Becoming Better People

As a child, I constructed a crude version of a telephone out of two soup cans and a string. Pulling the string taut between these cans allowed the string to carry sound between them. I could speak into one of them and someone else could listen from the other. It was like magic.

This only worked when there was tension in the string. Allow slack and the whole system was broken.

In Becoming Better Gods, I suggested technology has enabled us to serve as more effective image-bearers over God’s creation by enhancing and extending our natural capabilities. We are better able to be “as God” because we are becoming more like God, even if in relatively small ways.

But if we’re becoming better gods, are we becoming worse people?

In November 2015, General Electric published a report called “Debate: Is Technology Making Us Less Human”. In April 2017, NBC News suggested  “Your Smartphone is Changing the Human Race in Surprising Ways”. In February 2018, Vox made a similar claim: “Technology isn’t just changing society—it’s changing what it means to be human”.

The question that technology forces us to reckon with is simple and timeless: what does it really mean to be human? The first chapter of Genesis answers that question.

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth‘”        Genesis 1:26

When God installed humans as his image-bearers over creation, he placed us in state of tension. On the one hand, we rule over his creation. At the same time, however, we serve him as Creator. Looking down, we represent God. Looking up, we worship Him.

Living in tension is what it means to be human. We are simultaneously rulers and subjects. But as technology enhances our capabilities, is that critical tension threatened?  

We get excited about technology, because it promises to enhance our humanity. We can fly through the skies. We can dive into the depths. We can communicate over vast distances. We can travel at incredible speeds. Technology extends our inherent capabilities.

But we get worried about technology, because it threatens our humanity. Were we meant to change the genetics of our children? Were we meant to create machines that could learn, think, and someday possibly feel? Were we meant to live forever, conquer disease, and overcome all of our limitations?

Technology is loved for the new vision of humanity that it offers. Technology is feared for the same reason. At the same time technology offers to make us more human, it runs the risk of taking away our humanity as well.

In our quest to become gods, are we sacrificing our humanity?

In our quest to become gods, are we sacrificing our humanity? Click To Tweet

How can we use technology to become more fully human? What kinds of technology uniquely threaten to degrade the people who use it or the people against whom it is used? Will technology succeed in blurring the line between man and machine? What will come of God if that happens?

From a Christian perspective, worship is central to our understanding of what it means to be human. We find our humanity in relationship to God. We are only fully human when we embrace our most fundamental identity as the image of the Creator.

New technology doesn’t make worship impossible. But it has the potential to change the tension in the string. As we grow in our ability to look down as rulers, looking up as a subject could become more difficult.

Our task, then, is to ask important questions about our use and creation of technology that allow us to maintain that tension. Otherwise, the whole system breaks. Without tension, our humanity distorts. 

Where better to gain an understanding of our humanity than the story of our creation? The first three chapters of Genesis show us what it means to be human. We see the creative nature of God whose image we are created in. We are shown how to relate to God, how to represent him to His creation, and how our relationships with each other play into each of those tasks.

The story of creation gives us a vision of humanity as rulers who worship and worshippers who rule. It shows us our place in the world and invites us to inhabit that role with energy and creativity. We learn the possibilities and limitations of our humanity. We learn to rule, and we learn to worship.

So we begin our exploration of technology and theology with the story of creation. If we’re becoming better gods, we’d better make sure we’re becoming better people as well.

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