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?