Materialism vs. Spiritualism
The root of our problems: bad relationship.
To understand the state of modern technology, one must first understand its central heresy of materialism. This heresy insists all that matters (or even, is) is the material realm we can experience with our five senses. Though it is true that many throughout the ages have persisted in denial of the divine, it is only in modern society that it is the expectation, rather than the exception.
Since our modern society is so materialist, it sees anything “spiritual” as otherworldly, unconnected from our day-to-day. Indeed the modern conception of “freedom of religion” as mere “freedom of formalized, liturgical worship” prohibits spirituality from having any meaningful say on the lives of its adherents, since it is not permitted to overflow into our daily lives. The Spirit is always present, though. And of course,
the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.
Not only does materialism deny divine order (the logos), but such a worldview leads to the notion that individuals exist as atomic, lacking any sort of traditional roots giving them values on which to stand. Instead of genuine progress, we have confusion on the most basic principles because we insist on constant reinvention. This is not based in charity and humility towards our forefathers, but rather in a presumption that what we know now is the best. One needs only a cursory glance at history to realize that true wisdom is hard to come by, so to expect it at the cutting edge is folly.
Even a number of enlightenment thinkers, such as the influential John Locke, understood this. One cannot read the works of Locke without still seeing a great deal of ancient wisdom (which he saw as so evident as to call it ‘natural law’) that hadn't yet shaken off. Indeed many regard him to be quite inconsistent because of this, and consistency is key within an enlightened, rational thinker's framework.
The men who conceived the idea that “morality is bunk” did so with a mind well-stocked with moral ideas. But the minds of the third and fourth generations are no longer well-stocked with such ideas: they are well-stocked with ideas conceived in the nineteenth century, namely, that “morality is bunk,” that everything that appears to be “higher” is really nothing but something quite mean and vulgar.
(Small is Beautiful p. 68, E.F. Schumacher 1973)
We know from experience at this point that ever-increasing material well-being does not give us ever-increasing happiness.
Longitudinal evidence reveals that people don't get happier as they go from a modest income to affluence.
(Coming Apart p. 265, Charles Murray 2012)
Hedonism does not work; human happiness is not dictated by how many amusements we have. If it were, doubtless, these would be the happiest times, and developed nations would be markedly happier than undeveloped ones. However, the real sickness is a lack of spirituality, a lack of real connection to things created and uncreated. And this makes sense, as we are told over and over again that God’s created world in Eden was good. Eden wasn’t good because Adam had a jet plane to cross the Atlantic in a few hours- it was good because his relationship towards the created world was ordered.
Many philosophers over the past few centuries have felt this disorder and tried to grapple with it - Marxists love to talk about alienation. But perhaps none have articulated the real truth as well Pope John Paul II:
Economic freedom is only one element of human freedom. When it becomes autonomous, when man is seen more as a producer or consumer of goods than as a subject who produces and consumes in order to live, then economic freedom loses its necessary relationship to the human person and ends up by alienating and oppressing him.
This happens in consumerism, when people are ensnared in a web of false and superficial gratifications rather than being helped to experience their personhood in an authentic and concrete way. Alienation is found also in work, when it is organized so as to ensure maximum returns and profits with no concern whether the worker, through his own labour, grows or diminishes as a person, either through increased sharing in a genuinely supportive community or through increased isolation in a maze of relationships marked by destructive competitiveness and estrangement, in which he is considered only a means and not an end.
The concept of alienation needs to be led back to the Christian vision of reality, by recognizing in alienation a reversal of means and ends. When man does not recognize in himself and in others the value and grandeur of the human person, he effectively deprives himself of the possibility of benefiting from his humanity and of entering into that relationship of solidarity and communion with others for which God created him. Indeed, it is through the free gift of self that man truly finds himself. This gift is made possible by the human person's essential “capacity for transcendence”. Man cannot give himself to a purely human plan for reality, to an abstract ideal or to a false utopia. As a person, he can give himself to another person or to other persons, and ultimately to God, who is the author of his being and who alone can fully accept his gift. A man is alienated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the experience of self-giving and of the formation of an authentic human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is God. A society is alienated if its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer this gift of self and to establish this solidarity between people.
(Centessimus Annus 39-41, Pope John Paul II 1991)
There’s a lot to unpack here regarding our productive behaviors. Man was created for relationship, and the purpose of our labors is to better engage in relationship. It is precisely this capacity for relationship with God that sets man apart, and is the reason he has such things as free will. Man was not created with an end of enjoying material pleasures; these improvements in “quality of life” are good and ordered insofar as they help him to relate better towards others and God. The commandments, the virtues, the beatitudes… all of these moral attributes deal with how we relate to God and man.
From contemplation of this divine Model [of Jesus Christ], it is more easy to understand that the true worth and nobility of man lie in his moral qualities, that is, in virtue.
(Rerum Novarum 24, Pope Leo XIII 1891, emphases added)
We must heed the essential teachings of our blessed Lord that the real value of a society is its moral nature - how its components relate and act. We hear often that “the ends justify the means” (or that they do not)- but what are the means, and what are the ends?
If by ends, we mean the organization of human society so that it is harmonious and a pleasing offerring to God, and by means, we mean material wellbeing, then the ends absolutely justify the means. But if we have our ends as material wellbeing and are asking “will Christendom give us goods?”, we are already off on the wrong foot- the question is based in a disordered view of reality. For it is written,
I know both how to be brought low, and I know how to abound: (everywhere, and in all things I am instructed) both to be full, and to be hungry; both to abound, and to suffer need. I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me.
(Phillipians 4:12-13, DRA)
Christendom - truly ordered society, through which we will experience joy, can be found in abundancy and abandon. That is its strength.
So, how do we make technology that fosters this? We can see that it must not encumber our relationships, and in fact must be helpful to them. We will explore this in the future..