Cyborgs, Partners, and the Workplace

October 16, 2010 — 2 Comments

The Third Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization begins today in Cape Town, South Africa. More than 4,000 leaders from over 200 countries will spend the next seven days seeking a way forward in proclaiming the peace and immanence of Christ in a world that is ravaged by HIV/AIDS, poverty, war, and pluralism. Thousands of other leaders will participate in the conversation through reading and responding to Advance Papers and engaging in conversations at http://conversation.lausanne.org/en/
I've read three of the papers and below I've posted links to the source material as well as my thoughts. I encourage you to read these papers, find others of interest to you, and take the opportunity to engage in these conversations yourself.

Emerging Technologies and the Human Future
by Nigel Cameron and John Wyatt

As technological innovations continue to change the way our daily lives are lived, Cameron and Wyatt caution us that "the pivotal significance of the Christian belief that we are made in the image of God is about to be tested as never before." New technologies are leading us down a path where the lines between human and artifact. While these new discoveries and new applications will undoubtedly have the power to address some of the world's greatest problems, they also will present new opportunities to degrade human dignity and intensify wealth and power stratification. 

The authors raise three key questions that must be at the fore of discussions surrounding emerging technologies:

  1. How can we protect vulnerable human beings from commodification? Their example here is of embryo patenting – a natural outgrowth of the pharmaceutical industry's current ability to patent genes.
  2. How can we preserve the intrinsic human dignity that flow from being created by the indwelling God? The threat here comes from eugenics as a result of biotechnology. What will start out as "designer babies" (the ability to predetermine the eye color or hair of your unborn child) can quickly escalate to race perfecting, where those with enough means are able to produce stronger, more intelligent offspring than those without access to the same means.
  3. How can we prevent a new feudalism resulting from the consolidation of wealth and intelligence through "enhancements" that blur the line between man and machine? Nanotechnology is opening the door to the ability to implant devices which will augment or enhance human ability or giftedness. Those with more money will have greater access to these enhancements.

The close of the paper asserts that "the resurrection of Christ as a physical human being can be seen as God's vote of confidence in the created human nature. . . . The resurrection is God's final and irrevocable 'yes' to humankind."

While Cameron and Wyatt have in their minds a vision of the future that evokes images of A Brave New World, The Matrix, and iRobot, their concerns are not fundamentally new. Each new epoch of innovation brings about new possibilities for the advancement of human society and stark warnings of the evils that may ensue. While it may be tempting to write off their questions as paranoid with perhaps a conspiratorial air, the authors' centering of technological restraint based on the incarnation and resurrection, is key. God chose to enter the world as human, with all the limitations that entails, and succumbed to the eventual end of entropy – death and decay – that nearly all human technological innovation seeks to thwart.

In the resurrection, God did thwart death and decay. And Christ was raised human! It is true that the resurrected Christ was, somehow, different. His perfected humanness is not fully manifest in us yet. It is the Spirit, not technology, that is at work within us to change us "from glory to glory." That is not a blanket condemnation of new technology or subsequent applications. But it is an exhortation to remember that no technology will save the world or alleviate all suffering. Christ has already done that. Our call is to subordinate the fidelity of technology to the work He's already (and, paradoxically not yet) done.

Hope for the Christian Church through Global Incarnational Partnerships
by Martine Audéoud and Rubin Pohor

One of the results of recent technological innovations is the effective shrinking of global communication. Instantaneous, simultaneous, multinational conversations happen everyday. Many churches are imagining ways in which this communication might be leveraged to form new global partnerships. Audéoud and Pohor examine what needs to happen in order for these partnerships to be a benefit to all parties.

Early in the paper, they identify the need for partnerships to be based in "100% trusting, mutual, and intimate relationship that gives adequate security for an exchange or resources and services." They then go on to cite some biblical examples of such partnerships and then address the assets and challenges of developing such partnerships on a global scale.

Of particular interest to me was their fear that such partnerships "may become another subtle way of ‘colonializing’ church movements in the developing world such that the power remains on the side of those who have the financial resources." This temptation is especially true to those initiating partners in the global north and west. Often, out of the richness of blessing, faithful churches endeavor to "spread the wealth" by partnering with churches internationally in an attempt to help them overcome (mostly financial) obstacles to reaching their communities for Christ.

Audéoud and Pohor emphasize over and over again that there must be mutuality present in these relationships. Even though the partnerships may not be on equal ground financially, there is still and abundance of teaching and learning each side can impart to the other. Humility and wealth are strange bedfellows. Yet this is exactly what is required if churches of great financial means wish to have sustainable, equitable partnerships with their brothers and sisters around the globe. How might a church enter into one of these partnerships with hands facing up – to give of her means and to receive blessing?

