Gun Violence and Technology

The killing of seven innocent people at a fourth of July celebration has now been added to the growing list of gun violence in this country.   We are momentarily shocked by the news, tragic and frightening as it is, but it is another news item sandwiched between Jalen Brunson’s $104 million dollar contract with the Knicks and summer party favorite foods.  Perhaps Nicholas Carr was right:  the internet has stolen our brains. Google now manages our thoughts.   We are not much better than the robots that will soon be driving our cars.  We are a superficial people on an ailing planet.   As long as we are having fun and looking good on social media, nothing else really matters for the moment. After all, we are momentary people living the best of our lives in the “now.”   On the other hand, many people feel overwhelmed by the news.  The problems are too great, and the solutions are too few. It is difficult to adequately assess what is going wrong, but there is little doubt that we are living with fractured minds in a fractured society, creating a fractured world.  And we are all complicit, one way or another.

Our systems are like Velcro, they stick around but they are not holding up anything, except the dysfunction that pervades our culture.  Getting an education is mandated up to a certain age and going to church or service may be a family tradition, but otherwise entertainment is what occupies our attention:  Reality TV, rock concerts and sports feed our virtual lives and satisfy our need to transcend ourselves   We have a desperate need to remove our minds from the overwhelmingness of our world and to imagine another one.  Millions of dollars are spent on attending these events  and supporting the actors.   Is it not alarming that a basketball player can make $90 million dollars for shooting hoops, while a teacher or, better yet, a specialist in contemporary literature, makes $46,000?  Higher education is a social event and not much more.

How does a twenty-one year old kid slip through our systems to become a killer?  Who reads the signs of the fragile mind?  Who reached out to help him along the way?  One thing is certain—loneliness, depression and anger can find a friend on the dark web of the internet.  Guns may be a problem, but the dark web is an infinite world of unbridled evil.  It is an extensive, global net of information and very difficult to monitor or control.  Gun violence in America and the war in the Ukraine are entangled phenomena.  Our war is silent and cloaked in secret bits of information, even while sitting on a beach.   The war in Ukraine is visible and overtly destructive.  Either way, we are immersed in war, and the internet plays a vital role.

Technology can do wondrous things, like connect lonely grandmothers and grandchildren, or provide biomedical solutions for rare diseases—but it can also provide information to carry out mass shootings or bomb a city or hack a computer grid.  Technology left on its own can be a frightening tool.  The value of internet technology is the value humans ascribe to it; it can be used for human purposes and belong to God, or it can acquire an autonomy that gives it a quasi-divine status and power, placing humans under its thrall.  When we place technology out of care and responsibility, we may get disastrous and unpredictable results.

Technology is not so much a tool, as it is an extension of human nature, a mirror of our deepest desires.  John McCarthy wrote in 1956:  “We create the tools and the tools create us.” Technology tells us what we want and what we want to become.  Since we humans are part of nature, technology is part of nature, and nature is not a stage for human history.  When nature is depleted of its depth dimension, which is the function of religion, God gradually disappears to us because we ourselves are nature. Philip Hefner wrote: “The goal of achieving a right relation to nature and technology is thus only possible if we engage at the level of the sacral meanings – both benign and malign—that inform our current relationships with them.” If human beings are part of nature, technologies are part of nature too.  The distinction between the artificial and the natural then must lie not in their source—human or not—but in their characteristics, in the way they relate to the world around them.

Religion is bound up with technology because religion, like technology, is concerned with the depth dimension of nature, the place of ultimate concern.  The sacred ordering of nature is an ongoing process – religious meanings do not disappear; they just change and new forms of treating nature as sacred are generated.  The function of religion is to create stories of mythic depth.  New understandings of the secular are products of transformation in the sacred.  Our idea of nature has changed along with our ideas of the sacred, and technology plays a fundamental role in this regard. The technological transformation of nature belongs to the story of the ongoing sacralization of nature.  In themselves, however, technologies lack telos or ultimate goals.

