Technology & The Christian World: Are They Compatible?

by Ben Ditzel

In the Biblical New Testament, Christians are told to do all things to the glory of God. Through discussing about certain behaviours in people, Paul widens the spectrum to ‘all things’ in the final passage of the admonishment. ‘So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor. 10:31). ImageIn today’s culture, many Christians, rooted in tradition and fear of the unknown, have grown to an adverse perspective of all technology and resent everything it represents. They firmly clutch onto their paper and ink Bibles, their notebook paper and pen, and hide in a dark room, angry at the advancing world. However, this technology, like almost everything known to man today, can be used to harm or help. It can be used for evil or good.

Technology, in and of itself, is no more evil than the Gutenberg printing press that scores of traditional Christians in its day, shouted in anger over, for fear it would make oral traditions die and enable peasant Christians to damn themselves with misinterpretations of the newly mass-printed Bibles. But, with everything, there is a moderation factor; a point at which, for Christians, God still comes first at all times. Arthur Boers, in his book Living Into Focus, has this to say about technology in today’s lifestyle. ‘Though some have opted to “live off the grid” and find the lifestyle rewarding, my point is not that we should abandon contemporary technology and naively take on previous hardships and all become — using familiar biblical terminology — “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Nor do I believe we should pine after the “good old days”’ (16). He goes on to define that he desires that Christians ought not to openly embrace all forms of technology either. Rather, there ought to be a searching out and discernment as to which new thing is profitable and which has no edification value. (16-17)

Many Christian ascetics, when trying to find a Scripture that will prove their point that God’s people should smite ‘these modern gadgets’, use Daniel 12:4 as an intriguing reference. ‘But as for you, Daniel, conceal these words and seal up the book until the end of time; many will go back and forth, and knowledge will increase.’ However, in The MacArthur Study Bible, Pastor John MacArthur has this to say about this reference which lays their claims to ruin. ‘“Go back and forth”…refers to the movement of a person searching for something. In the tribulation, people will search for answers to the devastation and discover increased knowledge through Daniel’s preserved book’ (1223). So, it seems that this increased wisdom that so many claim to be such advancements as the internet, smartphones, or even the increased number of books by way of the printing press is not speaking about technology at all. Rather it speaks of the knowledge found in the book of Daniel that is revealed when the prophecies begin to be fulfilled.  John E. Goldingay’s Word Biblical Commentary on Daniel expresses much the same view. ‘Daniel is to “close up” and “seal” (the book): the expressions suggest not merely conserving them but withholding them. This is confirmed by the next words: because they are withheld, “many will hurry to and fro,” unable to find a word from God’ (309). So, where does this fear of technology stem from? Where do Christians back up their ignorant claims that the newest piece of technology will adversely ruin a traditional or cultural standard that has been around for centuries? Apart from the occasional Amish styled Christian or the believer who simply will not have any of today’s conveniences because he learned how to do things the proper way, there is a possible explanation for why many followers of Christ have a fear of modern advancement in lifestyles. In Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? he relates how, historically, there have been other events that contemporaries of that time felt were tragic.

‘In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned the development of writing. He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” (Carr)

History has proven to us that Socrates was in error in his conception of how forgetfulness would occur. However, it is up to the individual to decide whether writing has filled them with the conceit of wisdom or not.

Richard Seed, a physicist in Illinois, made national headlines when, in 1998, he asserted that he was going to experiment more with human cloning and social repercussions associated with it. David Noble accounts the story in his book The Religion of Technology.

‘Entirely ignored in all the clamour, however, was the religious rationale at the core of Seed’s defiant declaration, which in his view, placed his project above social concerns. “God made man in his own image,” Seed explained in a January 7th interview on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition. “God intended for man to become one with God. We are going to become one with God. We are going to have almost as much knowledge and almost as much power as God. Cloning and the reprogramming of DNA is the first serious step in becoming “‘one with God.”’’ (vii)

So perhaps there is some rhyme and reason to this nervousness that is causing God’s people to bite their nails whenever the technology report comes on the television.

Sadly, Richard Seed is not alone in his arrogant and blasphemous declarations and views. Numerous scientists and companies have signed onto this mad rush for what seems to be only that of a race to achieve the accomplishments that only God can attain.  In the book of Revelation, chapter 13, verses 15-17 say regarding the end times, ‘And it was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast would even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed. And he causes all, the small and the great, and the rich and the poor, and the free men and the slaves, to be given a mark on their right hand or on their forehead, and he provides that no one will be able to buy or to sell, except the one who has the mark, either the name of the beast or the number of his name.’ In his commentary on Revelation, John MacArthur again writes, ‘The false prophet will animate the image of Antichrist so that it gives the appearance of being alive. With today’s amazing special effects technology and robotics, that is not out of the realm of possibility’ (62). And again in Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, he writes regarding this mark, ‘It is made a qualification for buying and selling, as well as for places of profit and trust, that they oblige themselves to use all their interest, power, and endeavour, to forward the dominion of the beast, which is meant by receiving his mark. To make an image to the beast, whose deadly wound was healed, would be to give form and power to his worship, or to require obedience to his commands. To worship the image of the beast, implies being subject to those things which stamp the character of the picture, and render it the image of the beast’ (5431).

