Reflection Paper on Craig Detweiler’s iGods: How Technology Shapes Our Spiritual and Social Lives

Posted: June 16, 2016 in Book and Article Reviews
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What does Detweiler see as the blessing and curses that come with a technological age? What aspects of Detweiler’s critique/wisdom were most helpful for you?

Detweiler has an optimism for the various technologies that we employ on a daily basis.  This is not to be confused with a simplistic naiveté.  Detweiler’s optimism is grounded in the recognition that we are dealing with God’s very good creation.  The various technologies give testimony to humanity’s original purposes given in the Genesis account and typically encapsulated in the imago Dei.  The imago Dei points to God’s character and activity in the world and humanity’s reflection of God’s Triune nature to be embodied in the Creation as God’s representatives.

As such, the various technologies that we create and utilize are in some way reflective of this original call in Creation.  According to Detweiler, Apple was about aesthetics of efficiency.  Amazon demonstrated the abundance of Creation.  Facebook highlighted our relational orientation.  Youtube, Twitter, and Instagram was about social engagement and participation.  Google was about organizing the chaos.  In other words, these technologies mirror the nature of humanity created by God.

However, as with any good thing, it can be twisted toward improper ends.  So, for instance, Amazon’s abundance is quickly denigrated to hoarding, greed, and co-opted by a liturgy of scarcity.  This over-abundance in creation is co-opted by the “myth of scarcity” that creates fear and disregards charity.  What might have been good – sharing God’s abundance with everyone – is twisted by greed.  Thus, Detweiler suggests that these good creations and technologies are easily turned into idols – igods.

Detweiler’s approach to technology was helpful for two reasons.  First, it allowed me to see that technology echoes the cry of human hearts.  The need for beauty, relationships, participation and creation, and bringing order to chaos are reflected in the various technologies that are utilized.  There is a deeper longing that is tangibly expressed in their use.  This can be a good and helpful thing, especially when it comes to exegeting the culture.

Secondly, technology is not inherently bad.  Quite often Christian approaches to technology bemoans the negative impact of these technologies without also appreciating what good might come from them as well.  The problem with our technology usually comes from how we use the technology rather than what technology we are using, as per Detweiler.  This does not mean that technologies are neutral, rather they are “shaping stories,” as per McLuhan.  This goes along quite nicely with James K. A. Smith’s notion of forms in Imagining the Kingdom.  Although I do not always share Detweiler’s opinion, I do appreciate his balanced approach to the topic.

Another aspect that I also found helpful was Detweiler’s insight into the temptation of technology that pushes us to be formed into its image: “insistent (now!), efficient (faster!), and greedy (more!)” (225).  The lure of this image is the temptation and false perception that, through our technologies, we might be “like God.”  It is the perennial temptation of Babel, to “make a name for ourselves.”  Detweiler points to Facebook as a prime example.  Friends become fans, a base which we must grow and expand.  Our technologies then are meant to serve us rather than us serving others.  It can be a subtle, although significant, shift.

The various temptations, to be like gods, is one that constantly faces our congregations.  Technology gives us unprecedented power and an overall sense of independence and self-sufficiency.  So much is at the disposal of our fingertips.  This orientation makes it difficult for us to see a need for God.  If we’re broken, sure there’s something on our iphones that will help us fix it.  Do we have a need?  There’s ample opportunity to fill that need through the internet.  Are we lacking knowledge?  Google it.  This sense of omniscience, omnipotence, and seeming omnipresence grants us god-like powers to create, sustain, and provide for ourselves.  If that is our situation, where is there room or need for God?  Not to mention, the constant entertainment, noise, and distraction closes the necessary space for quiet reflection in which we are enabled to hear God speaking to us!  Discipleship necessarily must take these shaping forces into account and offer “thick” practices that help to counter-shape our communities.

One of the ways I suspect to be helpful is the emphasis of Sabbath.  Sabbath moves us away from efficiency, speed, and the inundation of our attention by our consumeristic proclivities.  Sabbath reminds us to stop, to be re-oriented, to be re-shaped as image bearers of God’s glory in the world.  Sabbath is hardly popular.  In fact, we often brag about our busyness as a sign of our value.  Sabbath undercuts the value systems of our culture and instills value by virtue of our creature-ness.  In other words, we find value in our connection to God our Creator.  Sabbath reminds us of who we are and whose we are.  We disconnect in order to re-connect with God, Creation, and Others.

There has been a general fad to incorporate technology into worship.  There are various reasons for doing so, both good and poor.  However, due to the infiltration and proliferation of technology’s shaping story in the lives of our parishioners, I am hesitant to utilize very much into worship.  As a space of counter-cultural liturgies, our worship spaces should be carefully considered before we haphazardly incorporate technology into our worship.  Because our technology is not neutral, it takes discernment to weigh the benefits and potential pitfalls for the use and endorsement by means of a “Christian” veneer.

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