People at Work: Preparing to be the Whole Church
by Willy Kotiuga

Drawing on examples of Jesus as carpenter and Joseph as administrator, Kotiuga builds an argument for a more holistic understanding of vocation – an understanding that would encompass all types of work as calling. Here he is breaking no new ground. The Reformed theological tradition has a long history of applying the notion of vocare beyond the typical sacred application. What he wrestles with for the bulk of the paper is the practical application of faith in the workplace.

Many of the people within our churches have a difficult time understanding how to practically connect "their Sunday to their Monday." Kotiuga asserts, "living the faith goes beyond being good examples at work. The call to make disciples implores us to live the faith by deliberately inviting others to join us on our faith journey." Which, I think, begs the question, to what are we inviting them to?

Here Kotiuga has little to offer. Multiple times he lifts up workplace prayer gatherings and bible studies as "part of the solution." He calls for concrete actions by the church of "supporting" and "motivating" the workers in our congregations, but offers none himself. He points to Business as Mission as an example of an organization who is doing this well. BAM is a ministry of Youth With a Mission (YWAM). On BAM's website, all their concrete examples have to do with Christians catching a vision of the Kingdom and then starting a business that is run on Kingdom principles. Nothing here about how one might transform their workplace in the way that Kotiuga calls for. Although there are links to some books and bible study resources that would make for great discussion in a workplace bible study or prayer group.

So, what is the line worker to do? Or the middle-level manager? Or the grocery clerk? Or the auto mechanic? Surely there is more for them than a bible study or starting their own business? And what is the church's role in that? To "support and motivate"? Here he turns to Joseph again, pointing out how Joseph remained faithful in each of his roles in his life. No argument there.

Yet we will not all be Josephs. What is often ignored in appeals to Joseph (or, almost as commonly, Nehemiah), is the elite circles he was privy to that allowed him access to power and the powerful. But what about those who do not have such access? What does being the church at work look like for them? Kotiuga closes with similar questions: "what does it take to lead in the context of the workplace in order to make an impact for the gospel?  Surely it is more than organizing a noon Bible study or a special speaker. What does that leader look like whether on the assembly line or at the head of a corporation?  What do they need in order to develop their faith leadership skills at their workplace—not merely to be a better manager in their job?"

In all, the paper raised more questions than it answered, perhaps in hope that others will provide them. It also has a particularly northern and western global scope. Many of the "problems" he appeals to are the problems of white collar North American workers. A theology of people at work for a global conversation like Lausanne must at least attempt to address how workers and workplaces in the other 80% of the world might "be the whole church."

Anderson Campbell

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  • Russ Pierson

    Nice, Eddie! I was fascinated reading your take on “Emerging Technologies and the Human Future.” I read an article in the Christian Earthkeeping class recently where the author suggested our basic problem is anthropocentric “growthism.” We are always very reluctant to place any limitations on ourselves–either as individuals or as a species. As long as any technology exists, those with enough wealth will unfortunately choose to use it. How we respond to this as Christians may be the greatest issue the Church faces in the 21st century.

  • Anderson Campbell

    Thanks Russ. I still lean toward the notion that technology is, fundamentally, neutral. It is the application of technology that bends it toward good or ill. Take, for example, the modern firearm: the basic technology is the harassing of an explosion to direct rapid object propulsion. It can be scaled up or down and applied broadly. In the hands of a hunter, it offers the opportunity to kill prey from a further distance than that prey could previously be approached. In the hands of jealous husband, it offers an instant way to act out in rage against his wife. Is the gun good or evil? Neither.I think we’ll be making the same types of cases for and against bio- and nanotechnologies as we move forward. In order for us to respond well, we must be able to see the basic technologies rightly, which I assert is to see them as neutral. In affirming the possible good that can come out of the application of new technologies (these can be, after all, fidelity to the creation mandate) we can also point out and resist harmful, even evil, applications of those same technologies.The author’s examples of tiny brain implants is a good one. In stroke victims they might help the patient recover brain function that has been lost due to damage. In elective application, however, it could be used by those with enough means as a way to further widen the wealth and power gap.As Christians, the challenge to us is to formulate thoughtful responses. This means we can’t dismiss new technologies out of hand. This is especially true when we are made aware of a new technology because of an application that we find offensive. Before we make a sweeping gesture denouncing the technology, we must first parse the technology from its application, and proceed from there.