In Billy Graham’s most recent interview, the 95 year old Evangelist was asked about our increasingly techno-centric culture and if there was a biblical view of technology. His response is worth considering:
“We have certainly watched the plethora of communication capabilities explode as we moved into the 21st century. I have always loved the art of communication, and there is no question that my preaching ministry benefited greatly by utilizing amplification and magnification in arenas and stadiums around the world. Television and radio enabled the gospel to reach far corners of the earth, as the Bible predicted. But while God allows blessing to come from such grand inventions like wireless and mobile devices, Satan has also used technology to cleverly advance his deception. There are generations today that take pride in their ability to communicate instantly through Facebook or Twitter but are unable to communicate face-to-face. People are finding solace sitting in front of computer screens willing to talk to total strangers about anything and everything through electronic communication, but don’t believe God could ever hear their cries of loneliness, grief, and pain.”
The evangelist concluded by saying “technology is a gift from God when it is used to proclaim the gospel.”
The point that Graham makes is a serious obstacle for Christians seeking to engage the world. We are seeking to save people’s souls, and we look into the soul of a person by looking into their face. All too often our faces and theirs are turned away and enveloped in a screen. Christians are as guilty of living techno-centric lives as much as the culture at large.
Conservatives, myself included, often embrace the fallacy that people today are somehow more depraved than they ever have been. Even though it true that the times have been much better, it is also true that the times have been much worse. Johnny Cash, another great southerner who appeared with Billy Graham on occasion, and who friends and I have affectionately dubbed the Aquinas of country music, said in his autobiography, “I simply don’t buy the concept of ‘Generation X’ as the ‘lost generation.’ I see too many good kids out there, kids who are ready and willing to do the right thing… Their distractions are greater, though. There’s no more simple life with simple choices for the young.”
The true obstacle for Christians today is not worse people, but people with more distractions, and before we can effectively speak to this problem we must recognize that we often suffer and submit to the same distractions. We live in a world of constant noise, and we often forget that God is encountered through a still small voice. Any model of Christian Civic engagement for the next century will have to take this into account and develop a theology of technology. C.S. Lewis, Roger Scruton, and Popes Paul VI and Benedict XVI, among others, have already laid much of the groundwork.
G.K. Chesterton once claimed of his views on technology that, “I am not a fanatic; and I think that machines may be of considerable use in destroying machinery.” His wit, as always, contains a truth – we must either use machines to pierce the barrier they have created, or we must attempt to show the world glimpses of the beauty that is now obscured. Chesterton went on to explain this attitude we must adopt:
“I am inclined to conclude that it is quite right to use the existing machines in so far as they do create a psychology that can despise machines, but not if they create a psychology that respects them. The Ford car is an excellent illustration of the question. If possessing a Ford car means rejoicing in a Ford car, it is melancholy enough… But if possessing a Ford car means rejoicing in a field of corn or clover, in a fresh landscape and a free atmosphere, it may be the beginning of many things – and even the end of many things. It may, for instance, be the end of the car and the beginning of the cottage. Thus we might almost say the final triumph of Mr. Ford is not when the man gets into the car, but when he enthusiastically falls out of the car… The man who used his car to find his farm will be more interested in the farm than in the car; certainly more interested than in the shop where he once bought the car.”
The point that Graham and Chesterton are trying to tell us is that technology is only good when it is being used to point to something more worthy beyond it. When it become the center of our lives and culture we have gone amiss and abused the gifts given to us. I must confess this is an issue that has been convicting me of late. I encourage you, the next time you find yourself surrounded by people, to attempt and break through the technological barrier that we all build around ourselves. After all, why stare at a screen when the image of God is right next to you?