Lesson 5: Technology

online-interactionLupe brought up another situation that challenges the Christian message in our present society. She spoke of the emotional debate that developed in Bolivia after a ten year old girl was raped. One side, led by Church leaders, claimed it would be murder to abort the fetus, even though the life of the youngster might be endangered. The other argued an abortion should take place, so a crime would not ruin the youngster’s life, and especially if the birth might threatened her health.

I see this as a dilemma largely resulting from modern technology’s power to solve human problems that were formerly beyond our control. No matter how many traditional religious and ethical arguments the first group makes, the second maintains the primary function of both ethics and religion should be reducing and eliminating suffering. If technology offers us a way to do that, we should use it.

An old joke makes my point. It featured four religious leaders arguing about abortion. The first three each cited a respectable teaching to support their opposition. The fourth retorted he was for abortion, because his daughter was pregnant out of wedlock.

Some of my son’s research on official church pronouncements about contraception is also relevant. He found church teachings were the same until technology developed a rubber that could be used for a trustworthy condom. There was no issue until technology provided a safe way. As the debate eventually pulled in discussion about abortion, it centered on whether it was ethical to abort, if the mother’s life was endangered. Again there was not much reason to debate at all until technology provided a safe way to do it.

Then things got hot, because neither the Church or society is certain how to make decisions about using modern technology. For a long time now, some of our leaders have argued we should leave such questions to specialists and refrain from applying “old fashioned, outmoded ideologies.” When we have a medical problem, we should leave it to the doctors to use the technology available to alleviate suffering.

Beyond that, our technological society has built an environment resistant to values and beliefs. We have confidence in systems and devices rather than trust in our neighbors. We have confidence the electrical grid and the oil pipelines will supply us, our cars and televisions will work, our governments and military will do their jobs. When we have a problem, we call the electric or gas company, the television or automotive repair, our representatives or policemen, rather than our neighbors whom we hardly know at all. We now rely on technology, not personal relationships, to solve our problems

Of course, as we all know, this this led to stalemate. Our doctors do not want the responsibility for making many kinds of life and death decisions. Our technicians know how to use information, but often have little wisdom for making profound decisions about the common good. There is a need for an ethical and religious voice in the social conversation. But thisvoice must come to terms with the role of modern technology in human culture.

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