The final assignment of the Ministry and Technology course was to select 10 passages of Scripture and comment on their import for ministry and theology in this digital age.
Part One: Beginnings and Endings
Technology is not morally neutral precisely so that it can be morally good. The normative basis for all human techne is that it expresses our creative dignity as the image of God. In the ancient world, the “image of god” was often itself a product of human invention: a statue or a hieroglyph that was worshipped and appeased. Human beings literally became the servants of their own creations, and this is still true today in ways that may be more subtle. Genesis’ resounding affirmation of human value reverses this order of servanthood by reserving all true worship to the One whose image cannot be made or controlled by human hands: God denies the ability to create deities by our own hands, when He declares that His image is our hands, our feet, the lives and bodies that He gave us. God’s image is therefore the hands, feet, lives and bodies of our neighbours, which means that true worship of God is love for our neighbour, and love for our neighbour is true worship of God. The “global village” of the internet can remind us that everyone is our neighbour, that our worship of God and our use of technology ought to be ordered to the welfare of the whole human family. Genesis 1:27 is the promise and reminder that this is possible.
If Genesis contains the promise that the work of human hands can worship God and love our neighbour, then Revelation 21 is a vision of that promise fulfilled in the Mystical Body of Christ. John’s vision on Patmos supposedly could have returned to the unmediated garden of Genesis, but instead we see a massive city, complete with dimensions, materials and other details that make it recognizable as a human construct. And as the “glory and honour of the nations” stream in, we see this piece of eschatological technology function as the ideal city, as the perfectly welcoming and vibrant gathering space where the best of humanity can interact. But the design is meant to be larger and grander than anything we could possibly build: only as the “wife of the Lamb” and His Body, perfectly fulfilled at the End of Time, can this vision be realized. The mystery is that God perfects this human ideal not by evading our ingenuity and creativity but inhabiting it: “it has the glory of God.” “The home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them” as He dwelt with the Israelites in the desert, as “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) If the image of God is located in human hands, then the image of God is perfected when God has the hands of Jesus the Lamb who draws us to His Body at the End of Time.
This brief reference to the mythopoetic origins of technology provides an example of disciplined discernment in Israel’s self-understanding. On its own, the innovations of Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-cain seem neutral and natural because they are universal: every human civilization has developed systems to build shelter, produce food and clothing, create music and art, and make the tools necessary for continuing these other tasks. Israelites would recognize the positive contribution of all these things to their own daily lives and the overall functioning of society. They would also recognize their consummation in the Temple Cult: the Tabernacle and later Temple were shelters built by tools, where livestock, crops and songs of praise were offered to God. We too can recognize similar contributions in our own lives and in the Church’s worship of God: the music and food of our Eucharistic liturgy, acts of charity and hospitality around a dinner table, and use of social media tools to connect people in authentic community.
The context of this passage strictly disciplines this discernment by exploring the self-worship of the nations. These are descendants of Cain, who murdered his brother to spite Abel’s true worship of God, who built a city to spite the garden bestowed on his parents and secure the honour of his own bloodline. Jews will see this city of Enoch in immediate contrast to the Holy City of Jerusalem and its Temple, and Christians can see it in opposition to the New Jerusalem promised in Revelation. Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-cain are also the sons of Lamech, who has exaggerated Cain’s pretensions to self-importance to the heights of invincibility: the fear that drove Cain to build a city has now weakened Lamech to the point that his ego crumbles at the slightest bump from a young man. The internet has similar pitfalls: anonymity and self-aggrandizement that masks our fears and vulnerabilities, immediate messages that lie and obfuscate, “groupthink” communities like Qanon or selective newsfeed algorithms that radicalize and distort, and the lack of subtlety enforced by micro-blogging media.