Do techno-souls show techno-piety?

If it is true, as I’m beginning to be able to see, that technology took a radical turn at the scientific revolution, from mere tool to way of seeing and being: If, then the implications go way way down. To backup a little, Heidegger says that the Rhine used to have water wheels in it. That was technology as a tool. There is no human inference with the nature of things. The technology, if we can even call it that, is benign. (Even the word technology is a spawn of the modern way of thinking, per Canadian George Grant.) However, now the Rhine has been dammed multiple times in its course from Eastern Europe, is it Romania that is the headwaters, all the way to the Dutch and German coast (better get out my google map and remind myself of Rotterdam, up to where…). When the Rhine is dammed, human mastery has taken over and reshaped the river. Modern technology is primarily the expression of that human-first way of thinking. We are the masters. We do what we wish. There is no inherent purpose in nature, other than that which we humans shape, ourselves. You could well call this way of thinking “practical nihilism.” Indeed, humans must now start shaping ourselves. We also are part of nature, after all. So human nature, not just inanimate nature, can (and must) be reshaped. Will we still be human when somebody manipulates DNA to put an ox’s head onto a human body? Well, if there is no God, and no inherent purpose in the universe, the answer is (Nietzsche’s) Yes. God help us. As Heidegger, follower of Neitzsche, both of whom no believers said, Only a god can save us. Quite a statement.

When we apply the modern way of thinking to a Christian life, what results? The trick of all of this area of thinking is that so much of it seems Christian-friendly. Are not human supposed to dominate, be lords of, nature? Are they not supposed to fill the earth and subdue it? Are we not supposed to fulfill the inherent potentials that the Creator placed in the Creation, as gifts. The gifts can be used for good or ill, yes. We see that in Genesis Chapter 4 and 5, immediately after the expulsion from the Garden. The metal-workers are extending the potentials of the Creation. The first musicians are developing the good gift of music. But neither of these is doing so to the glory of God. Great cities are built, but the writer of Genesis is laconic about these superb achievements. They are built for human glory, not divine. So the potentials that are being unfolded from the Creation can be unfolded to the honour of God, or to the honour of passing humanity. The greatest achievements prove hollow in the face of pervasive death. (See under Becker, Denial of Death, for more.)

The problem with the modern world from a Christian point of view is that it is SO LIKE what the Christian real thing might look like. We could add, like Charles Taylor, that a modern polity, modern secularity, owes much to Protestantism. To stick to the techn-subject, though: The potentials are God’s potentials. But when humans come to the challenge FOR OURSELVES, the potentials are twisted in entirely the wrong direction. They are apt to turn around and whap us. See under “Daiichi,” for a fairly surfacey example.

My intention in starting this peekaboo diary entry was to ask: what therapies are available for a Christian who wishes to get out of his inborn, inculcated worldview and into a God-fearing one? “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (I could imagine another post or 100 on the topic of right reasonable fear.) Well, my suggestion for now is: Read the Psalms. Or, read Job. Or, read Ecclesiastes. Why these? If one is soaked in these, meditates on these, primal life is there. There is primal fear. The writers walk on the edge of the pit. Or who cry from the middle, as water rises past their necks to the nose. Comfortable people have a hard time relating. My friend spoke this week of a dweller in depression and addiction who is a believer in the midst of daily Hell, and who leads the most amazing studies on the psalms with homeless people. This dark dwelling brother can see and appreciate the scriptures as me, who just finished my cereal and milk and an espresso, can barely imagine. I am resolving to start soaking in the Psalms to flush out the excessive confidence in my own planning and articulating. God help me.



Is technology about, like, Being?

I have dismissed talk for years that saw technology as more than just tools. Tools can be used for good or ill. We happen to live in a society where the heritage of Christianity — one good God, a predictable and orderly world — led to the rise of modern science. The first major scientists were investigators of the Creation, looking into God’s book of general revelation that went along with the special revelation of the Bible. Of course, all that is long ago. But technology is just tools, useful for good, or for ill; their use depends on the user. Like, guns don’t kill, people kill.

Reading Canadian philosopher George Grant lately I had to consider that I might have been wrong. Grant nails people like me squarely. To Grant, technology has become a power unto itself, a self fulfilling prophecy, one which must take its course no matter what. It has an internal logic grounded in the idea of progress. Progress is the great god of our age. Technology and progress are intertwined. They must be.

One of Grant’s influencers is the German philosopher Martin Heidegger whose article The Question of Technology Grant recommends as a starting point. Heidegger is fierce hard reading. But his point seems to be that technology is an unfolding, a revealing, of powers latent in the world; and technologers, who are all of us, are enframing the potentials to extract them. I thought, as I read, that the potentials have been placed there (or are inherent) by the Creator’s design, so, again, their use could be good or bad. But Heidegger seems to say, in a technological age even a creator can become just an instrument for the achievement of human purposes. So we lose any real sense of reverence. Have we been transfixed by human brilliance? Is this why worshipping is such an uphill battle for Western people? Can we escape the deeply rooted instrumentalist habit of mind? How? We live in it all the time. It infects our churches. Some of our churches virtually sponsored the modern way of thinking.

Another of Grant’s influencers is Jacques Ellul. Ellul wrote on The Technological Society in the 60s but who’s to say that anything has fundamentally changed. After all, Grant wrote mostly in the 60s and 70s and to me he reads like yesterday.

What has all this to do with education and mission? Well, to present anything or talk about anything, the deepest possible starting point is the one that maximizes clarity. To know the links all the way down to the roots, or all the way up to God, is to be able to talk coherently and not to mislead. So if we want to talk about mission and education, no way can we take the status quo for granted. The state of the world and the state of the church, the state of our own techno-souls is also of vital importance. Granted, one can drift off into outer space by oneself or with a couple of other hardy souls, lost in the dialectic — this kind of reading encourages as much. But if we continually ask how what we read matters for Christian living and mission, surely…we…won’t…drift…off…like…Major…Tom.

What do you think?


Dawn for the Poor and education

Met yesterday with Patrick Hobbs, missionary teacher to the Philippines, instrumental in a great ministry to Manila’s poorest of the poor. They scrape a living off the dumps. Patrick lived with them, since then handing over leadership and returning to Canada. A couple of links tell the tale:

The work is based on house church multiplication. As soon as believers become believers, they are ready to be trained in house church multiplication. They do Jonathan 1, Jonathan 2, Jonathan 3 and so on. Now, a group is to travel overseas to provide house church training, in English, to Christians in a nearly inaccessible place. The poor are being empowered!

The point of this post is that what we would call Christian education is not distinguishable from growth in Christ or development of the latent talents present in these believers. By “education,” these folk are progressively changed from glory to glory, as it were (2 Cor 3:18). The image of God they possess is burnished in true knowledge (Col 3:10). They are changing radically, root and then branch.

Nor is “mission” any different than “education.” I’m not even sure you could say that somehow the education aspect supports mission. The mission within the person is developing a more and more faithful person, resulting in external mission.

Of course if you insist that first you have faith, or conversion, then that faith becomes a foundation for knowledge. You could cite Anselm’s (or Augustine’s) famous dictum to back up your position. “For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order that I may understand.” Proslogion, Chapter One. Or the Bible: In your light, we see light (Ps 36:9).

But of course, without rebutting the above position in detail, the light could be dawning on you for a long, long, long time! (Prov. 4:18). As indeed it is dawning for the poor. Fantastic.