Technology and Materialism | Gene Waite

Technology has undoubted benefits. But modern technology can bring with it certain ways of thinking and worldviews such as self-interest, materialism, and reductionism, which in turn can lead to unintended consequences.

Swedish theologian Stefan Lindholm, with help from French Reformed thinker Jacques Elloul, relates these issues to artificial intelligence, transhumanism, and other contemporary issues. Lindholm is a Lutheran priest (they call it a pastor in Sweden) and professor of theology at Johannelund School of Theology, which is run by the Lutheran Swedish Evangelical Mission.

His article, Jacques Ellul and the idols of transhumanismPublished in Religion and freedom, Acton Institute Periodicals, edited by Anthony Sacramon. (We blogged about him and his magazinenow available in print order. His fans will want to read essay (He describes his return to Christianity and Lutheranism.)

Jack EllulMentioned in the same breath as Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, he was a Christian thinker who wrote about the impact of modern technology in the 1950s, long before television was brand new and the Internet and the digital revolution. However, he foresaw much of what we are dealing with today and provided the insights we need to make sense of it all.

I will discuss what Lindholm gleaned from Ellul in his article. Then I will make a few applications myself. I’ll let you read the article to learn about Lindholm’s applications of artificial intelligence, transhumanism, singularity, and more. Ellul’s analysis helps explain the ethical ideologies that have become popular among our tech lords, which I’ll post next week.

Ellul’s main book on the subject is Technology Societyfirst published in French in 1954 and translated into English in 1964, Lindholm added, suggested by classic dystopian writer Aldous Huxley. Brave new world. Ellul focuses on “technique”. Here’s how Lindholm explains the concept and what Ellul does with it (my emphasis):

Technology is a set of rationally organized methods and tools that make all human activities more efficient. On the surface, this may not sound malicious This innate human tendency towards practical rationality has been applied to almost every sphere of human life, and modern problems have arisen where everything has begun to be turned into a means to an end. As a result, the will and desire of human beings arbitrarily set the goal to direct the means of strict control. Modern methods of technology are all-encompassing and have escaped the hands of man, and we have become a complex, self-contained system that is always and everywhere in the hands of technology. It became an all-encompassing ideology of its own. Ellul emphasizes this For modern people, problems in every sphere of life, from problems to diseases and existential crises, must have technical solutions. Ironically, the problems to be solved by technology are often caused by prior technology. The result is a kind of technological totalitarianism that—though absolutely unnecessary—Ellul is at pains to add—will continue to rule and govern human society and life. . . .

[Ellul] description: “Technology, when interested in man, does so by turning him into a material object.” and the same kind of material happiness is guaranteed to man as material goods [guarantee].… But a technical society is not and cannot be a truly humane society because it puts material things first, not people.” Ellul believes that human and “spiritual” excellence and progress cannot be reduced to technology. On the contrary, material development is not the same as spiritual and intellectual maturity.

In other words, a technical focus on how we can do something requires us to think about what means can lead to the desired end. And we are inspired to see when our techniques are turned into successful technologies everything as a means of achieving the goal and predicting it all Our problems can be solved with technology. Technology will decrease everything to materialist terms. Technology makes us think this way everything under our own control.

It doesn’t have to be this way, but modern technology and the modern approach to technology has superseded and replaced religion.

As theologian Norman Wirtzba notes God’s heaven: Technique (Technique) was the way of human work in ancient times together natural order and reason (Logo), but modern hybrid technology is the exaltation of the human mind into a sequence of things. Ellul teases out the spiritual implications:

A person who lives in a technical environment knows very well that there is nothing spiritual anywhere. But man cannot live without holy things. Thus, he transfers his sense of the sacred to that which destroyed its previous object: the technique itself. In the world we live in, technology has become an important mystery.

Read more about how this applies to the tech world in Lindholm’s article. But let’s see how this applies to other issues.

For example, sex. This natural inclination can cause problems for people. Therefore, we have developed technical and technological solutions. Sex leads to pregnancy, which women and men sometimes don’t want: that’s why we’ve used our technology to provide birth control pills and tools. Pregnancy sometimes happens anyway, so we’ve come up with abortion technology, whether it’s surgical or chemical, to solve this problem. Some people want sex but don’t have a partner, so we have technological solutions like internet pornography and sex robots. But do you see how this technological approach to sex diminishes its natural and moral meaning?

Some people prefer to have a different gender. Technology can solve this problem with contraceptives, masectomy hysterectomy, castration, and plastic surgery. Do you see how this technological approach to gender relegates human beings to the status of inanimate material, created to meet consumer demand like any other commodity? And do you see the danger of unintended consequences?

Or consider education. Classical education was concerned with “ends” in its own values, such as the extremes of goodness, truth, and beauty; human qualities such as virtue, freedom, and duty; spiritual realities such as faith, hope, and love. Modern education assumes that education should be a means to some material end, but what, you ask? to do with all this? Teaching has evolved into a series of techniques aimed at achieving material and measurable goals, whether economic (getting a good job or making more money) or social (adhering to progressive ideologies and attitudes).

Or consider religion. As church membership is declining, we are looking for “techniques” to grow the church. This way of thinking sees everything as a means to an end, so we evaluate Christian beliefs, teachings, and practices, discarding those elements that stand in the way of that end. We believe that technology can help us, so we use high-tech production equipment, music recordings, video screens, online services, and the metaverse of virtual reality. If we are careful, we can gain some things, but what do we lose or ignore? According to Ellul, at what point did we transfer our sense of the sacred to the destroyed?

How else can we apply Ellul’s analysis?

Image: “Jacques Ellul in his studio” by Jean van Boeckel, ReRun Productions, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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