Why Technology and Science Can’t Save Us

By Eugene C. Scott

The only time I’ve ever given something (my computer) up for Lent, it wasn’t even Lent. And I didn’t choose–of my own free will–to give up my computer.

A few years ago, despite the fact that I own one of the best and most reliable computers going (yes, you poor PC plugs it is a world-famous Mac), my 256 megabyte hard drive crashed and burned. After trying several home remedies such as opening and closing the laptop lid, pushing various mysterious buttons (I wonder what the “F” stands for on those buttons), and muttering to myself, I finally scheduled an appointment with the “Mac Genius” in the closest Apple Store, which happened to be a mere 150 miles away. At the time I lived in the mountains near Vail, which was great except when . . . . Anyway the 2.5 hour drive to Boulder, CO did give me time to reflect—to take stock of my life as it relates to computers and electronic stuff.

The way I remember that fateful drive is like this:

That drive turned out to be a sobering and painful several hour odyssey, during which my hands trembled on the steering wheel and thoughts of living computerless distracted me. The usually spectacular Rocky Mountain scenery passed in a blur. My skin became clammy to the touch, as I fought back fear and worry each time I thought of how long it had already been since I had last checked my e-mail—ten hours and counting.

What if someone sends me an extremely important e-mail chain letter and I break the chain? I worried. I sobbed when I realized my communication ties to my world had been sadistically and heartlessly severed. I had unwillingly joined the ranks of the out-of-touch and uninformed. I feared I might become e-illiterate.

Less important but equally traumatic it dawned on me that I had lost parts of my seventy-five page (so far) doctoral dissertation, and my most recent sermon (I convulsed at the idea that I now faced researching sermons using books rather than the internet and writing them on those hideous yellow legal pads).

And how could I live in a world where my entire iTunes library had vanished?

Then panic hit! With my Treo palmOne phone calendar lost in cyberspace, how could I possibly know when to be where and with whom I was supposed to be? I nearly ran off the road. I saw my life pass before my eyes. To my horror my life was configured in indecipherable ones and zeros. Tears blurred my vision. I pulled over and turned on my emergency flashers.

I was a mess. Right then and there I knew what I must do. Admit my dependency.

So looking up to the blue sky through my pitted windshield I mumbled, “Hi, my name is Eugene.” I paused; I breathed; I listened. Then white-knuckling the steering wheel, I continued, “And I am addicted to my Mac! Computers, and other electronic devices rule my life.” I listened again. Sadly there was no encouraging “Hi, Eugene” response because there is no support group for this. I sighed. More tears flowed. At least I had said it. It was out.

On the drive back to Edwards, CO, determined but frightened, I swore I would use the three to ten days it would take to repair my PowerBook G4, to overcome my addiction and start a new life. I told myself I would read more books, talk to people face to face, and occasionally— shudder—use a pen or pencil to write. I even thought I would break out the old turntable and listen to a record or two. I pulled into our driveway ready for anything. I was fearful but resolute.

Fortunately my PowerBook was ready in three days and I never had to follow through on those rash resolutions. Though on day two of web-sobriety I did pick up my old, loose-leaf Bible. I stumbled on this passage, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Then I googled the passage to find out what it could mean.

Some wise saint (possibly John Calvin) once said, the human heart is an idol factory. The ancients carved wood and stone into what they hoped would be gods of their salvation. We fashion chips and technology into the same hope.

If you listen to the chatter of our world, how many times a day will you hear that a certain scientific discovery, or hypothesis, or technical advancement will bring us the healing or answers we are looking for? Hundreds? All the while God stands at the side of the internet-super highway with his thumb out, hitching a ride. As wonderful as science and technology are, they are finite–limited–and can’t save us.

This is because they are creations of our own limited minds. Technology is created not in God’s image but ours. We are broken beings capable of taking anything good and using it for evil. And we do. Also, if our struggles were material/physical only, maybe physical/material solutions could help. But our problems run deep into our souls. And not even a super computer can go there. Only God can.

I may have exaggerated my struggle with my forced fasting from electronics of several years ago. But I did recognize then, and still do now, how easy it is for me to try to slip something else into that God shaped void in my life.

Maybe that’s what seasons like Lent are really about. Not just giving stuff up. But taking stock of where in our life God stands or who/what we have standing in God’s place.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.


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19 responses to “Why Technology and Science Can’t Save Us

  1. elna

    I went on a technology fast January out of my own free will, and the only person who missed me was my daughter that wanted to rant on, as usual, about her boyfriend/work/non-work/ boring life status. Very sobering month that was :))
    I usual run for the computer in the morning so I can read my ‘daily bible message’ and see what ‘my christian friends’ are chatting on fb, and do all kinds of ‘christiany’ things like bible study, etc.
    But I have found in January that my christian life was a lot more healthy when I ‘just read the bible’ and ‘just prayed’.

