I was thinking the other day about problematic questions in the future for theology, and I found myself fixated on the combination of human and machine (as well as technological advancement on the whole) and the theological issues this may bring up. I wondered if a creation theology could extend to machine, but that seemed like a dead end now, not all that interesting yet, and problematic as hell. What is significant and interesting is how technology does and will function.
Cultural imagination has always played an important of a role in technological development, if at the very least, fueling imagination. Today, “cyberpunk” — which includes stories and adaptations from Phillip K. Dick (and perhaps Asimov, but he did write much earlier), movies like The Matrix, and across the Pacific with the likes of Akira and Ghost in the Shell — and various other lesser known incarnations of cyberpunk seem to rule today’s mind by shaping the language of discourse around the future. Albeit, generally not a spectacular language (after all, the TV and Movie medium limits it a great deal), but at least some of the themes are important. Themes center around a dystopic future, common existential crises, and science and technology gone mad or bad to name a few. Aftermath and survival seem to be the name of the game, despite the use or integration of technology and humanity. Life is still complex and in so many ways. It hasn’t improved, oppressive structures still exist.
What interests me isn’t about the ethics of machine and humanity, its about, or against, a spirituality or faith and a way of being that incorporates soteriological machinations toward always being. Immortality is a common theme, and often even the protagonist seeks to go beyond human limits to achieve a personal, extended life or perceived “justice.” As for the real, future individual applications, they will obviously necessitate a case by case basis, for at times technology can be a legitimate improvement (i.e. wheel chair), however, the grand scheme of our creation — our technological leaps — is about saving us? Well that is a theological, anthropological narrative we must always critique.
And now for a funny story, which I promise is entirely relevant. A fellow student recently came exasperated to the information desk in the library. I along with two other fellow theology PhD students were staffing it at the time. The distressed student began with, “They’re building a dooms day device and next week they’ll switch it on!” He was referencing the large hadron collider. Now, trying to be sensitive to his needs, we all bust out laughing, or at least giggling, because we just couldn’t get over the irony of humanity blowing itself to pieces with what it hails as salvation and exploration. Granted, some of us knew a bit more about CERN and the LHC to know that most likely a black hole would not form to de-atomize our existence. And so our theological answers? 1. Go email a physicist. We’re at a University, I’m pretty sure they exist here. Still. But hurry, or they might not! 2. A Barthian notion of God’s redemption and hesed was explained. 3. In light of impending doom, and perhaps eschatological fulfillment, how will we actively continue to participate in the building of the basiliea before the new creation? How will we continue, or begin to help people based on this still relevant kingdom hope? He didn’t quite like this so much. The focus on the local, instead of litigation, and the notion that we cannot control fellow human beings seemed a bit much.
However, this is exactly what Christianity can give us in spades, the ability to laugh when faced with our death — a liberation in the acceptance of our limits. This isn’t liberation from death, but the acknowledgment of our finitude and that it is okay to be a creature. However, it does not stop there, otherwise this theology would be insensitive to what it ought to take seriously, the suffering of others. And this leads me into a follow up post in the near future about the very core of Christian existence: “The comedy of death.”