And this is where religion may be the greatest obstacle to a better world. Without realizing that development of computer technology is part of human evolution, and that evolution requires a new understanding God in relationship with a dynamic world of matter, we are beholden to old, brittle institutions and their inability to face themselves in a spirit of change.   All monotheistic religions are currently tied to the ancient Ptolemaic cosmos and are formed by ancient Greek philosophical ideas.  They function as social units and places of community support.  What they do not do is provide a zest for evolution or show us how God may be active and alive in a world of change.

Last Sunday I attended Mass at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington DC.  There were twelve men on the altar to celebrate the Mass, all dressed in priestly vestments.  Twelve men—despite the fact that liturgical theology affirms one mediator between heaven and earth:  one body, one Christ, one community. But the Church, like many other institutions, is a self-righteous institution where every action or decision is justified:  “This is our way of doing things.”   This mentality is reflective of our lonely, internet world as well.  We can justify everything because somewhere on the web, someone else is doing the same thing as we are or having the thoughts or plans.  The internet, like the Church, is the “everything is possible,” milieu.

The future is too important and too dangerous to be left to unbridled technological evolution.  Without a larger story of God and technology, we are bits of information vulnerable to being hacked.  If we deny that technologies belong to God, their very construal in secular terms, allows them to start to belong to themselves, to become autonomous – to give them a quasi-divine status and power and thus to place humans under their thrall. When we place our technologies out of sight, out of sphere of care and responsibility, we may get disastrous and unpredictable results.   As Hefner writes, to eliminate religion from technology is to leave us vulnerable/fearful.” [n]   We must begin to realize that the technological transformation of nature belongs to the story of the ongoing sacralization of nature.   The goal of achieving a right relation to nature and technology is thus only possible if we engage at the level of the sacral meanings – both benign and malign—that inform our current relationships with them.

Teilhard de Chardin realized the power of computer technology and saw that it could usher in the next level of evolution if we use it toward this end.  He used the language of ultra-humanity to emphasize the need for humanity to enter into a new phase of its own evolution.  Man is psychically distinguished from all other animals, he wrote, by the fact that he not only knows, but knows that he knows.[i]  He spoke of a new level of  “co-consciousness,” a collective awareness brought about by the convergence of human beings (the noosphere) over the surface of the earth.   With the rise of technology, he saw a forward movement of spiritual energy, a maximization of consciousness and a complexification of relationships.  While technology can extend the outreach of human activity, it depends on a broader use of human activity and how humans control psychic, spiritual energy needs and powers.[ii]  Conscious evolution, in and through technology, demands a deep awareness of being in evolution, our role on this evolutionary process, and the power of God who is drawing us into a new future.

The heightened anxiety of a post pandemic world has created a greater reliance on technology with its transhuman promises of enhancement.  Traditional religions remain outside the scope of computer technology and the gap between religion and evolution is widening.   I do not see a hopeful future for the human person unless this gap is reconciled.  World religions must be aligned with computer technology and the way technology is affecting human consciousness. Without the depth dimension of religion, technology will leave us fearful and vulnerable.  Instead of drawing us into global community, online relationships will become more tribal and oppositional; the breakdown in human relations will lead to greater wars and cataclysmic events.

The world is in process of becoming something more than what it is, but it takes a conscious awareness of belonging to the cosmic whole in order to help creatively evolve towards greater wholeness.  We cannot begin to know this wholeness if we are constantly distracted, self-promoting and self-justified in every thought and action.  If we do not contribute to the ongoing evolution of the whole, in which God is the vitalizing center, we will be its breakdown.

Our times demand deep thought, not superficial feelings.   Yes, we need to “get out and chill out” during these summer months, but how much decompression is necessary before the next shooting or the next bombing?  Yes, we can close our eyes and make believe all bad people will go away, or we can get down on our knees and pray to an “all-mighty God” who will deliver us from our temptations.  But let us face the truth:   there is no God “out there” waiting to deliver us.  There is only the power of God who is here and now, entangled in the mess we are making.   We have one choice – to wake up, see the light, and turn our lives and world in a new direction.  This is the promise of God, a new heaven and a new earth, and it is still within our reach.

