Christian 'Values'


Judging Technology

  Is Technology Good or Bad?

Is modern technology good or bad? Put another way, do the net benefits of technology outweigh its costs? Are the easy availability and speed of modern transportation technology, for example, worth the many thousands of lives lost in transportation accidents each year? Is the convenience that plastics bring to our lives worth the environmental damage caused by their manufacture and disposal? Is the information that communication and computer technology make available to us worth the complexity and hectic pace of life that results?

The contemporary debate on these and similar questions is both heated and unresolved and it seems to have very little effect on how we develop and use technology today. To gain a deeper insight into these important issues, perhaps we must turn to wisdom that transcends time and space. Consider the following encounter that occurred two millennia ago in what we now refer to as Palestine.

  Jesus and the Rich Young Man

Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, "`Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and `love your neighbor as yourself.' "

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt. 19:16-23, NIV)

On the surface, this account would seem to have very little to do with modern technology, but deeper examination reveals some very pertinent points. First, by responding to the man’s query with the question, "Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus was pointing out that at the base of every choice and every decision one makes lies a set of standards about what is good, a set of beliefs about the value things, beliefs that are often called values’ in contemporary discourse. Second, by referring to the only One (i.e., God) who is good and to the hope of perfection, Jesus was explaining that there is a hierarchy of good crowned by the highest good, the summum bonum. Third, our moral obligation, articulated in the commandments Jesus referred to, is to do what is right, to realize the good. And fourth, it is possible to realize much good, as the young man said he did, yet be diverted from realizing the highest good. Jesus challenged the young man to consider whether his wealth (made possible, not incidentally, by the technology of his day) was -- or was a means for realizing – the summum bonum. The man failed the challenge.


  This essay is about technology and value, and it is about the instrumental value of technology as means for realizing things with intrinsic value. So in what follows I will offer definitions of technology and of value. Then I will summarize Jesus’ teachings on value and use his value standards (for reasons I will discuss) to critically examine modern technology with respect to those standards.

Although I shrink from using the term, ‘values’ in its plural noun form, I have consciously chosen the title of this essay, Technology and Christian ‘Values’, for two reasons. First, the term ‘values’ as referring to beliefs about the value of things, reflects current usage. Second, the phrase "Christian ‘Values’", is a challenge to bring Christian standards of value into public discourse, from which many would exclude them.


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NIV All scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.