This should be titled “Jesus and Technology” but hey, ’tis the season!

I am grateful for John Dyer and his book titled “From the Garden to the City”.  If you work in technology, enjoy technology, or are curious about the impacts of technology on our world, I suggest you pick up a copy.  In one section of his book he discusses the occupation of Jesus.

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. (Mark 6:3 ESV)

The term historically translated as “carpenter” is the Greek word tekton.  While the word and concept of Technology has a rich and diverse history, we can trace the roots of the word back to the Greek tekton.  The technology of Jesus’ time would have been the tools and methods used by the artisans of the trade.  One might even argue that Jesus was a technologist.

If Jesus had come in the 21st century instead of the first, what do you think his career choice would have been?  Technology or carpentry?  I don’t know but I imagine he’d love both.

In my previous entry, I argued that technology does not have morality.  I made the case that the question is rather one of the impact of technology and that technology has both good, bad, and neutral impacts on our world.  While I believe the question of morality is the wrong question, I DO believe that technology does come with a set of values.

When God created man, he created him in His image.  Although the rest of God’s creation is not in God’s image, it does declare something about his nature (Psalm 19:1).  If we, as mini-creators are tasked with ruling this world, then it stands to reason that the things we create will say something about ourselves.  A book says something about the opinions of the author, a painting might say something about the feelings or attitude of the artist, and a machine might say something about the intentions of an engineer.  Created things always tie back, in some way, to their creator.

Technology is no different.  Technology, by definition, is something created by man.  Each of us brings a set of values to the table.  When we create technology, our values are present in that technology.  I think one could possibly make the case that our values are even more present in digital or information technology, particularly technology with a user interface.  The designer is forced to arrange elements in some fashion on a screen.  The placement of these items is often driven by purpose but can also be driven by values.  Take for example the popular real estate website Zillow.com.  When Zillow lists their property on their mobile website, they include price, number of bedrooms, number of bathrooms, and square footage.  If you need more information, you need to click into the listing.  Once you’ve opened the listing it displays a number of other pieces of information such as school district, yard size and garage size.  While this is a fairly common way to search for property, not everyone places such a high value on number of rooms or square footage.  If someone were shopping for a farm, for example, they may be more interested in local tax rates or overall lot size.  Number of bedrooms in the farm house may be less relevant.  Regardless, the software designer came to the table with a specific assumed set of values.

So, what’s the point?

We are surrounded by technology, all of which is created by someone other than ourselves.  We owe it to ourselves to think critically about the technology we use.  Some of this relates to the use of technology – should we use sound recording software to copy and distribute music we don’t own?  Some of this is more benign…are we more interested in the size of a house, the neighborhood in which it resides, or the siding material?

Where do you see values embedded in technology?  How do you embed your values in technology that you create?

We often bemoan the perils of modern technology in one breath and turn around and praise the wonders of technology in another.  When we start to think a little more deeply on the subject, we’re eventually faced with the question, “Is technology morally neutral?”  Sure, we can use streaming video on the internet to broadcast both sermons and hate speech.  Text messaging both increases the frequency of communication yet de-personalizes our conversations.  TV brings tons of information into our living rooms and, at the same time, has replaced evening conversation with … well … TV shows.

When we try to explain the positive and negative aspects associated with technology we often land, in some form or another, trying to answer questions about the morality of technology.  We usually end up landing somewhere along the lines of, “technology is neutral; what matters is how you use it.”  We then go on to explain that the technology itself does not have anything intrinsic that makes it good or evil.

Merriam-Webster defines “moral” as “concerning or relating to what is write or wrong in human behavior.”  If we are truly interested in assigning a moral position to technology, we find ourselves anthropomorphizing technology.  In other words, we’re assigning a uniquely human characteristic to something that’s not human.

I propose two things:

  1. Asking about the morality of technology is the wrong question
  2. Asking about the morality of technology overly simplifies a complex question

First, we miss the point when we ask whether or not technology is “good” or “bad”.  Humans, for sure, can use technology for morally pure and morally corrupt purposes.  But that’s a statement about humanity, not the technology itself.  As soon as we adopted cell phone technology, our world changed.  As soon as the wheel was invented, the world changed.  Every invention between the wheel and the cell phone somehow changed society.  The better question to ask is, “How does this impact our world/culture/society?”  When thinking about technology we may think we’re interested in the good or evil; we’re really interested in how it impacts us.

Second, if we’re truly interested in the impacts of technology, then simplifying the merits to simply good or evil has oversimplified an inherently complex question.  Some impacts may be good, some may be bad, and others may just be.  Take, for example, the automobile.  The early automobiles were dirty, loud (they scared horses), and caused ruts in the road that would create pooling of water (the bad).  They also allowed one to travel with luggage quickly between two points several miles away without having to stow or care for a horse and allowed families to interact more frequently in person that otherwise possible (the good).  But cars also changed society.  We have garages; we have gas stations all over the place; we have paved roads; we have an entire industry created around building and maintaining cars.  In the US, this industry has formed around a number of large urban areas.  Several of these auto companies have recently declared bankruptcy and have taken copious amounts of assistance from government subsidies.