Notes:

[i]  Teilhard, Future of Man, 293.

[ii] Joseph A. Grau, Morality and the Human Future in the Thought of Teilhard de Chardin A Critical Study (Cranbury, NJ:  Associated University Presses, Inc., 1976), 274.

 

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22 Comments

  1. geemapox on July 6, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    Humility helps people get on common ground. Respecting others in common humanity can be the beginning of dialogue, with which people can develop agreement to co-operate in solving problems and meeting needs. This process can be considered a means to justice by some, charity by others. So far, the scope of my opinion may seem human or humanistic, even pragmatic. I have learned such ideas from my Christian tradition and education. In any dialogue, there may be occasion to discuss spirituality, also known as religion. But in my opinion, such an occasion should be voluntary and mutually secure, because for many people religious terms can be troublesome, with connotations of dogmatism and proselytism. I pray the human race will thrive in God’s grace, whether people acknowledge it or not.



  2. Alice MacDonald on July 6, 2022 at 1:46 pm

    Thank you Ilia for these wise insights into what we are facing today and how we got here. I am reminded of the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel:

    It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeat. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in name of authority other than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.



  3. Tom Fallon on July 6, 2022 at 2:40 pm

    The entire creation is groaning, longing for the children of God to start operating in the truth of their being.(paraphrase of Rom 8:20-22) That is, waiting for us to operate as Christ. Whereas, it is no longer I but Christ who talks to my neighbor, prays, works, laughs, smiles, thinks and does random acts of kindness. Too simplistic…..??? I don’t know but I do know that I must keep my eyes focused onthe author and finisher of my salvation or this madness will consume me.
    God bless you Illia for so well articulating and for this organization – may we somehow make a difference.
    I love Cynthia B’s comment that the Jews believe 36 enlightened ones keep the universe from descending into madness and chaos. Eckhart Tolle talks about frequency holders – may we be all of that and more.



  4. John Ferro on July 6, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    “We have one choice ……”

    But who are the “We”? The governments of the world are set up on financial and “power” “alpha dog” systems. Who run the countries of the world? People such as Putin, Xi, Trump, and elected officials who base their platforms on wealth. Those in power, those who have the ability “to change the world in a new direction” don’t want to. For the rest of us, we need to turn to the light to achieve a loving presence around us and with those we interact with. However, the evolution of the human race will be in the Spirit of God and there will be much sadness and many tears before a more loving consciousness can arise.



  5. Joe Masterleo on July 6, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    While God is often in the newest thing, and is always in renewal, new isn’t always better — especially when it comes to technology. Everything on earth has its shadow side, if fallible humanity has anything to do with it. I find it more plausible that our ancestors — less harried by life’s accelerated pace, less distracted and deluged by avalanches of information, data, gadgets and widgets, less insulated from illness, death, each other and nature generally — had the theological edge. As such, I think overall, however simplistic and rituaized, they were more in tune with the sacred, better understood Holy Writ, and had a better sense of God’s Presence in creation far better than we can. We may have the edge in sheer knowledge and technology, but not in wisdom and horse sense. Face it, what more do we know today about the sacred, or about goodness and evil, darkness and light, say, than Job did in ancient times millennia ago? The answer, sheepishly, is very little. Be honest. Yet knowledge has increased and accumulated exponentially, having become so sociologized, psychologized, empiricized, philosophized, polticized, scientized, and medicalized (did I forget technologized?) that it has all but replaced a sacred understanding of the whole, and its Source and essence. To say nothing of living simply. There’s nothing essentially irregular about research per se. By the same token, with several million scientific experiments now being reported each year, and the quantity of factual information in virtually every academic discipline more than doubling about every ten years, how much better off are we? And where is all this knowledge going? Sounds a bit the way Solomon’s wisdom literature has summed it up, “of the making of books there is no end” (Ecc. 12:10), and “ever learning, but never attaining knowledge of the truth” (2Tim. 3:7). Seems there’s an inverse relationship between cumulative knowledge (science and technology), and non-cumulative knowing (wisdom and perennial spiritual principles). It appears that the lot of humanity lost the path somewhere along the way, assuming, as an aggregate it ever found it, or is evern ordained to find it. Either way, knowing more and more about less and less, and a mach speed, ain’t gonna get us there.



