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Technology and Religion, Technology as Religion

When Technology and Religion Converge

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Many secularists and nonbelievers of various sorts tend to regard religion and science as fundamentally incompatible. This incompatibility is also imagined to extend to the relationship between religion and technology, since technology is a product of science and science cannot proceed without technology, especially today. Thus atheists marvel in disbelief how many engineers are also creationists, how many people in high-tech industries display high-energy religious motivations.

 

Mixing Technology & Religion

Why do we witness widespread enchantment with technology and at the same time a world-wide resurgence of religious fundamentalism? We shouldn't assume that the rise of both is simply coincidence. Instead of presuming that the education and training behind science and technology should always result in more religious skepticism and even a bit more atheism, we should wonder if perhaps empirical observations are actually disconfirming our ideas. Atheists are often ready to criticize theists for failing to deal with evidence that doesn't meet expectations, so let's not fall into that same trap.

Perhaps there are religious impulses underlying the drive of technology which has characterized modernity — religious impulses which might affect otherwise secular atheists, too, if they aren't self-aware enough to notice what's going on. In this way, unnoticed premises or attitudes will prevent technology and religion from being incompatible. Perhaps technology itself is becoming religious on its own, thus also eliminating incompatibilities.

Both possibilities should be explored and I think both are occurring to varying degrees. Indeed, I think that both have been happening for hundreds of years, but the clear religious foundations for technological advancement are either ignored or hidden away like embarrassing relatives. The enthusiasm so many people have had with technology is often rooted — sometimes unknowingly — in religious myths and ancient dreams.

This is unfortunate because technology has proven itself capable of causing terrible problems for humanity, and one of the reasons for this may be the religious impulses people are ignoring. Technology, like science, is a defining mark of modernity and if the future is to improve, certain elemental premises will have to be identified, acknowledged, and hopefully eliminated.

 

Religious & Technological Transcendence

The key to it all is transcendence. The promise of transcending nature, our bodies, our human natures, our lives, our deaths, our history, etc. is a fundamental part of religion which is often not explicitly recognized. This goes well beyond the common fear of death and desire to overcome it and results in a negation of all we are in an effort to become something else entirely.

For a thousand years in Western culture, the advancement of the mechanical arts — technology — has been inspired by deep religious desires of transcendence and redemption. Although currently obscured by secular language and ideology, the contemporary resurgence of religion, even fundamentalism, alongside and hand-in-hand with technology is thus not an aberration but simply the reassertion of a forgotten tradition. If you don't recognize and understand how religious and technological transcendence have developed together, you'll never be able to successfully counter them — much less recognize when they might be developing within you as well.

 

Sources

  • The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention. David F. Noble.
  • Sleeping with Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety. Wendy Kaminer.
  • Technology, Pessimism, and Postmodernism. Edited by Yaron Ezrahi, Everett Mendelsohn, and Howard P. Segal.
  • Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace. Douglas Rushkoff.
  • Medieval and Early Modern Science, Volume II. A.C. Crombie.

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