I point this out to demonstrate the complex impacts of a single technology.  When we consider technology, we should go beyond the simplistic question of “is it morally neutral” and consider the deeper impacts on our society and culture.

What are the impacts of technology on our world?

Article: Why Switchfoot Won’t Sing Christian Songs

This article talks about a perspective of “Christian Music” that few understand or embrace. I applaud Switchfoot’s lead singer, Jon Foreman, for his outlook.

There is a schism between the sacred and the secular in all of our modern minds.

This schism that Foreman talks about is apparent in much of what we do. “Christian music” is probably one of the most apparent results of this dualism. In our minds, something is “Christian” only if it directly and explicitly addresses Christian themes of love, redemption, sin, or talks about Jesus. If not, then the material is considered secular.

When searching the internet for the subjects of “Christian” and “Technology” the primary list of results includes things like: (1) How technology can be used in worship, (2) how technology can be used to spread the gospel, and (3) IT jobs at Christian companies. Information Technology can certainly be used to further the gospel. However if our view of faith as it relates to technology is limited to only applications of technology that address explicitly Christian subjects, then the large majority of Christian technologists will be excluded from applying faith to IT work.

The Bible brings glory to God. So does the rest of his creation. Modeling and building IT systems that replicate God’s word (the scriptures) bring just as much glory to God as modeling and building logistics systems and processes. Both belong to God, both were ultimately created by God, and both can honor God.

If you work in IT, your work will glorify God regardless of how many Bible verses are in the code.

April (you know who you are), thanks for bringing this article to my attention!

Shortly after I graduated college I began working for an organization called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (www.ccojubilee.org). The ministry objective of the CCO was to reach out to college students with the specific goal of “transforming students to transform the world.” We had a fundamental belief that Jesus changes people’s lives and those people will subsequently change the world around them. From that belief flowed the need to help college students connect their faith in Jesus with their work. If they were to transform the world around them, and they’ll spend the majority of their week doing work (until they retire), how will that work have redemptive power in this world?

We wrestled, however, with more than just the results of work. As an architect, for example, one might design a building that was ultimately used as a church building. In that scenario the results of the work are directly attributed God’s kingdom. Ministry, outreach, discipleship, worship, and teaching of the word will be fostered within the walls of that building. While there’s a connection between one’s faith and the end product, that leaves out the process or the work itself. Architecture can, in many ways, express beauty and magnificence in a way that reflects God’s glory regardless of the functional use of the end product. When reading a book, looking at a painting, or observing an architectural wonder, we often see a bit of the creator in the work itself. Beyond that, we can see a message that the creator is trying to send. The architect may be trying to convey a sense of openness, majesty, protection (or security), or any other number of concepts. Through this, an Architect can bring out a beauty, glory, and wonder that is only possible within a creation given to us by God.

But this blog is about Information Technology. My question is related to the concept above. How does the work itself, not just the end product, of information technology bring glory to God? Sure, a software developer could write an iPhone app to display daily Bible verses in a reminder. They could create software to display words to worship songs for presentation during the service. But how does the work itself, the software development, server engineering, network design, business analysis (I could go on) bring Glory to God?

Technology can mean a lot of things. In the context of this blog, and for clarification purposes, I am talking about Information Technology. I’m talking about the work that people do in the vocation of IT or IS and how that work can bring God glory. At it’s root, technology can really be defined in a few different ways, inclusive of even basic tools such as sticks used to dig holes. A discussion of technology and how it’s evolved over the years is definitely worth discussion. Perhaps I’ll blog on that later. I simply wanted to clarify the subject matter of this blog.

So, how does someone working in Information Technology integrate their faith to their work? If God cares about everything, it stands that he cares about IT work. Why?

#include<iostream>
int main()
{
cout << "Hello World! Ready to talk theology and technology?";
     return 0;
}

According to Proverbs 9, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  If we in the technology industry hope that our work will bring glory and honor to God then we must understand that our insight into this will come from our knowledge of the Holy One.

I’ve spent the last six years working in Information Systems.  The five years prior to that was a mix of full-time and part-time ministry to students.  Over these last 11 years, it’s become apparent to me that we live in a world fueled by technology (I will discuss definitions of technology in time).  But there’s even more than the technology itself.  That technology is built and driven by millions of workers spending day after day writing code, installing servers, building networks, running projects, supporting call centers and help desks and more.

The purpose of this blog is to discuss the theological concepts and underpinnings that will help those of us who work in Information Technology connect our faith to our work.  In addition, I hope to build a repository of links and resources on this topic.  Please share if you have any ideas!

Join me in this journey, won’t you?  Let’s have some fun.