  6. Alice MacDonald on July 6, 2022 at 10:48 pm

    Yes Tom…..may we all be “frequency holders”! It will suffice!!



  7. astralstar17572 on July 7, 2022 at 7:20 am

    Unless we realize that we are all responsible for every shooting and bombing these events will continue. Just as the Ukrainian war, inflation, drought all the rest are our SHARED responsibility.

    How?
    Every decision influences the next. Too many superficial, ” not my job, problem, or responsibility” decisions, with the resultant outcomes, leads to disastrous consequences.

    We are a SCREEN society. unless we are staring at a screen and fidgeting with fingers we aren’t satisfied.

    Deep thought, critical analysis, quiet time, all these are needed to put together the puzzles before us. To reach deep memories of healing.

    Sadly, most cannot think of living 10minutes without the artificial stimulation of a screen.



  8. JoAnne Herring on July 7, 2022 at 10:34 am

    Alice that was very well stated. Thank you



  9. Nancy Wolter on July 7, 2022 at 11:10 am

    Beautiful! Thank you!



  10. Mary Anne Geskie, PhD on July 7, 2022 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you Ilia for your wisdom and insight in relation to technology, the human condition and religion…a deeply valuable reflection…

    I was particularly touched by your comments “ And this is where religion may be the greatest obstacle to a better world. Without realizing that development of computer technology is part of human evolution, and that evolution requires a new understanding God in relationship with a dynamic world of matter, we are beholden to old, brittle institutions and their inability to face themselves in a spirit of change.”… The inability to face themselves in a spirit of change stuck me loudly and so when you shared the Mass that you had attended with “12 men on the altar” I thought, “and not a women’s voice to be heard” … why? Because, “This is the way we do things” with little notice that the churches have less and less people in them…the hope of a returning congregation post-pandemic hasn’t truly happened and some in the church blame this on people being too lazy to come back in person now that they can watch Mass on the internet! Really!! Perhaps it’s larger than that and instead we we need to consciously move into “the spirit of change!”

    Thank you for voicing the truth about the state of this dysfunctional church and world…I pray that we could all remember to hold in our hearts “May the Christ in me, see the Christ in you” … all created in the image and likeness of God, what an incredible shift in perspective that would be for us all…bless you for your courage to speak with such a clear voice!



  11. Theresa on July 7, 2022 at 4:09 pm

    Alice,

    Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid…

    It’s hard to say those words, but they appear to be true.
    Thank you.

    Theresa Young RDC



  12. Theresa Young RDC on July 7, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    Tom,
    I love Cynthia B’s comment that the Jews believe 36 enlightened ones keep the universe from descending into madness and chaos. Eckhart Tolle talks about frequency holders – may we be all of that and more!
    Yes!
    Theresa Young RDC



  13. Theresa YOung on July 7, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    John,
    For the rest of us, we need to turn to the light to achieve a loving presence around us and with those we interact with.
    Thank you for these words of urgency.
    Theresa Young RDC



  14. Theresa Young on July 7, 2022 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you!
    How to not be disturbed to make an inner change in my self is unthinkable. I need to hear this message often!



  15. David L. Smith on July 7, 2022 at 4:46 pm

    For individuals and societies, whatever the challenge, problem or circumstance, the only workable response is love. Tragic happenings are teaching us who we are and what we can do together when joined at the heart. It will take many generations for a critical mass to awaken from the illusion of separation. Meanwhile, to catalyze that awakening, those of us who have confidence in the process of evolution toward Divinity (Christogenesis), can demonstrate what a contemporary Christ looks like.



  16. Brady Young on July 7, 2022 at 5:58 pm

    As always, thank you for your words. You have such a gift to engage complex concepts with practical applications. I especially love the last few sentences. I will keep them near in the coming weeks as I try to, “wake up, see the light, and turn our [my] lives and world in a new direction”.



