Over the past 30 years, a certain degree of skepticism about the merits of technology has surfaced in the thoughts and writings of many Christians. Doubtless, good Christians have reasons to be concerned about the uses to which technology is often put. When Hannah Ardent coined the expression “the banality of evil,” she was not just referring to the bureaucratic mentality that lent itself to the relative efficiency of the murder of European Jewry. She also had in mind the manner in which modern technology made the mass killing of human beings seem less frenzied, less bloodthirsty, even somewhat dispassionate.
More everyday technological events, such as the popularization of e-mail and the internet, are occasionally portrayed by some Christians as facilitating a depersonalization of human life and relationships. Other Christians appear suspicious of technology's association with the emergence of modernity: that is, a period of history in which the claims of Revelation are often perceived as being challenged by the insights of science.
Karl Marx once argued that technological society facilitates atheism. No doubt, there is a kernel of truth to this. Technological advances have created for us a world surrounded by products that man has made. Many of us live in cultures filled with mechanical devices by which we reconfigure our lives, and settings dominated by features constructed on a scale perhaps unparalleled in history. As a result, technology returns to us the image of our works. It is this image of ourselves that many humans consider, admire, and sometimes worship.
The problem of self-absorption and idolatrous self-worship has, however, bedeviled human beings from the very beginning. It happens in all cultures and at all times, regardless of their degree of technological development. In the Roman world, it reached a type of apogee with the Caesars' ascription of divine status to themselves.
Is it possible, then, for Christians to think about technology in ways that avoid romanticizing both the premodern and natural worlds, but also the “scientism” that would have us believe that human cognizance of truth is essentially limited to knowledge of the technical?
One point to keep in mind is that evil does not proceed from technology per se. Evil comes from the Fall and the free choices of human beings for evil rather than good. The problem therefore is not generally technology itself but rather how it is used. This is hardly a new dilemma.
Leonardo da Vinci, who was after all an engineer, declined to publish the plans of the submarine that he devised, because he considered it unfair to strike, without forewarning, a foe who cannot see you. Some might suppose that da Vinci's decision was dictated by what is often regarded as a quaint code of renaissance chivalry. Da Vinci's reasoning, however, simply presupposed that technology was subject to another order: the demands of God's moral law, the only order that can give technology its proper meaning and determine the ends for which it may be used. Thus, we ought to consider that submarines need not be employed solely for violent purposes. They have in fact served to reveal to man many of the previously hidden glories of the world created by God beneath the sea.
Indeed, it is difficult to think of anything that gives us a mightier image of God as He is manifested by means of the world that He created, than those immense solar spaces that astronomy allows us to glimpse. In other words, technology has allowed us insights into the complex, interconnected mystery of the universe in ways unimaginable to Galileo or Ptolemy.
And here is the ultimate irony. It is precisely by fulfilling the Genesis mandate to fill the earth and subdue it, that human beings not only participate in furthering God's original Creative Act, but also gain greater insight into the wonder of that original Creative Act. Through technology, more and more scientists have come to see design and order where many of our ancestors saw only darkness and chaos.
In this sense, technology can help to de-mystify and “de-divinize” the material world, while simultaneously awakening us to the majesty of the One who created it.
The Jesuit patristic scholar, Jean Daniélou, once observed that primitive man identified the supernatural everywhere, but largely on account of his ignorance. In this sense, Daniélou noted, technology can help to “free religion and man's sense of the supernatural, from a whole cumbersome burden of the pseudo-supernatural and the pseudo-religious.”
All this leads us to recognize that just as there is no need to downgrade Bill Gates in order to exalt St. Augustine, so too is there no requirement to abase human technology in order to magnify God's works. The greater the achievements of human technology within the moral order created by God, Daniélou wrote, the more that God should seem even greater still to man.
In that sense, we should not be unduly fearful of man's technological achievements. Certainly, the Christian must demand that man's use of technology, like all our other choices, conforms to God's moral law, a law knowable through faith and reason. But greater the man and his technological achievements, the more the Christian may realize that even greater too must be He – the God-Man himself, the Alpha and Omega of all time, Jesus Christ – from Whom we derive our own greatness.