Technic-al Difficulties

Jacques Ellul's seminal Presence of the Kingdom has two primary points. The first focuses on politics, and argues Christians should not participate in government whenever possible (I've oversimplified here).

The second topic is the concept of "technics", the idea technology has reached a point where it moves forward regardless of negative implications. It was this part of the book I was most confused by, and I've only lately begun to wrap my mind around what Ellul means. I'll chalk it up to my dependence on technology.

I couldn't stop thinking of Ellul while listening to this interview on NPR's Fresh Air. Terry Gross talks with technological warfare expert P.W. Singer about the implications of robots in warfare, and the conversation is fascinating.

When we moved to Phoenix, Mindy and I drove up to a northern suburb to buy bookshelves from a private seller. We quickly found out the seller was a pilot in the Air Force who flew drones. He would go to work, drop precision-guided bombs remotely on Iraqi targets from a cubicle in Arizona, then make the commute home for dinner with his family.

You'd think that would make warfare easier on American soldiers. A Predator drone offers the opportunity for Americans to fight wars without American lives being at stake, and that's definitely a good thing, right? Singer's book, Wired for War, explains why that's not necessarily the case. And what about enemy combatants? Or America's reputation?

One of the underlying tenets of Amish denial of technology is not "technology is evil", but "how will this technology affect our communal life"? It's a thought process most of us don't go through. We look for the bright side. But what if we truly weighed the consequences of the internet or robotic warfare? Would the positives always outweigh the negatives?

I'm not suggesting some sort of Terminator-esque, human-versus-the-robots doomsday scenario is inevitable, or that Google is the Anti-Christ, but I do believe careful consideration of what technology Christians align themselves with may be more important than which political parties we back (or not).

And while everyone's thinking about that, I'll be disseminating my thoughts about television on websites, typing words into my Apple desktop and microwaving Hot Pockets.


  1. For more on this topic check out http://www.shanehipps.com/

    He spoke at Mars Hill a while back. Ex-Porsche Ad exec turned mennonite pastor.

  2. (That's the Mars Hill in Michigan, not the one Out West).

  3. Jordan,

    You turned me on to Ellul about a year ago. I'm grateful.