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St. Nikolai Velimirovic: How Christians should view technology

Like Americans today, St. Nikolai Velimirovic witnessed dizzying technological changes between his birth in 1881 and the day he died in 1956 in a rural Pennsylvanian monastery. The former bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church, who spent time in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, shared how Christians should view technology – something equally important in our day, as everyone from parents to legislators offers their own solutions.

“The New Chrysostom,” as he was known, began with an eloquent turn-of-phrase: He likened religion and ethics to a deep and nourishing river. As long as the human race drank from these springs, technology “carried the water from this river into all the arteries of man's life.” God's faithful people dedicated all their works to His glory, including their progressive conquest of the world through technological progress.

However, sin estranged the human race from God and technology from its intended purpose:

When the feeling of God's presence became dulled and spiritual vision darkened, that is when pride entered into tradesmen and technologists, and they started to give glory exclusively to themselves for their buildings, handiwork and intellectual works, and began to misuse their work; that is when the shadow of cursedness began to fall on technology.

 

Many complain against technology.

 

Many accuse modern technology for all the woes in the world.

 

Is technology really to blame, or those who create technology and use it?

 

Is a wooden cross to blame if somebody crucifies someone on it?

 

Is a hammer to blame if a neighbor breaks his neighbors skull?

 

Technology does not feel good or evil.

 

The same pipes can be used for drinking water or the sewer.

 

Evil does not come from unfeeling, dead technology, but from the dead hearts of people. ...

 

Technology is deaf, mute, and unanswering. It is completely dependant on ethics, as ethics on faith.

(You can read his fully homily here.)

The lesson for us is that technology is morally neutral. The creations made by tools depend on the designs and intentions of their users. It is the ethical standards we bring to the technology, and nothing intrinsic to the medium, that renders its use immoral. If even the Law has to be used lawfully (I Timothy 1:8), certainly new technologies must meet the same ethical criteria.

Cell phones may be used to stream pornography; in fact, 71 percent of all porn is viewed on smartphones, according to an online pornography company. (I will not link to the survey.) That's up from 61 percent five years ago. But smartphones are also lifting the poorest residents of sub-Saharan African out of extreme poverty. They allow once remote and disconnected people to find buyers for their goods and banking services to protect their wealth. “Mobile phones help connect people to the jobs, business opportunities, and services they need to escape poverty,” according to the Brookings Institute, which calls cell phones the key to economic development.” USAID states, “They fundamentally transform the way people in the developing world interact with one another and their governments, and access basic health, education, business and financial services.”

The changes of recent decades have drastically altered the face of everyday life, including the number of people able to live a comfortable existence. “Massive investment in information technology and infrastructure has fueled innovation, greatly expanded global productivity, created tens of millions of high-skilled jobs around the world, and improved our lives in ways few could imagine two decades ago,” according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Establishing ill-conceived rules could stifle the high-tech economy, especially if lawmakers bow to pressure from influential business interests or self-proclaimed consumer advocates to saddle emerging technology markets with arbitrary regulations or draconian liability regimes.”

Let technology flourish and each person answer for the ways he or she uses it. Any technology or medium can be used for the glory of God.

And that these creations may truly be honorable, let our moral standards evolve faster than the lightning-fast speed of technological progress.

(Photo credit: MM.SRB. This photo has been cropped. CC BY-SA 4.0.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.