Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults, Chapter 7- Give Technology a Break
We are reviewing the book, Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona, subtitled Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults. Today we look at Chapter 7- Give Technology a Break. In this chapter Cootsona makes the case that we must limit technology’s reach and find God at the center of our lives. He quotes Psalm 131:2:
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.
There, at the center when we’re calmed, we find “Christ in us, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). He notes Sherry Turkle, who has written such books as Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. Turkle asserts technology can invade true human community and often prevents authentic conversation and empathy. She also asserts that technology and education don’t always mix well together; online courses, while increasingly common, don’t substitute for the often messy learning that human relationships bring. It is particularly true with emerging adults, who were given screens to quiet them as fussy babies. Such early training is sticky and recalcitrant. He says this persistent use of technology can lead to anxiety—back to “cell phone addiction”—and emerging adults seem the most vulnerable.
Turkle says a view of the world as “apps”—the idea that some app for our smartphones will lead us to the solution to all our problems—has developed. The app way of thinking starts with the idea that actions in this world will work like algorithms: certain actions will lead to predictable results. But human relationships are unpredictable, chaotic, and complex—that’s what makes them both frustrating and exultant. Cootsona says:
This “app thinking” can affect us relationally and spiritually. We think we can manage people neatly, and if things go awry, we simply shut down that person’s “app” or “doc”. But when we do this, we treat human beings impersonally—like they’re simply an extension of our smartphone—and this may alter the way we approach another personal relationship—namely with God.
Greg also points out that almost all commercial forces see the use of technology by emerging adults as positive since it helps sell products. The power of social media marketing particularly and Internet use generally, along with the devices that employ them is immense. Technology displacing people from their jobs is nothing new since the auto industry put the buggy whip industry out of business. Nevertheless, one has to wonder the effect on employment in the retail sector as online shopping replaces stores, and stores replace checkout clerks with banks of self-checkout stations.
Greg thinks that particularly worthy of the church’s attention is “transhumanism”, a term coined in 1967 by Julian Huxley referring to the belief that the creation, development, and use of technology will improve human physical, intellectual, and psychological capacities. Greg’s friend, theologian Ted Peters, who has studied transhumanism thinks he sees an Achilles heel:
Transhumanist assumptions regarding progress are naïve, because they fail to operate with an anthropology that is realistic regarding the human proclivity to turn good into evil… and they are overestimating what they can accomplish through technical innovation.
He thinks there are two issues to extract here. One is whether faith is endemically recalcitrant towards progress. The second is we cannot slavishly succumb to a gospel of technological salvation. Riffing on Jesus and “the Sabbath made for man”, Greg says technology was made for us, not us for technology. Father Stephen Freeman notes some of the dangers of technology. From Father Stephen Freeman:
“Changing the world,” under a variety of slogans, is the essence of the modern project. Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater. The inception of modernity, across the 18th and 19th centuries, was marked by revolution. The Industrial Revolution, the rise of various forms of capitalism, the birth of the modern state with its political revolutions, all initiated a period of ceaseless change marked by winners and losers. Of course, success is measured by statistics that blur the edges of reality. X-number of people find their incomes increased, while only Y-number of people suffer displacement and ruination. So long as X is greater than Y, the change is a success. The trick is to be an X.
The ceaseless re-invention of the better world rarely takes stock of its own actions. That large amounts of any present ruination are the result of the last push for progress is ignored. It is treated as nothing more than another set of problems to be fixed. As the fixes add up, a toxic culture begins to emerge: food that cannot be eaten; air that cannot be breathed; relationships that cannot be endured; safety that cannot be maintained, etc. As the toxicity rises, so the demand for ever more action and change grows, and, with it, the increase in violence (of all types). The amount of our human existence that now requires rather constant technological intervention is staggering.
In the Apostle Paul’s time, he was concerned that disciples would be lured away from the simplicity of the gospel in Christ by secret religious knowledge. He warned that “knowledge puffs up” (1Corinthians 8:1) and warns the Colossians: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (2:8). So, today, do we also have to worry that “information overload” confuses and distracts us from what is truly important?
Is there a correlation between a drop in religious affiliation and a rise in internet use? And even if there exists a correlation, correlation does not mean causation. Studies also find a correlation between empathy and religious belief—that is, believers tend to show higher levels of empathy. Can God make himself known to people despite their technological distractions and decreased empathy? At the same time, some studies suggest that the use of technology reduces empathy, and since emerging adults are digital natives and use technology throughout the day, Greg thinks this is a particularly pertinent issue. He thinks that interacting virtually and not in real relationships numbs our empathy. And empathy is a virtue that must be cultivated. In other words, he’s saying if technology decreases our empathy, and empathy is correlated with faith, maybe technology decreases our capacity for spiritual life.
Finally, he notes, physical presence in community and physical participation in the sacraments are central to Christian faith and practice. So do virtual communities erode that experience? Or, like I would assert InternetMonk does, can it provide an enhanced opportunity to discuss and express ideas that would never be discussed or tolerated in our “meat space” congregations. As frequent commenter, Pellicano Solitudinis, noted last week: “It has made a huge difference to me, knowing that I am not alone with my doubts and questions.” Still, those of us at InternetMonk look for and long for that gold standard of koinonia as expressed in Acts 2:42-44.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common.