Commentary

Holy technology

Ryan Cosgrove

A mass anxiety about our common future seems to dominate society’s thinking today. This level of heightened concern is shared in political, ecological, religious, and other circles.

These anxieties manifest themselves in a number of ways, and responses are varied. One specific source of anxiety, though, is the ever-evolving technological field. Many ask, “How will technology change the church?” Or, more boldly, “Will technology replace the church altogether?”

The assumption that technology is something that comes from outside of humanity and foists itself upon us goes unquestioned. Under an omnipotent technological deity, individuals or organizations capitulate to technology, or receive a modern form of technical-civil punishment. The person who resists technology is segregated as obsolete.

This mythology surrounding technology is appealing for a number of reasons. First, it lets us all off the hook. We can blame outside forces. But this point disregards that popular consumption of the newest digital devices empowers the “march” of technology.

How we spend our money shows where we place our values. Corporations eager to corner the market will produce devices that meet the demands of the market. The popular mythology concerning technology is appealing because it places the impetus of action on an engineer, rather than on our daily investments.

Martin Luther’s affirmation of sinner and saint is helpful in our encounters with ethical concerns.

Second, the popular mythology blames the victims. The myth suggests yhat those who are condemned to obsolescence are condemned because they are guilty of resisting technology. While there are some that actively resist, often the victims of technology are the vulnerable: Those in the global south end up housing much of the waste from our addiction to the newest digital device.

While this mythology is appealing, it is not faithful. In fact, it is closer to idolatry. It is not faithful because technology is not a deity that sits apart from humans. Technology is something humans have created. In fixing our gaze upon this creation we have made an idol.

All atwitter with technology

This summer I have participated in discussions with Metro Lutheran’s board and staff about how to faithfully utilize technology. We set up a Twitter account, a Facebook account, streamed all of our content to a newly developed Web site, and considered other second-party Web sites.

As I have done this, the question quickly became, “How are these actions consistent with the mission of the Metro Lutheran?” It is my opinion that this simple question is inherently subversive to the popular myth of technology.

Rather than blindly accepting technology, we have instead sought to incorporate it into our vocations as interns, editors, salespersons, etc. Our interactions with technology have not been perfect. Martin Luther’s affirmation of sinner and saint is helpful in our encounters with ethical concerns.

Earlier, I suggested there is a malaise about the future of the church. I think this has to do with the absolute claims of the technology myth. If faith in technology is paramount, as many corporations’ shareholders would contend, then faith in a God who justifies will inherently be challenged.

It is not my goal to suggest that Christianity is at odds with technology. What I am trying to suggest is that an ethos of unquestioned consumerism is opposed to anything else.

Jesus’ life on earth in human flesh does not suggest that things created are simply evil. It does, however, suggest that we faithfully engage the things of the material, rather than turning them into idols.

When we are often defined just as much by what we buy as what we do, how do we faithfully spend our money or invest in what we value? Or, how can engaging this technology, be it software or hardware, be faithfully applied to one’s vocation?

Asking this question is not a full-proof guarantee that all of our encounters with technology will be perfect. It does, though, at least open the road to an ethical response.

This summer we at Metro Lutheran have increased our sophistication when it comes to linking stories, retweeting, posting links on Facebook, answering e-mail questions and the like. These encounters with technology could be an attempt to sell more of our brand of news. Instead, we have struggled, and continue to struggle, with how these activities can be an attempt to tell faithfully the story of God’s work in the world.

We are still learning, and we’re thankful for your help along the way. You will notice, though, our faith has not led us away from these technologies. Instead it has led us toward new opportunities to be connected with more people. You will also notice that these technologies have not undermined our faith, or caused our outlook on the future to become bleak.

Instead, our faith gives us hope, and a particular way to engage technology. The question for us has never been would Jesus tweet, the question is how do we, as sinners yet saints, tweet faithfully (perhaps, even, daily).

Ryan Cosgrove is a seminary student at Lutheran Theological School at Gettysberg, Pennsylvania. He is concluding his second internship with Metro Lutheran as he prepares for his seminary internship in Seattle, Washington.

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