    • Elna:

      I know what you mean. It’s not all negative. I really appreciate that Mike and I “met” you through this medium.

      But it’s also a distraction. Maybe the answer is to use it and control it rather than having it control me. Thanks for your interaction. I think you have used this outlet–in my view–well. Eugene

  2. Tom Hull

    Growing up, I love computers. They’re quick, painless (um, subtle). I spend a LOT of time wondering if a simple letter to everyone we love isn’t better.

    But this is a technological age to some and a bane to others. All we have to do is use ‘other’ technology. Letters and true voice really work. I wink at Teryn when I say, “Technology only helps if it helps. The only TRUE means of communication is when we have physical love and hugs and talk about things. Computers are a great art form, but, physical interaction is the best way to communicate with someone. A hand on the shoulder works a lot better than trying to use intellect and ‘talk’ with someone further away.”

    It’s always better to BE THERE. Always.
    I grew up learning that just being WITH someone and feeling works well.
    We’re NOT the microwave generation of being inaccessible, we’re people of God. We need to know that personal interactions are a MUST.

    I’m sorry Eugene, that I haven’t been sitting with you, having the REAL interaction. There’s a ‘feel’ when you sit with someone and see emotion. Let’s try this again soon.

    • Tom Hull

      Oh, and sending a little letter at the least..with a cartoon from the paper.. or just FINDING the person (which I CAN do during the week) and showing the cartoon and laughing/crying over it just may be better than expressing over a computer.

      It’d be nice to have a little time.. .. together.

  3. Steve

    Wow, that hits way too close to home.
    I really need to do some reflection on my addiction to electronics!!
    Thanks for sharing, Eugene!

  4. Georgie-ann

    So well said! Every time the power goes out, I go through the same thing essentially — at least initially. But I can remember some of “the good old days” when personal electronics played a much smaller role in our daily lives. Family and home life — even neighborhoods — seemed closer, more cohesive, less fractured.

    It seems we felt more comfortable “in our own skin” and with each other — though not sayin’ it was some kind of “perfect world” by any means. But did we know God better? Maybe there was more general respect for God and godly ways in our culture, which was a great benefit to all — especially young people. But, even so, our human inclination seems to be to so easily take the things of this life so “for granted,” that we forget the Creator, the Giver, maybe even more when “things are good” than when we face challenges and struggles!

    God seems to be able to make Himself real and available to all who seek Him in sincerity and truth, with or without electronics in the mix — although we might want to turn them off or down, to give Him space and the attention He deserves. Thank you, God, for everything!

    • Georgie:

      When my kids were little, we would occasionally fake a power outage (they knew we were faking them too) and spend an evening with candles and low tech games and activities. That was always fun and centering. We also took vacations from tv.

      But you are right that God adjusts how he communicates with and to us. He is not constricted or enhanced by our technology.

      As usual a thoughtful response. Thanks, Eugene

      • Georgie-ann

        Dear Eugene and Elna,

        When my kids were little, we lived on purpose on a dairy farm, in between two big hills that blocked virtually all tv reception. Those years are remembered by all of us as some of the greatest and most “real” years of our lives!

        Talk about “good old days!” I count us as having been very lucky/blessed to have managed to have “pulled off” a childhood for them that was almost a century “behind the times.” And they do too!

        To this day, I do not watch television in my home. I did watch Christian networks “religiously” for a few years with the advent of cable. But I like quiet and the sounds of God’s inner promptings so much better!

        To everything there is an appropriate season — (Ecclesiastes 3:1 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:”) — a time to learn, a time to listen and respect that God wants to have a “very personal relationship” with me, as He also desires to have with others — I don’t have to be “in” on everyone else’s busy-ness!

      • Elna:

        I love that childhood picture of yours. I often say I would like to have lived in the 1890s because there was running hot water and other essentials but life was simpler and more connected.

        You are right too, that there is a time for everything. The world is as it is and we need to live according to God’s call in that world not lament the passing of time. Those in the 1890s America had their own struggles and worries. Eugene

    • elna

      In South Africa we only got TV in 1974. I distinctly remember what summer evenings were like pre-TV. Everyone was outside, taking a stroll ‘around the block’ talking with neighbours and fellow-strollers. And taking cuttings of plants you fancied. Forget about nurseries…that was the way to built a garden!! And then technology caught up, and if like us, you didn’t have a TV, you couldn’t go visiting because everyone was so intrigued with the box.
      SA was long in getting TV because the government believed it was a bad influence. It seems they were right because the way the community life shattered is tragic. Nowadays it is ‘normal’ for adultery and deceit and murder because the media portrays it as normal. Well we haven’t had a tv in our house for the past 20 years and you better be prepared to communicate when you come visiting :))

  5. Eugene, I laughed out loud when I read, “‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Then I googled the passage to find out what it could mean.”

