How Would Jesus Call?
by Ken Myers for the Dallas Morning News
An article in the April issue of Wired magazine makes some frightening predictions about the dangers of three cutting-edge technologies. Though Wired is better known for treating the latest gadgets and high-tech systems either with irreverent glee or awe-filled reverence, this article, written by Bill Joy, cofounder and chief scientist of Sun Microsystems (and thus a high priest among the digerati), sounds more apocalyptic than messianic. Joy warns that future developments in genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology (the development of microscopic machines) may pose a serious threat to human existence. All three technologies aim to create self-replicating mechanisms.
Joy’s article makes some very serious points that ought to be of particular concern to theologians and religious ethicists. Even if his most ominous fears prove to be as ill-founded as Y2K hysteria, his concern for attending to the unintended consequences of technology is instructive.
With few exceptions, religious people have not given enough thoughtful attention to the social and cultural consequences of emerging technologies. When technical devices are used for obviously immoral purposes (e.g., pornography on the Internet), Christians express concern. But church leaders and theologians give far too little attention to the subtle ways in which technologies reshape our lives and thereby re-configure our moral understanding of the world.
Technologies are usually developed to make a particular task more convenient, and convenience is valuable. But it is not the only valuable thing, and it is up to individuals and communities to determine when an increased level of convenience is actually a hindrance to other human values.
Cell phones, for example, make it easier for us to have immediate access to others and to remain perpetually accessible. But certainly there are times when cell phones should be turned off or left at home. Some restaurants now require guests to disable their cell phones while dining. This shows respect for the ambience of their dining rooms and honors the desire of other diners not to be forced into the role of eavesdropper.
I’d like to suggest that Christian people in particular give some attention to cell phone etiquette. A thoughtful set of manners regarding cell phones could be a small but significant way of reducing the sum total of dehumanizing behavior in American culture. Such manners could demonstrate the high value Christians place on embodiment, expressed in our doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, and Resurrection.
What could cell phones possibly have to do with the Incarnation? Both involve the significance of physical, embodied presence before others. The presence of another person before us is a kind of moral claim, asking for the recognition appropriate to a fellow human being. Likewise, when we make ourselves present to others, we are showing respect. Thus when we visit someone in the hospital or in prison (a situation Jesus alludes to in Matthew 25) instead of just phoning or sending flowers, we demonstrate by our presence a higher level of regard for their well-being.
Read Full Post »