Technological Idolatry

For the week of September 11, 2021 / 5 Tishri 5782

Man in sitting in a meditative position with his laptop

Vayeilech
Torah: D’varim/Deuteronomy 31:1-30
Haftarah: Hosea 14:2-10 (English 14:1-9); Micah 7:18-20; Joel 2:15-17

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Assyria shall not save us; we will not ride on horses; and we will say no more, “Our God,” to the work of our hands. (Hosea 14:4; English 14:3)

God made human beings in his image to represent him on earth. Our primary task was to care for the creation by subduing and cultivating it (Bereshit/Genesis 1:26-28). We were to take control of Planet Earth under God’s supervision and direction. It wasn’t too long, however, before God’s order of things became skewed. Through our first parents we became subservient to the creation, due to the cunning of the serpent, who undermined God’s initial directives. The result was that instead of serving God by ruling over the creation, human beings became subject to the creation. Ever since then the creation has controlled us on its terms rather than our controlling it on God’s terms.

Being made in the image of God for the sake of creation care endowed humans with great creative skill. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, very early mankind practiced agriculture and animal husbandry. Eventually we see the development of tools and musical instruments. Two of the earliest Bible stories are examples of extraordinary technology: Noah’s ark and the Tower of Babel. The first, a boat-like structure the length of a football field designed to preserve the continuation of God’s plan for Planet Earth. The second was intended to be a great statement of human achievement. While both these projects are equally impressive, they greatly differ in their moral and spiritual quality. The ark was initiated and blessed by God to fulfill his purposes. The tower was a humanly initiated self-serving affair.

The tower project was so misguided that God determined it needed to be stopped. His assessment of the situation was this back-handed compliment: “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them” (Bereshit/Genesis 11:6). God here acknowledges the technological savvy of human beings. This ability along with their unity due to a common language would have disastrous results.

The disruption of the Babel project didn’t put an end to humanity’s technological prowess. It slowed it down. But don’t get me wrong. It’s not our capacity to conceptualize, innovate, and implement creative tools that is destructive in itself. As I already mentioned, God used advanced (for its day) navel technology to save us. It’s our having become subservient to the creation that has twisted human motivation in such a way that, through the ages, the finest technology has been easily abused.

The abuse of technology is rooted, not in the technology itself, which is an expression of God-endowed creativity; but in the human hearts’ shift from reliance upon God, our maker and king, to the technology itself. Instead of our innovations serving the purposes to which God made us, we become enamored with the works of our own hands. We develop conveniences to alleviate suffering and discomfort, and then we can’t live without them. We design solutions to some of our greatest problems, and then we put our trust, our faith, in them instead of God.

The prophet Hosea envisioned a day when the people of Israel would finally accept the fundamental weakness of technology. He references horses, but the point is the same. Nothing wrong with riding a horse, but our lives don’t depend on the manifold ways we have subdued the creation for our benefit. “No more,” Hosea says, will we say, “‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands.” Technology need not be an idol, but that’s exactly what it is when we put our hope in it.

The ever-increasing ability of technology to monitor, care for, transform, and sustain our lives, the more god-like it becomes. The more god-like it becomes, the more it demands our allegiance, our trust, our love.

Apart from a major disruption to the earth’s magnetic field, which is not far-fetched, technological advances will continue. The question is will it serve us or will we serve it?

All scriptures, English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible

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