INTEGRITY: Technology and Catholic Identity (Part I)
Catholics have long had the challenge of maintaining their identity in belief and life in the face of various influences in western culture. There have been many political, economic and social issues of our time that have challenged the exercise of faith. Technology as a form of communication has become a necessary way of doing business and an integral part of our everyday life. The Church has regularly encouraged the use of media and technology, but discernment and moderation are needed if one is to avoid accepting all that is presented in the media without a well-formed sense of truth and beauty.
As a rule of thumb, technology, media and art are meant to provide accurate information and serve the dignity of each person towards understanding of being created in the image of God. We image God particularly in our ability to have healthy relationships, ultimately through the experiences and growing pains of family life. So how we spend our time in media will reveal what we value and can lead to who we become. Technology and media are certainly tools that can improve our lives, but more attention is required in discerning what is useful and what is not in supporting our lives as Catholics, so that it is a tool and not a taskmaster.
St. John Paul II reminded us many years ago to pay attention to the cultural signs.
He said, “We need to reflect on the dynamics of contemporary culture in ordered to discern the signs of the times which affect the proclamation of the saving message of Christ.” It remains an important task to understand our identity as Catholic Christians and to discern the impact of various trends in our culture.
In his book “The Human Person According to John Paul II,” Msgr. J. Brian Bransfield confronts the three successive “revolutions” of our time, which have impacted our human identity and thus our Christian culture. According to Msgr. Bransfield, these were the industrial, the sexual, and the technological.
The industrial revolution removed the family from the center of life and commerce. Industrial factory work replaced agrarian and mercantile-based business. Individuals had less control of their own economic destiny, creating a need to work apart from the family.
The sexual revolution ushered in new ideas about “freedom” and views of family. Contraception was promoted as freedom from childbirth and a means to employment for women away from the family, also allowing men to avoid the responsibilities of fatherhood. Pornography entered into this mix, promoting sex apart from relationship or reality, leading to a commoditization of the human person.
The technological revolution accelerated our ability to acquire information and goods at a rapidly increased pace. Technology in the form of the Internet unfortunately also became a vehicle of sex trafficking, a form of slavery primarily using women.
All three revolutions have contributed to some level of de-humanizing of individuals. Within these revolutions we can see certain distorted beliefs: “you are what you produce,” “your value comes from your sexual attractiveness,” and “you are valued for the speed and efficiency with which you produce or acquire goods.”
From these kinds of thoughts it is not hard to see a progression towards the current state of our culture, where the need to acquire and produce can outweigh the value of a person. Abortion is a natural consequence. Speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast 1994, Mother Teresa said that “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.” One of the ironies of the pro-choice movement is that women are told that they have no choice other than to abort their child, with the false promise that it will bring them freedom and relief.
Our human dignity is based in providential care of a loving God, in spite the difficulties we face. It is the idea that each person is created in God’s image and has a role to play. Technology when unchecked can produce a tendency to seek individual fulfillment apart from God. In contrast we find a different ethic in the Rule of St Benedict:
“We shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love.” (Prologue)