The Second Eclectic

Technology changes how we relate to God and each other

Morality, Sin, and Technology: In the Context of Relationships

First Thread
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis includes an appendix, “Illustrations of the Tao.” Lewis’s “Tao” is a collection of moral principles, of laws guiding morality. The Enlightenment used the term “Natural Law.” And it has been called other things throughout history. The Tao’s morals are self-evident premises, Lewis argues; they cannot be proved (or disproved), only accepted. The Tao cannot be gotten underneath or behind. It simply is.

Lewis lists 8 laws in the Tao. Perhaps there are others, but Lewis identified these 8. As I reviewed them recently, I realized this—they all have to do with relationships. Take a look.

1. The Law of General Beneficence. Google assents to this one in their maxim, “Don’t be evil.” In a positive form, it means to do good for humanity.

2. The Law of Special Beneficence. Where Google expresses a worldwide sentiment, someone like Mother Teresa would embody this narrower view: “Do good to each man.”

3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors. This one is clear, “Children obey your parents.”

4. Duties to Children and Posterity. We hate child molesters and don’t have any reservations about doing so. This judgment is a moral one.

5. The Law of Justice. Our world is not a just place, yet we long for it to be so. We don’t each define it the same way necessarily, but we can usually agree that justice should be served and strived for.

6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity. Honesty still is the best policy.

7. The Law of Mercy. Much like duties to children, this principle lauds compassion. We admire mercy in those with authority.

8. The Law of Magnanimity. “All that is required for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing” (Edmund Burke). A man must submit his body to his spirit, and his spirit to its most honorable aims, such that he is willing to sacrifice or even die for his convictions. Sacrificing for a noble cause requires courage and self-discipline.

As you can see, the Tao exists only within the boundaries of relationships. The Tao informs what our relationships should look like.

I do not typically think of morality this way. More often, I envision it as an impersonal legal code, having to do with ideas or ideals or good practices. I’m often tempted to think that I can break moral principles without hurting my relationships. But that is a contradiction in terms. At base, relationships are the context for the Tao.

Second Thread
So when we break the Tao, we are affecting relationships. Breaking the Tao has no other meaning. Sin, to give it a name, twists, bends, even destroys an otherwise open, authentic, transparent relationship.

Sin is a loaded term, diluted with misperceptions and misrepresentations. This dilution prevents us from seeing sin for what it is—a relational break. Sin is relational. Both sin and the Tao are meaningless apart from relationships.

In the Christian story, sin destroyed numerous relationships—famously called “the Fall.” Among these broken relationships were:

1. Man’s relationship with God

2. Man’s relationship with Man

3. Man’s relationship with Creation

4. Man’s relationship with Himself

Sin bent relationships so that they could not run straight. Because people break the Tao, relationships veer off course without constant correction and monitoring. And even with constant vigilance, we cannot achieve perfect relationships.

But here’s the thing, even if a relationship is quote-unquote broken, that is still a type of relationship. We might call the relationship nonexistent, true, and though it might be unreconciled, it is still a relational category. Perhaps the only relationship that cannot be defined as a relationship is one with a person I am not aware of in any way. Perhaps.

So, suffice it to say, the Tao exists within relationship, and so does sin.

Third Thread
Like these first two dynamics—the Tao and sin—there is a third phenomenon that is also founded within relationships—technology. Not only is technology concerned with relationships, relationships are the subject of technology: A spoon mediates my relationship with soup. Light bulbs mediate my relationship with night and darkness (and the sun). This blog mediates my relationship with you. If there is a technology that does not involve relationships, I cannot think of it.

I see technology involved in a number of different sorts of relationships. Among them:

1. Man’s relationship with Man

2. Man’s relationship with Creation

3. Man’s relationship with Himself

4. Man’s relationship with Time and Space (a facet of Creation, above)

Technology inserts itself between Man and the other. It mediates the relationship. Technology extends man’s reach as he reaches out to the other. Sometimes, the technology becomes the relationship, or can. And it is clear, I hope, that technology alters—and sometimes constructs—that relationship. Relationships mediated this way are not identical to unmediated relationships. Thus, technology warps relationships in some way.

Threaded Together
So if morality is inherently relational, and both sin and technology impact relationships, my question is this—Are sin and technology different? And if so, how?

I’m not asking if using technology is sinful. That’s not my question. I’m also not asking if we can make technology into an idol. We can, but that’s not the concern I’m raising.

In the paradigm of relationships, in the context of morality—how is technology different from sin?

I truly hesitate to ask this question. I am not saying that we should equate technology with sin. Some argue that language is a kind of technology. What then?

By what factor, can we distinguish technology’s relational impact from sin’s? We can say that technology “warps” and “distorts” relationships. But is it actually different from the way sin “breaks” and “destroys” relationships? Remember, even a broken relationship is a kind of relationship. So, we could legitimately say that both sin and technology distort relationships. Is technological distortion different in kind from sin’s effect?

This is a real question to which I have very little to answer. I don’t know how to begin to resolve this comparison and distinguish between them. To me, there does seem to be a difference, but I do not see a way to identify it. I welcome any insight others would offer.