Revelation Power… In The Age Of Pragmatism
Joan Osborne asked a great question with her song 'What If God Was One Of Us?'. I'd like to meet Joan; I'd like to tell her that her question has already been answered.
At a specific time in history, God put on human form as we might put on an overcoat. He came in a form we can understand. He heard the cry of our heart for revelation and said, 'This is what I'm like.'
In today's world, however, many people are robbed of the chance to discover God. They are offered education without revelation. This gives rise to a society that is built on technology without truth.
The major claim to acceptance of any new technology is that 'it works'. Technological development is based on pragmatism, on getting practical results. We buy into new technologies because they give us helpful new techniques for doing everyday things.
Traditionally, technologies came into existence in response to human need. Tools existed because we needed them. We accepted new technologies because they clearly made our lives better. In our time, though, many new techniques exist only because the technology is there to make them possible. In other words, the technology often runs ahead of our ability to decide if it is helpful or not!
In many cases, there is very little discussion about where technology is taking us over all, or about what specific technologies might mean to our basic humanity or our environment. At the moment, for example, there are not too many people who think that human cloning would be a good idea, but few there are very few realists who do not foresee a time when it will not be happening at some level.
Technology thrives on pragmatism and that's fine, up to a point. We generally love it when we find gadgets that will do things better, faster and more economically. Yet pragmatism on its own can sometimes work against truth. The Bible puts it like this:
'There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.' (Proverbs 14:12)
Sometimes a man-made solution to a problem may seem to work, but it may lead to spiritual and even physical ruin down the track. Only revelation can provide the objective bedrock on which we can base healthy debates on the moral implications of technologies like cloning or gene therapy.
Of course, new technologies have brought with them some great benefits. To say, as some Christians seem to do, that we should fear technology just because it represents change is ridiculous.
Industrial technologies, for example, have enabled us to produce more. In the 1800s, one farmer could produce enough food for about four people. With machinery and fertilizers, one farmer can now produce enough food for about one hundred people.
More recently, information technology has begun to dramatically change the way we buy and sell and even the way we form relationships. Many of us have come to rely on our PDAs, WAP phones and fast-chipped PCs. For us, they're more tools than toys. We've already seen amazing things, but information technology is still only taking its first baby steps.
With all the desirable effects of technology, though, there are obviously downsides. Environmental pollution and the depletion of natural resources are good examples. Fossil fuels are being used up at a rapid rate and freeways, factories and junkyards clutter up the landscape.
Some psychologists and sociologists are now talking about a new phenomenon they call 'technological alienation'. The word 'alienation' simply means a sense of powerlessness and estrangement. The rapid growth in our reliance on technology does sometimes contribute to alienation between people groups, by, for example, boosting the advantage one group or nation has over another (the technological haves verses the have nots).
In some ways, there's an even more dangerous kind of alienation -- alienation from ourselves. At the most fundamental level, what we are facing today is, in many ways, a battle between our technology and our humanity. There's a tug of war going on between what we feel in conscience to be right and what is made possible by modern science.
Jacques Ellul wrote that technology has taken over from Christian faith as the most sacred thing in our western society. Once we couldn't live without God, but today we can't live without gadgets.
We've invited technology into our workplaces, then into our homes, and now even into our bodies. Before long, medicos will be able to inject tiny robots ('nanobots') into your blood stream, to help heal you of your ailments.
Many people today live as if they take it for granted that our technology can, at least in time, meet all our most important needs. But can it?
In the natural world, the principle of entropy says that any natural system left to itself, without any outside energy source, tends to wind down. If I take a jug of water and plug it into an electric socket and turn it on, it will gradually come to the boil. Once I turn off the power, though, it quickly cools again. Its energy winds down.
It's the same with us on a spiritual or moral level. Without a constant input of revelation, of truth that is based on God's character, we tend to sink toward the lowest common denominator.
Without revelation, we will go on making the same mistakes as we have always made. Only as time goes by and our technological power grows, we will make those mistakes on an even bigger scale.
Revelation does not work against technology; it helps us keep technology in check. It helps us ensure that technology remains our servant and never becomes our master.
© Mal Fletcher 2001