Sunday, April 2, 2017

Is Technological Power Destroying the World?

Is technological power destroying the world?

The short answer to this question is, "No."

But as we continue to reflect on what some have called the emerging global "epoch of power," we have to look more fully at the issues and concerns involved in even posing such a question.

As befits the genre of bloggery, I will merely raise a few points here that strike me as crucial in light of my own experience and reflection as a human person, and also as a Christian.

Technological power can be terrifying or inebriating, depending on how we look at it. It is, in any case, power that we hold in our hands, but always within a deeper context. Whatever power we possess, we have acquired it by engaging a reality that is fundamentally given to us (that we will never be able to generate in an absolute sense) -- a reality intrinsic to the existence of the world and our own existence as persons endowed with intelligence and freedom.

We can use our freedom to build up or damage the world in profound ways, but we neither create nor will we destroy the foundations of reality. These points require greater exploration (beyond what we can do here) into the philosophy of ontology, the phenomenology of "gratuitousness," and related themes where reason and faith intersect: the mystery of transcendence, God, creation, providence, and especially redemption and its impact on history.

If we simply look at things from a concrete human point of view, however, we must recognize that technological development is "natural," not because humans impose rationality on the otherwise meaningless stuff of material things, but because (and insofar as) humans use reason (not just abstractly but embodied in human-life-in-a-created-world) to engage the reality in which they find themselves. Technological development (in the positive, constructive sense) occurs when we discover, foster, and apply the potentialities inherent in the natural world to cultivate an environment that serves as a flourishing and beautiful space for the communion of human persons.

There is plenty of room for creativity here, for "high tech," for "comfort" even (which has its place, not as an absolute, but as something entailed by the desire for a greater mutual benevolence, a deeper extension of hospitality). There is nothing inherently wrong with a great development of human "power," but it must be developed in a truly reasonable way, in coordination with the values inherent in creation and the dignity and purposes of human life. 

The industrial and the various technological revolutions have not done it that way, however. Or, rather, technological development has been carried out in a very ambivalent fashion: for good motives and bad motives and (alas, poor weak humanity) most often for mixed motives. 

As a result, humans today have this massive power over the material world, but (all too frequently) at the expense of other less powerful humans and the health of the whole physical cosmos. People of good will recognize the urgency of the need to grapple with these appalling consequences of our use and abuse of technology. The situation has become evident and dramatic in a way that cannot be ignored.

It is understandable why this presents such a frightening prospect. We recognize that the tumultuous expansion of human power in this period of history has also given rise to unprecedented dangers to human life, societies and cultures, and the very survival of the earth's environment.

Can we improve this predicament, relieve the present suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters, and avoid future catastrophe? The answer to this question depends on our willingness to confront the great challenge of our time, to face the essential problem that must be engaged if there is to be any hope of addressing the others. To put it as simply as I can, we must find the deeper resources of our humanity that will enable us to integrate the development and use of human power with personal and interpersonal responsibility, with solidarity with our neighbors and stewardship within the created world. 

How? That is a good question with no simple answer. We need to find the human position from which to ask such a question rightly and sincerely.

In finding such a position, I hope we will move toward a more profound awareness of being human persons living in communion with one another in the world. Each of us can only aspire to move in this direction in life and in relation to our neighbors even if the whole world seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

As a Christian, these circumstances lead me once more into the presence of the One who is the savior, redeemer, and hope of every human person and all of history, Jesus Christ. I pray that we might discover in a renewed and deeper way the centrality of Jesus Christ for the whole cosmos and its fulfillment, and of our need for a personal relationship with Jesus at the center of our faith. And may He lead us to recognize the central value for human society of the whole human person in relation to other whole human persons.

First of all, I pray that the Lord might grant to me this renewal of life in communion with Jesus and my neighbors. My responsibility begins with myself and I need this for myself.