Lesson 1: Technology

Artificial Intelligence solves problems One of the theses of our book is that modern science-based technology has created a society that offers a new kind of challenge to Christian thought and practice. In the past, we thought of technology primarily as using tools to overcome human limitations. Over the years, we added technique, an orderly, step- by- step way of doing a task that enables even those who have little knowledge or skill to perform it. The development of sophisticated tools and techniques in recent centuries has brought incredible improvements to our lives.

Today we think of technology as a system or systems that integrate tools and techniques. These systems have become so huge and all- pervasive that they have created an environment to which we are forced to conform. In order to get about, we pretty much need a car to travel on the vast highway system. If we want to energize our houses, we need to hook up to the electrical grid. And if we want to use email, we need access to the Internet.

As a result, many speak of living today in a technological society. They mean we have come to depend on the many systems out there, more so than people, to supply our needs. It could be said that we trust systems more than other people.

The challenge to Christianity and, for that matter, traditional human culture in general, has come from the new lifestyle practiced more and more in the modern technological society. That lifestyle is characterized by a concept Jacques Ellul called technique. Technique as he used the term meant looking at all life as a problem to be solved by applying a rational process that brings mechanics to bear on that which is spontaneous and irrational. Absolute efficiency becomes the only standard in every field of activity. Everything is isolated as in a controlled scientific experiment. Nothing extraneous to the problem to be solved is considered.

From the perspective of this kind of reductionism, Christian and traditional cultural values are irrelevant and even obstructive. Because they insist on the singularity of every person and the wholeness of every human project, they supposedly get in the way of efficiently solving the problems that our society thinks we must handle.

On the other hand, Christianity thinks this reductionism creates an artificial world that ignores human connections to nature, place, time, and community. Thought forms previously limited to specialized functions in science and technology have now been extended into every factor of people’s lives, including human relationships. My wife and every other person in my life becomes a problem to be solved rather than a person to accept and love.

Once traditional values are eliminated, it is difficult to determine how to use technology appropriately. If efficiency is the only standard, everything focuses on what I or my group wants to do. We must depend on technology itself to correct any problems it creates. And we can begin to understand how perilous that is when we consider those problems include the Holocaust, Hiroshima, and genetic modification.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge traditional Christian and cultural values are not offering much help with these either. Next week, we’ll take a look at how too often the Church has simply adopted the standards of the technological society; for instance, seeming to have nothing to say as the CRISPR industry cuts and pastes genes.

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4 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Lupe Andrade says:

    Trying to get away from the Trump-Kavanaugh circus, I have been reading several history books on the 125y to 14th, 16th, and 18th century, the latest of which is a biography of Catherine de Great of Russia. I was struck by the frequency and intensity with which rulers, clergy and even military used the Word of God to carry out the Inquisition, Pogroms, burnings, executions with the “garrote”, drawing-and-quartering and other imaginative forms of oppression, including the treatment and execution of Atahuallpa, the last Inca, and millions of indigenous peoples throughout what is now Latin America. I am NOT criticizing you, dear Fritz, or Franz. I find you amazingly open-minede, principled and thoughtful. So, agreeing with you that this is an important topic for our times, I ask you to address and analyze those times and find if their intolerance (or high-handed belief in their own “rightness”) truly tried to obey the Word of God, or go against it, or twist it for their own ends. This is particularly apposite -speaking of language- now that words like gentility, reason, generosity, faith, consideration, courtesy, manners, thoughtfulness, gentility and restraint seem utterly lacking in today’s speech, writings or spheres of power, where one can clearly see no one cares about God, godliness, righteousness or truth. I find on re-reading my own list of words that they sound old-fashioned, nearly obsolete. No one has used them, or perhaps even thinks of them. Do you think you could address these things and problems in the near future? I find God’s loving voice extremely muted, drowned out even, by this incredible display of hate and misogyny. Please let’s discuss this, as I find myself nearly driven to despair by a climate of greed and destructive power in the service of hate and prejudice.
    With much love, Lupe

  2. Paul Wildman says:

    Fritz I am reading your book.

    For me reflections are: you need to:
    1 bring out what you mean by religion – I have heard, and largely believe, that religion is ideology that is belief without reason. In this sense its not much to hang ones hat on

    2 acknowledge the millions of deaths this ‘religion’ has caused world-wide and the obliteration of whole cultures

    3 I suggest the importance of your work is enhance by understanding technology more broadly to include social technology e.g. your book is in effect a hybrid of social (written with your son about social/relationship issues) and digital technologies (I am reading on Kindle)

    I consider it excellent so far and esp. since you have taken on ‘technique’ (which is a counter point to the Archaic Greek word ‘techneque’). Am about 20% through the book so far.

    Good to link it to your JIC Lessons ciao paul

  3. Don Motaka says:

    I’ve started to read the book, in which I think you and Franz have done very well articulating ideas that you have been working on for some time now. (Disclaimer: I might be somewhat biased in my judgment, having those “deep personal relationships” with the authors.) One of my first reactions, as I started to read, was to think about a sort of “history of technology” – in other words, to reflect on how humanity has dealt with “technological innovation” since the beginning, as a way of getting at how we’re doing with that challenge today. The Old Testament story of the Tower of Babel came immediately to mind. But what I get from that story is not the bitumen and engineering, but the development of language. It seems to me that the development of language in homo-sapiens could be considered the first technological innovation. As I read the introduction to this series, I was reminded of Ellul’s ideas about the ambiguities of language, which Ellul celebrates as, I would suppose, a counter to the “absolute certainty” of modern technology. I’m just not convinced that ambiguity is all that salvific, given that so much of human history, right up to the present moment, demonstrates that ambiguity in language is often exploited for evil. Which, of course, brings us to original sin. In a nutshell, the same critique made here of “technique” applies, in my humble opinion, to Christianity, politics, and economics (among other human endeavors) – all have fallen short of the “glory of God” due to original sin. (Ironic, is it not, that this very hypothesis could be said, likewise, to be subject to original sin?). Sadly, the same institution that “trademarked” the proclamation of “faith, hope and love” went on to promote torture and burning of heretics, hatred of Jews (“Chrysostom” means golden-tongued, but totally overlooks some of the most hateful anti-Semitism ever put out there), an almost-everlasting state of warfare against the Muslims (crusades), turning a blind eye to Hitler, Pinochet et al., and continuing right through to the systematic cover-up of pedophilia (which said institution has so botched that another institution – the U.S. legal system – has to step in to try to clean up the mess.) All this, while gathering around the table of the Lord every Sunday. To conclude on a more positive note, Jesus resolved the ambiguities of The Law, I thought quite clearly and succinctly, when he said that “love of God” has only ONE meaning – love of neighbor. And THAT love has only ONE resolution – to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and bind up the wounded.

  4. Fritz Foltz says:

    I do not think Don is being negative at all. He is simply expressing thoughts that must be addressed. At most church meetings and every academic conference where I spoke about the need to use words to discern what God is saying in our time, the first response has been how often God’s Word has been used throughout history to oppress and massacre people. And we certainly have to confront how is being used this way all around us in our own time.

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