Saturday 6 August 2011

Technology - Good or Evil?

In case anyone is rattled in any way by my posts below, I think I should take the time to advance a personal opinion as to what action anyone should take in regard to their use of modern social communications technology. First and foremost, anyone owning an i-phone or blackberry and are thinking "Have I just unwittingly sold my immortal soul to Satan in exchange for a cool phone?" should feel safe in the knowledge that only the Catholic Church holds the keys to heaven and hell.  For Catholics, we are protected from error on such matters - only the Magesterium can define the inherent good or evil of this technology.  Until the Magesterium does so, (which is highly unlikely in the very near future) we are free to use this technology without fear of immediate spiritual damnation.  So it would have to be officially recognized by the Church before it could have an immediate spiritual effect.

For the time being, we should note that technologies such as this can be used for good or evil, and as such should be used in an ethical and responsible manner for the promotion of the faith in accordance with current Church teaching.  As Pope Benedict XVI states in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate: "Technology — it is worth emphasizing — is a profoundly human reality, linked to the autonomy and freedom of man."  Yet while technology has uses for both good and evil, it may be that technology has an inherent predilection towards evil, much in the same way the wounded nature of man makes him naturaly inclined towards sin. It was after all Satan who guided humanity towards the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Like Promethus of legend, the Devil tempted us to "become as gods" (Gen 3:4), and gifted humanity with the fire that will eventually consume itself - knowledge and technology. 
English theologian Adrian Walker explores this  non-neutral aspect of technology in his Second Spring article "Not Neutral: Technology and the Theology of the Body" (which I urge readers to read - it can be found here on the Second Spring website along with lots of other important articles).  Walker opens his argument with the following observation:

The Pope’s theology of the body is very timely. As we all know, the institution of marriage is crumbling around the Western world, and if there was ever a time when Catholic couples needed to feel that their ordinary lives are anchored in the heart of the mystery of God, it is now. But the theology of the body is timely in another way. It responds in depth to what is arguably one of the main cultural causes of the collapse of marriage: the mechanization of bodiliness through technology.

This statement will probably surprise many readers, who may think of “technology” as meaning nothing more than the “latest gadgets”: computers, cell phones, genetically modified corn, and the like. What does satellite TV have to do with the breakdown of marriage?

It is worth noting that the latest gadgets sometimes provoke an ill-defined sense of unease in us. The latest gadgets tend to change our lives in massive ways, and often rather more quickly than we are prepared for Think of the sudden ubiquity of the personal computer and then, on its heels, of the internet. A whole generation (“generation Y”) has grown up “wired”, before we have had a chance to ask what being wired means and whether it is a good thing or not. And so, amidst all of the celebration over the latest life-changing technological breakthrough, there is also a good deal of head shaking, too. Somehow, we feel dimly, something is being lost. The machine has won another victory over nature. Are we altogether sure that it is good for the machine to be so invincible?

There are many sociological dangers of modern technology that Catholics should be wary of.  There are too many to list in a single blog post, but I explore these in greater detail in my book - for now, I would direct readers to Archbishop Vincent Nichols' summary here and Fr. Federico Lombardi's article "Don't let wi-fi leave your prayer life dry" which can be found here.  Stratford Caldecott, another gifted and erudite English theologian gives this highly  relevant assessment of technology in his blog Beauty for Truth's Sake:

Sitting in a meeting recently with a group of people each of whom was staring down into one or other electronic gadget, the following quotation came to mind:
"In our contemporary world it may be said that the more a man becomes dependent on the gadgets whose smooth functioning assures him of a tolerable life at the material level, the more estranged he becomes from an awareness of his inner reality. I should be tempted to say that the centre of gravity of such a man and his balancing point tend to become external to himself: that he projects himself more and more into objects, into the various pieces of apparatus on which he depends for his existence. It would be no exaggeration to say that the more progress "humanity" as an abstraction makes towards the mastery of nature, the more actual individual men tend to become slaves of this very conquest." – Gabriel Marcel, Men against Humanity (London: Harvill Press, 1952)

Technology is far from neutral, as it is frequently assumed to be in both popular and scholarly writings on this subject. “The medium is the message” (McLuhan), and a technology is not simply a technique that may be employed for good or ill. It bears within itself a value system and a worldview - perhaps even a metaphysics and a theology. Telephone, television and the internet, for example, change our sense of space and time, and have a variety of effects on the relationships within the family and the wider social community. Some of these effects will be humanly beneficial, others less so, but an assessment of the technology is not possible without paying attention to the overall pattern of these effects, and to the purpose or function of the technology in relation to the purpose of human life itself. In what respect is a given tool actually serving the true end of man?

As a matter of fact, I think the portable computers we all use now are a great boon, and I could hardly do without mine. But this does not stop me noticing that this very dependence is a kind of warning sign. We are addicted to technological change in a much more serious way than simply psychologically. This makes “technology assessment” impractical, to say the least. We are running too fast to stop and assess anything – if we are not to stumble over our own feet and be left behind in the race, we have to assume we are running in the right direction.
(For the full article go here.)

See also the related articles:

Hebrew 666
The Mark of the Beast?
NFC Technology and the Mark of the Beast

Fr Gobbi on the Mark of the Beast
Gematria and the Number of the Beast

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