Technology dominates life, but God makes it eternal
Michael Hanby is part of a new generation of Catholic scholars who vigorously engage hard questions about faith and human flourishing in the midst of a culture which increasingly values technology and material progress over personal dignity and freedom.
In a recent lecture Hanby noted that the ongoing "sexual revolution is a harbinger of a new, post-political totalitarianism." Key elements of this new order include "the mindless inhuman rule" of a technocracy furthered by ever-present media. One need only think of corporate behemoths such as Apple, Google and Amazon and the many thousands of apps that feed the power of data over our lives.
It is harmless and useful enough to make quick purchases on Amazon or other sites, but what becomes of our personal data? ID theft is an obvious concern, but what about the amassing of your information by an artificial "someone," sometimes knowing more about you than you can remember about yourself?
You know the experience: before you click "shop," the items you’re interested in are displayed in the margin, and before you finish typing the search term, a list appears. This tip of the iceberg doesn’t reveal the darker threats to privacy and liberty hidden under the surface. The key word in the film "The Graduate" was plastics. Today it is algorithms and analytics.
More than 30 years ago, musical genius Donald Fagen explored this same theme in his song, "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)." Writing from an imagined perspective of 1957, the International Geophysical Year, Fagen sings of a future full of technological marvels, some realized, like solar power and an orbiting space station, and others only imagined, like supersonic under sea rail travel from New York to Paris.
Accompanied by a fluid, optimistic tune Fagen repeats the refrain "what a beautiful world this will be; what a glorious time to be free." It’s captivating until he sings:
"A just machine to make big decisions. Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision. We’ll be clean when their work is done. We’ll be eternally free yes and eternally young."
There’s that mindless inhuman technocracy Hanby warns about and doubtless Fagen, too.
But God has something else in mind. In Psalm 8 we sing, "What is man that you are mindful of him? Yet you have made him little less than a God, and crown him with glory and honor."
St. Paul wrote in Galatians, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."
Freedom and eternal life do not come from a machine, but from the love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ. In him is our freedom to love even as he loves us.
Bill Beckman is director of the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. Contact him at email@example.com.