    Thanks for writing a great post!

  6. Georgie-ann

    We’re beginning another siege of stormy-stay-at-home weather — so typical of this year’s winter — so, just “twiddling my thumbs” here, I thought of something else to add, kind of in line with what we’re saying.

    I think that one of the greatest effects and disadvantages of having had the television as a constant cultural companion for the last 6 decades, is that people have become so much more consumed and identified with their externalized appearances — “looking the in-style look,” copping the in-style poses and attitudes — that they believe that creating a perpetual facade is both a “real” and valid effort, valuable and actually necessary. In effect many of us have become willing “actors” ourselves in conducting our daily lives — (imitating the tv exactly as if it IS the real world) — rather than authentic individuals.

    Isn’t this one way to “sell your soul?” What happens to honesty, character, personal truth, respect and sincerity? (John 1:47 “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said concerning him, ‘See! Here is an Israelite indeed [a true descendant of Jacob], in whom there is no guile nor deceit nor falsehood nor duplicity!’ “)

    I think that this is especially detrimental to the males, (imho), because a male that appears to have just finished “gazing approvingly at himself in the mirror” and is now “continuing the pose” to attract more admiration, just seems to lack something vital within. Women, in general, have always had a tendency to be concerned with and to nurture (their) beauty, and I’m not saying that taking care of one’s appearance is not desirable. But when we begin to “believe” that this is where our social and existential merit is to be found, that this is 90% of “who” we really are — spiritually, idealistically, humanly and otherwise — and that this “identity” entitles us to behave in certain ways and indulge in certain things, (most of it “copy-cat” from bad media-promoted examples), we’re veering dangerously “off-course.”

    In such a short time, America has lost a great deal of momentum in some of our finest achievements, thoughts, goals, efforts and voluntary self-sacrifice for and dedication to a “good cause” — not the least of which have been God, family and country. The spectrum of our “deserved ease” and over-paid entertainment “heroes,” and self-indulgent, gluttonous, not-too-bright, indifferent, time-wasting diversions has proliferated at a mind-boggling rate.

    Where are we going? Many of the results do not seem terribly promising. Are we just “spinning our wheels?” Can we re-find and re-invent ourselves? Can we “humble ourselves” and ask God for the help and direction that we need so very much?

    2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

    • Georgie-ann:

      So, is twiddling your thumbs what people did before texting was invented?

      I think you are on to something noticing how much more we seek our own reflections in video, tv, etc., though it self-fixation has long been with us. Narcissus only had his own reflection in the still water to gaze and lose himself in. We have reality tv! I’ve also noticed that people in early photographs were very stiff and uncomfortable. And if you look at a series of pictures from the 1800s to now we become more and more comfortable in front of a camera. To the point where the shy camera response is the rare one.

      We no longer see ourselves in a mirror dimly but, like Narcissus, are captivated by our own image.

      I hope you can enjoy this last stage of winter. Eugene

  7. Georgie-ann

    “Twiddling our thumbs” was just a very old expression that my mother would use to mean “sittin’ around doing nothing” — which I wasn’t really doing exactly anyway, either one. I think my mind was in a holding pattern, trying to figure out what to do with the day at hand, and felt like it had a pretty good excuse to “twiddle its thumbs” for awhile.

    …and the problem with “being captivated with our own image,” especially if it’s very invested in duplicating or imitating a scripted fantasy, is: “who am I really, anyway?” / “what do I really think?” / “are these people really my friends?” and “what are we (is this life) really all about?”

    An identity that is “artificially constructed” and contradicts the instincts and truths and wisdom that God has really placed deep within us — even if we think it will be wildly “attractive” and “popular” — can rarely carry a person through life for “the long haul.” Too many young and tragic human “shipwrecks” are appearing on the horizon,…but the “glam” goes on, as if that’s “not a problem.”

  8. elna

    Georgie-Ann I must agree with you on finding God in solitude and quiet. These days it is more and more difficult to find a church that is ‘quiet’. I actually complained about my local church that spend half an hour before hand singing, and 40 minutes singing during the meeting, and the preacher used the last 20 minutes preaching…and that included another song at the start and one at the end of the message. Where is the Bread of Life in that?!?
    I sing my gospel songs at home with the radio (it suits my voice better). I have nothing against glorifying God through music but not to the detriment of preaching from the Bible. If our churches spend more time in teaching the truth and allowing for prayer from the members, imagine what would happen!! That is truly allowing the Holy Spirit to work.

  9. Georgie-ann

    I think that’s a very interesting comment Elna. I agree that people need a chance to make a personal and deeper connection with God, and are blessed when they feel comfortable with this in their church or prayer services. We can always find our private time, but “where two or three” are gathered and agree holds a special promise for us:

    Matthew 18: 19,20

    19 “Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

    20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

  10. Georgie-ann

    I don’t think my aging thumbs could handle it!

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