Technology and the spirit of the world

In my last post I wrote about Babylon as the spirit of the world—which is human pride, independence and self-determination, in opposition to the rule of God. Today, I wish to explore the relationship of technology to the advancement of this humanist agenda, and demonstrate how technology and the world spirit are inextricably and fatally linked.

The impetus for this post came after a recent conversation with my wife, in which I arrived at an enlightening realisation. We hold minority viewpoints on a number of issues, including mainstream medicine and education (last month, for example, my third child was born at home, under the supervision of accredited midwives provided by our local hospital); because our sympathies lie with many ideas Western society labels ‘alternative’, we are sensitive to the amount of critique leveled against these philosophies by mainstream culture.

In my home city there is a constant and unfair attack by the media—which subsequently incites public opinion—against people who choose not to vaccinate, practice homebirthing, and/or homeschool their children. Regular newspaper columnists regale the reading public with vitriolic statements on the foolishness and irresponsibility of these lifestyles, pronouncing that those who practice these things are seriously deranged and a danger to their fellow citizens. Given the amount of column space devoted to condemning these people, one might think they were more deadly to society than a fundamentalist terrorist committed to violent destruction.

My wife and I were discussing the unreasonable hostility directed towards these lifestyle choices when I gained a valuable insight: In my experience, society’s wrath is almost always directed against behaviour considered too ‘natural’ and ‘primitive’—at least when it comes to health and social issues (but not, hypocritically, when environmental concerns are in view).

The spirit of the world—Babylon—has a voracious need for tangible human progress. This is a primary foundational value underpinning many other values inside Babylon. Human progress means innovation, and innovation inevitably leads to technical invention. This pattern can be seen very early in Genesis, in the microcosm of a single family:

Genesis 4:19-24 

And Lamech took two wives; the name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have cattle. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Na’amah. Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, hearken to what I say: I have slain a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” 

Lamech (not the Lamech of Genesis 5:25, the father of Noah) is listed as a direct descendent of Cain. In six generations sin has quickly progressed; Lamech is so confident of his ability to exact vengeance on perceived enemies that he declares his current victory eleven times greater than those won by Cain. Don’t forget that Cain—regardless of his earlier sins—was to be avenged by God (4:15). Lamech’s proud proclamation is thus a two-pronged boast: he celebrates his superior self-preservation abilities, and at the same time declares himself more capable than God.

Given this less than glowing character survey, it’s significant that the writer of Genesis credits Lamech’s sons as the founders of various cultural advancements. Jabal is the father (founder) of cattle farming; Biblical commentary suggests the Hebrew word can also mean slave trading. Jabal probably had wealth and power, which, as everyone knows, can buy a lot of political influence. His impact on early society was social and governmental as well as economic.

Jabal’s brother Jubal was ‘the father of all those who play the lyre and the pipe’—a considered selection by the author of Genesis that covers all musical instruments, of which wind and string instruments were by far the overwhelming majority in ancient society. Musical instruments represent a technical advancement over the human voice, because they require design, construction, and skilled implementation. It’s not insignificant that Genesis traces the beginning of musical instruments back to an individual whose family background proved extremely hostile to God. The presence of music in a society indicates developing culture and artistry—poetry, song, storytelling, religion, and worship. And each of these developments requires further technical invention to facilitate the growing needs of humanity.

Lastly, Tubal-cain is a metal-smith, ‘forging instruments of bronze and iron’. Presumably he would have had to first mine these metal from the ground, and then smelt them, before being able to create items like agricultural and household tools, weaponry, and armour. To Tubal-cain can be attributed industry and technology, manufacturing, and warfare.

All of this is to demonstrate the point that the early development of culture, as described by Genesis, was driven by a family whose members were in open defiance of God. Rebellious human culture and technology[1] are thus inextricably intertwined, and ‘Babylon’ can be further defined as a mindset within society that desires technological development at all costs; it devalues lifestyles that are ‘natural’ and ‘simple’ because they hint at an ancient past long forgotten, in which humanity was much more dependant on God for the everyday needs of life.

Not everyone seeking ‘alternative’ methodologies by which to live are Christians. There is more than a hint of irony in the fact that many Christians are often as not the champions of civilisation, advocating conservative acquiescence to society’s malaise, even when that attitude is shown to be the opposite of Jesus’ position in his own Jewish culture. Perhaps the ‘new-age hippies’ so derided for their ‘natural’ lifestyles actually occupy a position within society much closer to Jesus than the established churches; a position despised and maligned because it refuses to tow the party line that technology, and progressive innovation, is always good.[2]

Not every non-conformist within society is a Christian, but Christians should be willing to embrace non-conformity, in opposition to the sin-drenched societies they inhabit. Those who desire to ‘come out of Babylon’ will seek ways to consciously reduce personal dependency on and fidelity towards technology and continuous technical innovation—social as well as mechanical and chemical.[3],[4]

[1] By ‘technology’ I mean any invention requiring a design, creation, and implementation stage, which seeks to improve human life in some way, and which as a result steers societal attitudes away from dependency on God. ‘Technology’ thus encompasses inventions from the incredibly simple–such as a metal spearhead, a canoe, a tasseled robe, or a wagon wheel—to the latest in space-faring accomplishment.

[2] I am not a Luddite or a technophobe. In and of itself, technology is of course neutral, having no will or mind of its own and being nothing more than the expression of a design conceived in the mind of an inventor. The problem is, once again, the presence of sin within human societies. In a sinful environment, it is inevitable that technology is used to extend sinful agendas. I am not opposed to Christians using technology, but advocate much caution and consideration before we accept every form of technology offered by our societies in the name of ‘life improvement’. I believe that in the future kingdom of God there will be invention and technology – but they will be expressions of human creativity in the service of righteousness, rather than sin.

[3] Using the formula of design, creation, and implementation, I have designated ‘social’ inventions such as capitalism, communism, and democracy a form of technology. Christians should be aware of the philosophical roots of whatever social systems their society embraces, and understand that no one system is ‘more righteous’ than another, since all are created from fallen human nature. The Church is a ‘society’ in which the righteous future kingdom of Christ should be attested—that is, an environment where Jesus reigns through his spirit present in all believers. The world has no knowledge of or access to the spirit, and is thus hopelessly and forever unable to create the ‘peace on earth’ it desperately desires.

[4] By ‘chemical’ technologies I mean innovations such as synthetically manufactured drugs, chemical food enhancers and preservatives, or plastics, etc.


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