  17. JoanHolmes on July 7, 2022 at 10:33 pm

    Thank you Ilia, and those who have shared their thoughts and comments I am inclined to echo Joe’s musings “Where is all this knowledge going?”Are we any wiser than Jacob when on awakening cried out “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it”
    We have forgotten the words of Micah “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and love kindness and to walk humbly with your God”. When Covid-19 shattered our lives all the technology in the world didn’t help those who were locked in their rooms or those who died with no one to hold their hands.Yes eventually a vaccine was found but Covid-19 is still with us. Technology was used to put church services on line but they had been onTV
    for years and I am not sure if that was helpful as now churches are finding that their congregations are not returning as they expected.We have the strongest telescope peering out into the universe trying to discover how it all began and fathom the inner workings of the mind of God while on earth things are falling apart and the centre is not holding.
    My husband of 65 years died in March and since then I have been unable to watch the nightly news cast. There is so much wanton destruction of human life and disregard of the homes,schools and hospitals that it seems incredible that this is actually happening.
    How do we begin to bridge the chasm between technology and religion. If the church as an institution has become fossilized outmoded and irrelevant in peoples lives how do we live as the body of Christ? What does the future hold if we do not recognize or acknowledge the Presence who fills the universe?



  18. Sara J Harris on July 11, 2022 at 11:43 am

    This is a powerful and provocative piece, Thank you, thank you.



  19. marcia perryman on July 12, 2022 at 7:14 pm

    How do we build community in the face of online community which ensures the marginalized feel safe and wanted. What is love when one has never experienced it and where is the power of the community to protect these people from themselves and others. what despair is within a person’s soul when they decide to kill a bunch of strangers and then themselves… thanks for the provocative piece…



  20. Emily DeMoor on July 18, 2022 at 12:00 pm

    Ilia, thank you for your very poignant and thought provoking piece. All you write resonates with me, and yet, at this moment, I am celebrating the power of the Internet during a recent crisis. For the past 10 days I have been on vacation in Alaska with my husband, Jim (69 years old), my son, Nicholas, and some extended family members. On the second night we were there Jim had a heart attack. He was airlifted by helicopter from Homer to Anchorage, and I flew to Anchorage the next morning because there wasn’t room in the helicopter. He had emergency surgery the night of his heart attack and a second surgery a few days later. I hesitated to put our story on Facebook and didn’t do it right away. But Jim and I discussed it and decided to share. It was easier than me trying to handle all the texting and it turned out to be an incredible blessing. I felt so strongly supported by our friends and family throughout the US and England, as if we were all together in one place. When I was sitting in a chair in the cardiac ICU waiting for Jim to get through his second surgery I was so relaxed that I dozed off a few times. When I felt myself getting sleepy or entertaining negative thoughts, I remembered our support network and let myself off the hook, knowing that others were holding the positive energy and praying.

    You write, “The world is in process of becoming something more than what it is, but it takes a conscious awareness of belonging to the cosmic whole in order to help creatively evolve towards greater wholeness.” My story illustrates this. Although I doubt that each person in our network has a conscious awareness of the cosmic whole, I think it’s safe to say that they all understand that we belong to each other, and this is a good start. At every point during our travels I felt “the power of God who is here and now, entangled in the mess we are making.” There were many signs of God’s loving and nurturing presence. It took me a few weeks to pack for this trip and one hour to unpack my suitcase and carry on bag. It will take me weeks, or perhaps a lifetime, to unpack the many ways I felt God’s presence in the midst of it.



    • Info on July 18, 2022 at 8:15 pm

      Dear Emily,
      Thank you for sharing. We send loving prayers to you and your family.
      May the peace that passes understanding fill you all at this time.

      C4C



  21. Emily DeMoor on July 19, 2022 at 1:03 pm

    Thank you C4C for your loving prayers and support. Community works. Please pray also for my son who was with us on our trip. After returning to Cincinnati, he totaled his car when he skidded into a guard rail in the rain. The AC in his apartment stopped working and he is waiting for a new unit, as yet another heat wave approaches. On top of all of this, he has come down with Covid.

    I pray for all of you.



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