the picture of the Technium that one of the main characters in Dan Brown’s latest novel, Origin, predicts will begin in 2050. The Technium would be the perfect setting for a post-truth age. There is no need for truth or values, meaning or purpose, if science-based technology provides endless opportunities for every individual to pursue their own versions of happiness. Technology will succeed where religion failed, bringing peace and justice by removing covetousness. If this sounds too utopian, we should note that the character is obviously based on Ray Kurzweil who has quite a large following. He expects the next step in evolution will be a Singularity in 2045 when computers will be smarter than humans and usher in this new age.

This week, I want to observe that much modern political and economic theory comes very close to this type of utopian thinking. It assumes all our current problems will be solved by the next technological innovation that is bound to come before too long. When it does, it will raise our economic standard of living so much that all people will have enough. The trickle down will become a waterfall bringing satisfaction to every individual. The economies of third world nations will be raised to those of the first. Satisfied that their needs are being met, global leaders will work together to solve longstanding problems, such as climate change, poverty, and constant war. Although Bill Clinton articulates these thoughts most clearly, the rhetoric of politicians on both sides of the aisle voice the same assumptions when campaigning or recognizing any scientific breakthrough: Technology saves.

My face-to-face discussion groups thought this is neither a realistic picture of human nature nor what is going on. They see no sign that more knowledge, more power, and a higher standard of living have made people feel more secure or generous. People still hoard money, buy security systems, and commit suicide. Nor do they find that more technology has motivated international peace and justice.

I increasingly read this unrealistic thought as a strange kind of secular grace that Kurzweil’s expectation and Clinton’s optimism assume. Humans are not accountable for their actions, if technology is going to save us anyway. Even now technological systems work for the common good by overriding our self-centered actions. Just as the invisible hand of capitalism supposedly uses the abuses of profit-seeking for the common good, so too technology turns competition into fellowship. It brings the good life by providing more information, more power, and especially more money.

Whenever I try to get my head around this kind of reasoning, I remember St. Paul’s warning that the loving kindness of God that forgives our sins, does not free us to sin more freely. The dynamic of forgiveness includes God pouring divine love into human hearts. Traditional Christian grace does not excuse self-serving sin but instead transforms the sinner. All proclamations of the gospel involve a call for repentance.

From this perspective, Christian hope is quite different than technological expectation or optimism. Its visions of the future are based on the divine promises found in the faith story that Franz and my book boils down to the Peaceable Kingdom, the Just Society, and the Beloved Community. Although these promises depend on God’s steadfast love, they also involve human participation. Christian hope inspires loving actions now.

A better future then does not depend on the power of technology but rather on humans using the power in a loving manner. One way that Christianity shows the way to this future is by offering a far more realistic understanding of human nature that must be transformed. With the exception of the Christian Wrong who preach a Success Gospel, the rest of us are well aware that singing together “We Shall Overcome” is not a plea for more knowledge, power, and money, but rather a prayer for more justice, peace, and love.

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