Also, there are several movies that portray the fear that may arise out of the technological advancements. In J.M. van der Laan’s article, he looks at two specific movies, The Terminator and The Matrix in order to analyse people’s feelings towards technology. He writes, ‘Over the years, many movies have presented on-screen a struggle between machines and human beings. Typically, the machines have come to rule and threaten the existence of humanity. They must be conquered to ensure the survival of and to secure the freedom of the human race’ (31). Moreover, in the movie I, Robot, actor Will Smith portrays a man living in the not too distant future where robots have taken over the daily tasks of life and made everything a lot easier, or so it would seem, for man. The climax of the movie is when Smith’s character realises that the robots have not only been programmed to perform tasks beyond the extraordinary, but they are developing within themselves emotions and the ability to make choices based on their own rationale. Chaos ensues as robots swarm the earth. But, is this possible? Is this even something that Christians should be concerned about? It would seem that, to be honest, the argument of technology advancing to the point where humans are in danger is not the actual problem. What Christians today are facing is a problem with Godly morality, not human survival. So, what are Christians to do? How are they to react in such a time as this with technologies being developed faster than thought and new abilities being granted to man daily?

As a technology consumer, the line between being efficient and using technology to save time and be productive and the temptation to overuse technology and become overly absorbed in it has been a constant battle. On one hand, there are benefits to the advancement of technology. Professor Anna Yu of Azusa Pacific University relates how technology affects her life. ‘I use technology to communicate with other Christians, receive church meeting announcements and prayer requests, schedule church activities, access online hymns, read the Bible and read other forms of Christian literature. It’s easy to see ways in which technology facilitates my life as a Christian. However, it’s harder to know whether it, in and of itself, impacts my life as a Christian.’ In John P. Ruane’s Christianity and Historicity: Faith and the World, he says, ‘Technology now makes it possible for all men to share in the benefits of education and medicine, better housing and working conditions, benefits that were formerly the privileges of a minority’ (754). In addition, it is often the case that the latest and greatest app will make life that much easier in what needs to be done. On the other hand of the dilemma, it is easy to become addicted or heavily involved in a device or programme that is simply not beneficial or edifying. Scripture is very clear, time and again, that Christians are to be wise and always be checking themselves and testing to see if their actions are glorifying to God. In 1 Peter 2:16, it is written, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God” (The MacArthur Study Bible 1912). So, perhaps Arthur Boers is right. There are certainly what seem to be morally harmless technologies such as microwaves, electric lights, and digital watches. But there are also neutral technologies. These are inventions that can be used by the consumer for either good or bad. For instance, the new iPhone 5S smartphone that was released earlier this year is excessively popular worldwide. This smartphone not only provides the ability to call your friends and relatives as a telephone device, but also text message them, email, and browse the internet through numerous apps and the web browser. Once the internet is in the hands of every individual, a moralistic issue arises.

So, what actions are fitting for a follower of Christ and what is not? Some pretty simple decisions are in the form of fraud, pornography, and copyright infringement. However, other problems are not so easy. Revelation talks about the mark of the beast being something everyone must have in order to buy or sell. Some people have attributed this mark to an app such as Isis, Google Wallet, or some sort of Near Field Communication paying system. Should Christians risk it and stay on top of the latest and greatest? What about social spheres such as Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter? How long is too long to spend on these time consuming programmes built to share an individual’s life? A question of moralism comes up when these smartphones become something of an idol in the user’s hands. An app called Snapchat even allows people to send photographs to one another that they only can view for a certain number of seconds before it is forever erased. This simply leaves the gate wide open for stumbling blocks in the Christian life. Sending inappropriate photos, spreading gossip, taking illegal images, and even wasting countless hours with immature interactions are just a few of the problems that can come from such a service.

Therefore, it is imperative that individuals be knowledgeable about the spiritual dangers of these devices and the responsibility that comes with the use of technology. If users of technology know how to use them appropriately and have taken measures to limit their personal temptations, whatever they may be, they could use technology for good and stay away from the evils that can arise. Professor Yu recommends, ‘I would encourage anyone to use technology as a resource to pursue and explore his or her faith, for anything from research of pressing questions, to sharing of testimonies, fellowship, and encouragement.’ Technology has given way for a wider audience to the Gospel message. Hence, Christians should seek to use this method to enhance the Kingdom of God, by spreading the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the World Wide Web. And whatever believers do using technology, they must “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor.10:31).


 

Works Cited

 

Boers, Arthur P. Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions. Grand Rapids,

MI: Brazos, 2012. 16-17. Print.

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” theatlantic.com. The Atlantic, Web. 27 Oct. 2013.

Goldingay, John. Daniel. Dallas, TX: Word, 1989. 309. Print.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary On the Whole Bible.: Intervarsity Pr, 2004. 5431.

Print.

MacArthur, John. Revelation 12-22. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2000. 62. Print.

MacArthur, John. The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible. Nashville: Nelson Bibles,

2006. 1223. Print.

Noble, David F. Introduction. The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of

Invention. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1997. vii. Print.

Ruane, John P. “Christianity and Historicity: Faith and the World.” Philippine Studies: Historical and

Ethnographic Viewpoints 12.4 (1964): 751-755.

Van Der Laan, J. M. “Machines and Human Beings in the Movies.” Bulletin of Science, Technology &

Society 26.1 (2006): 31-37. Print.

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